Answers about Android

Plastic Android operating system robots

This may surprise some of you, but I'm not in charge of the BBC's Christmas schedule. I also have no editorial control over our output - even when it comes to technology stories - and I have no role in creating or maintaining the iPlayer and its various associated apps. But I still get asked about all these issues - and the one thing that comes up most frequently at the moment is the BBC's attitude to Android.

Why, when Android devices now have a much bigger share of the smartphone market than Apple, does the iPhone get BBC apps first? Why does the iPlayer run more smoothly on the iPhone and iPad, and when will Android users get the same ability to download as well as stream programmes? These and other questions fill my inbox and my Twitterstream.

But as I said, this is not my job, so I asked Daniel Danker, the BBC's head of iPlayer, apps and all that stuff, to explain. He started by outlining what looked like very ambitious plans to boost the BBC's Android capability, with a bigger team than that working on Apple devices.

"If you look at the amount of energy we spend on Apple, it pales in comparison to what we spend on Android. And that's right - we agree with the audience." But he then outlined the challenges involved:

RCJ: Why is there this gap between the BBC's offering for Apple and Android - I've heard talk that it's all about the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem?

DD: "It's not just fragmentation of the operating system - it is the sheer variety of devices. Before Ice Cream Sandwich (an early variant of the Android operating system) most Android devices lacked the ability to play high quality video. If you used the same technology as we've always used for iPhone, you'd get stuttering or poor image quality. So we're having to develop a variety of approaches for Android."

Start Quote

The number one device contacting us is still the Samsung Galaxy S2, which can't handle advanced video”

End Quote Daniel Danker

RCJ: Why don't you just forget the older devices and concentrate on new ones?

DD: "People write to us saying just that, why bother supporting older devices, why don't you just start with - and then they insert whichever model of phone they have. But more than a quarter of our requests to iPlayer come from devices running Gingerbread. And the number one device contacting us is still the Samsung Galaxy S2, which can't handle advanced video."

RCJ: Why do you bother with Flash or Air, and what's your strategy from now on?

DD: "Right now they provide the only means of playing video across the entire population of devices. We don't love the one-size-fits-all approach but we can't have an individual approach for each device, so we're going to find a middle ground.

"We're grouping devices by profile. We'll do advanced video for medium-sized devices with three- to five-inch screens, advanced video for larger devices like the Kindle Fire in a different way, and lower quality video for devices like the Samsung Galaxy S2 that aren't quite so capable of handling high-end video."

RCJ: But YouTube and Netflix seem to have cracked this - why can't you?

DD: "YouTube has lower expectations of quality, and they have no issues with content protection. Netflix has good quality but it builds the entire video player on phones - they have to reengineer for every device. That is costing a lot of money and as a public service broadcaster we don't have the resources to do that. People also say everybody else is doing it, but that's not true. Neither the ITV Player nor 4OD offers a full Android service."

[I thought Daniel was wrong about ITV - there is an app, but when I downloaded it onto a couple of devices, I found the experience very poor. And the reviews on the Google Play store are even worse than those for the BBC app.]

Using tablet devices The experience for Android users will soon catch up

RCJ: Let's take a couple of examples of features which are available for Apple users - the iPlayer radio app and video downloads. Why are Android users waiting?

DD: "Believe it or not, we started work on the iPlayer radio app for Android on the same day as the one for the iPhone, but we're still resolving a number of issues. Background audio, for example. When you leave the app you want the Today programme to keep on running. That worked out of the box on Apple, but not on Android, and we're just getting there now.

"As for iPlayer video downloads, that's about sequencing. We didn't want to launch downloads while the video playback quality wasn't great. Now we've sorted that, downloads are around the corner."

RCJ: So what can you say about how quickly things will improve for the Android community?

DD: "By the end of 2013, it will be a distant memory of when Android was vastly different from iOS. We're moving very quickly now. We've just solved the experience on seven-inch tablets, we've upgraded for Jellybean 4.2. It will never be as easy to develop for Android as Apple because of the variety of devices, but we're not upset about that - it's where the audience is. Apple may punch above its weight in users accessing video and so on, but much of the Android audience are just the kind of people we want to reach, people who've never used their phones before in this way.

"And there are big advantages to the Android platform. Whenever we want to launch something new we just do it, without waiting for approval. And then there is multi-tasking, which you can't do on Apple. Once we solve the basics, there are a lot of things about the platform that will be extremely powerful."

So - some answers to a few of your questions. I'm sure the Android community will have plenty more.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Channel 4 news and Dispatches have a wonderful Android app that I use regularity, and they don't even charge a license fee.
    It really puts