iTunes UK Link: BBC iPlayer
Last year, I reported on the launch of the highly-anticipated (and delayed) BBC News application:
“In less than 24 hours after its release, the BBC News application has shot up to #1 in the News category. It was a story about bureaucracy at its worst whenever the BBC Trust, BBC’s governing body, told their development team to shelve the iPhone application launch in the UK due to ‘uncertainty about the potential significance of whether [the BBC's plans] constitutes a change of service.’”
Over six months have passed since the BBC went live on the App Store, and now it finally has its much needed companion, the BBC iPlayer.
The application is a dramatic improvement over its web-based predecessor, both visually and in terms of features. Three categories – Featured, Most Popular and For You – work to bring you all of the latest TV catch with minimal fuss. iPlayer focuses on Radio too, with the Radio section receiving as much attention as its TV counterpart, including the same categories. Shows can be favourited, permitting quick access to your most important media. To make a show a favourite, either hold its miniature feature from one of the three categories and drag it up to the favourites bar, or tap “Add to Favourites” and it’ll do the rest. The favourites bar is accessible via the menu bar at the bottom of the screen, or by the star at the top.
Video quality is respectable, and the application offers High Quality where available. Unfortunately, it’s all Wi-Fi only, even for Radio, meaning 3G iPad ownerswill need to resort to creative means or join a Wi-Fi hotspot before media can be viewed. Obviously, stream quality will be network dependent, but in personal tests I found the video to be smooth and consistent. Content cannot be downloaded locally, so its online viewing only.
If you’re a parent who’s concerned about adult humour making its way into children’s ears, the BBC have included a Parental Guidance PIN that requires unlocking before adult-rated content can be viewed. A secret question is included in case you forget your PIN. However, be advised, once you enter a PIN there’s no way of reversing the process, meaning you’ll have to enter it in every time you want to watch or listen to a show marked with adult humour.
iPlayer includes a search and categories section also, the latter of which groups all shows into fourteen categories, ranging from Children’s to Films to Religion & Ethics. Conveniently, the search isn’t just by name only. Typing in Jeremy revealed a number of different shows that include Jeremy in its short text synopsis. Finally, the application also features channel listings for BBC One, Two, Three, Four, CBBC, CBeebies, News and Parliament. The entire week’s listings are present, along with a short text synopsis where available.
Overall, as a free tool, iPlayer will always remained installed on my iPad, but there certainly is room for improvement. Its lack of streaming over 3G is by far the biggest disappointment, something that its competitor The Guardian allowed last month in a major overhaul. In addition, you’ll have to manually check when new shows are added (related favourites will automatically be added to your favourites bar); a push notification alert wouldn’t go amiss for specific programs. Nonetheless, iPlayer is free, and that’s something not to be taken for granted. Better some features than none in this case.