BBC iPlayer Mobile and Tablet Apps updated

Senior Product Manager

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Hi, I am the Senior Product Manager for BBC iPlayer on Mobile Apps.

Today we have released an update to the BBC iPlayer Android and iOS apps which brings us in line with responsive web and connected TVs and signals the first step in re-defining the new iPlayer experience on mobiles and tablets.

You might be aware that a few weeks ago we launched a new responsive web version of BBC iPlayer. Dan Taylor, Head of iPlayer, provides an insight into some of these changes in his recent blog post.

Many of the principles Dan outlines apply to Mobile apps; in fact when the team began to think about how to make BBC iPlayer even better we saw it as an opportunity to ensure that each platform was as consistent and familiar as possible. I encourage you to read Dan’s posts, or Creative Director Kutlu Canlioglu’s post on the redesign, and I will focus on the updated mobile experience.

When you launch the updated app you are presented with a selection of featured programmes that have been chosen by the BBC as well as a group of the most popular programmes. In the new picture lead interface we've included a new feature, collections. These are groups of programmes we have linked together either by series, such as the BBC Three drama In The Flesh, or by theme, such as the Chelsea Flower Show or blues music.

Mobile home screen with a collection

Along with collections the new design has dedicated Category and Channel pages which we believe provides a much better browsing experience than the old app. The branded Channel “pages” also feature live playback and programme information, as detailed in the image below.

A channel page

Other areas of the app such as Favourites, Downloads and Search remain unchanged for now.

In order to understand why some areas have changed and some have remained the same it is important to provide a little context. The new iPlayer ‘journey’ on mobile apps started after work began on TV or responsive web. In some respects we were in a more fortunate position; the TV and web versions of BBC iPlayer were last refreshed in 2011 and 2010 respectively and were in need of a major overhaul, whereas on mobile we have been adding updates throughout the last 18 months and the codebase has remained solid. For mobile last year was the year of platform parity as we built the Downloads feature for Android and we made a commitment to develop all new features in parallel on Android and iOS from that point on.

To facilitate this we have completely changed the way we work (which probably requires another blog post entirely!) and combined what were two platform teams into one. Our commitment was also to ensure a rolling delivery of features as opposed to infrequent ‘big bang’ launches. In other words getting into the habit of regular updates that deliver value to the user. It is this last point which is particularly pertinent for today's update. We could have built a brand new app but this would have gone against our committments for frequent updates. Building software is hard. Building it for mobile apps across two very different platforms is even harder. A completely new re-design of the app would have most likely taken us into 2015 which wasn’t a very appealing proposition.

We therefore decided to evolve the existing product, focussing on the areas we thought offered the greatest value. Granted this way of working isn’t particularly groundbreaking and in fact most mobile apps follow this process, but taking this approach on the BBC iPlayer app was particularly challenging considering the new user interface had to be consistent with that which was being developed on TV and responsive web but was also quite different from the user interface that already existed.

Once we had decided to take this iterative approach there was much head-scratching as we tried to work out a strategy that took our original new iPlayer designs and merged them with the product that is currently live. For example our new Home, Channel and Category pages were originally designed with a new navigation menu in mind yet we decided to focus on the content first and then navigation at a later date so designs had to be tweaked and refined accordingly. This wasn’t the only complex area to address: The way we access our programme metadata was also changing as we were making these improvements so there are areas of the app that access the new metadata service and there are areas that still access the old one.

Careful consideration was given to building a user experience that was consistent across both platforms but might not therefore conform to native Android or iOS design patterns which in turn added technical complexity. Finally we also debated as to what would make the first compelling user-facing release. We originally focussed on the new Category pages (as this was an area of the current app we felt needed the most urgent update) and while we considered this as its own separate release, we actually felt it was a more coherent experience when released alongside the new Channel and Home pages.

In addition to the challenges of evolving the user interface we were also making continuous improvements to the app that was already being used by millions of users. A good example of this is our update in April which enabled video downloads on all Android devices running Ice Cream Sandwich and above (my colleague David Berlin wrote a blog post about this) and also when we added Chromecast support back in March. We’ve also had to respond to live issues all of which offered a huge amount of value to users but introduced increased complexity to the way we work. There have been times when as many as four different features were being worked on at the same time all hidden behind ‘flags’ in the code that prevented the end user from seeing them. It was a constant balancing act to ensure we were focussing on the right things at the right times.

Now we have released this update we can focus on other areas of improvement. We want to introduce a new navigation menu that is consistent across both platforms, a quicker journey to improved playback, features such as Live Rewind and continuous play, improved ability to favourite programmes as well as making BBC iPlayer a more personal experience with cross platform playback and better, more relevant recommendations.

I read once that film directors never feel like they have finished the film they are working on; instead they simply have a date when they have to hand it over to the studio. Everything we do can always be refined whether this is a Hollywood blockbuster or a mobile app. Today's update is therefore not necessarily the launch of a new version of BBC iPlayer but rather the first step in a programme of work to continuously improve an already successful product.

I’m very keen to hear your thoughts in regards to the update but also anything else I might have discussed in this post so please leave a comment.

Thanks.

Chris Tangye is Senior Product Manager, Mobile Apps, BBC iPlayer

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Comments

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by newyearsteve

    on 16 Jun 2014 15:42

    I'm unable to use iplayer radio on my Samsung note 10.1. All of the visuals work but the programmes don't load. The buffering circle just goes round and round! Iplayer for tv is fine. What's going on there?

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by Ephemeron

    on 16 Jun 2014 14:33

    Please just bite the bullet and restore the categories and their sub-categories. The number of jumbled and irelevant results is killing the bandwidth and load times. I have been in Enterprise IT for over 20 years and would never employ anyone with iPlayer development on their resume due to the fundamental flaws in the user interface. What is the rationale behind the excessive number of page loads and lack of bi-directional navigation? The interface should be the START of the process, underlying code for the "new" site could be run from the working interface if code consolidation was truly your goal. The loss of accompanying data (text) for each page is certainly a cost saving, as no one needs to enter the data. But any change that generates such an overwhelmingly negative flood of user feedback and subsequent damage to the brand is unacceptable and inept. As is the code that allows juddery and blocky playback in a window supposedly optimised for that very task! I have gone from daily use of the site, as my only interaction with BBC content, through intermittent to none. I no longer find the site a viable portal to content and now agree with the removal of the license fee as a funding model. If I can't watch it why should I pay for it?

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by jifed

    on 5 Jun 2014 09:53

    @Chris I have reported this as a fault using a feedback form and I tried to do so again today because I still can't listen to the radio on my android devices but I made a mistake and pressed the back button on my browser when I wanted to check something and lost all my carefully filled in fields. Is it worth starting again and filing another report? Does the fact that there has been no acknowledgement of my first report mean it is in the system and being looked at or that it has been lost too? I'm not the only one suffering judging by the other comments. Is it only us 3 and if so what is different between us and the other lucky Android users?

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by Eponymous Cowherd

    on 4 Jun 2014 12:00

    Chris Tangye:
    "However I also don’t believe the changes we have made are so radical that a user on Android or iOS would have to re-learn how to use the app."

    Actually the use paradigm is very different and, while not difficult to "lean", it is certainly a jarring change.

    Chris Tangye:
    "For example on Android we implemented horizontal scrolling instead of the native paging convention when navigating through the programme screens in landscape tablet. This added technical complexity but I think is a better experience for users."

    It isn't, in any way, a better experience. It is fiddly and error prone to use. You also use horizontal scrolling for several widgets when the device is in portrait orientation. This is just plain wrong!!! The limited horizontal space means only one or two items can be seen which makes the whole swipe paradigm a hindrance to finding the content you want to see.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by Chris Tangye

    on 3 Jun 2014 12:47

    Thanks for all of your comments so far.

    @_Ewan_ - From February to April of this year our research shows that on average 4% of smartphone owners owned an iPhone and an Android Tablet and 7% of Android smartphone owners also owned an iPad which equates to about 4.5 million people so this isn’t such an unusual combination. However I also don’t believe the changes we have made are so radical that a user on Android or iOS would have to re-learn how to use the app. For example on Android we implemented horizontal scrolling instead of the native paging convention when navigating through the programme screens in landscape tablet. This added technical complexity but I think is a better experience for users.

    @Spoons27 – we are working on how best to make availability of programmes clearer and this should be improved over the coming months.

    @kayjay – We’ve worked hard at making our new categories make more sense for users but we are aware that there are a number of programmes, specifically those that might have appeared in the Lifestyle category, that aren’t as easily discoverable. We are looking at how we can improve this in the future.

    @John - sounds like odd behaviour! If you can't find it in your list of apps you can submit a report on the iPlayer Help site - https://iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/tv/forms/

    @c-platten, @kath, @jifed - You can submit any feedback re: the iPlayer Radio product here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/feedback

    Thanks!

  • Comment number 16. Posted by jifed

    on 3 Jun 2014 07:38

    Android issues.
    I can't download your android app as I am currently in France. I was able to listen to Radio programmes on my 2 android devices by setting my browser to desktop mode and navigating through your website. Not anymore. Now, as mentioned by other people in these comments, I can hear the introduction, about 9 secs, and then nothing. This happens with both my Android 2.2 device and my Android 4.1.1 and when using the Next browser or the Dolphin Browser. I am so disappointed. This started a few days ago. I don't even know where to go to report the problem or get help. Luckily I have a linux netbook and I can totally bypass the iplayer website (which I hate with a hatred previously only held for whoever decide to kill off Nigel) so I do still listen to Radio 4 and 4 extra when I'm near an electrical socket but something has ruined my mobile listening.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by Colin

    on 30 May 2014 09:05

    Regarding post 13, I forgot to say it only started being an issue about a week ago.

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by Kayjay

    on 30 May 2014 08:58

    I've just updated the iplayer on my iPad. What's happened to the homes & lifestyle category? Most of the time I use iplayer to catch up with gardening and homes programmes. Now I can't find them at all.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Colin

    on 30 May 2014 08:39

    Thanks Nick (comment 10), I have tried that. The problem occurs with other BBC Blog RSS feeds as well, but ONLY when I use Outlook (2007) as RSS reader. I have since found that if I use the 'Atom' RSS link all is fine. Not sure why, but other provider's RSS feeds work OK. It must be something to do with backward compatibility of BBC's code. Not a big deal as I have a workaround.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by kath

    on 30 May 2014 00:20

    iplayer radio was working fine on my partners galaxy ipad til last night, now stops dead after 5s and the picure of the program goes black. Are you saying its never going to play on it again?

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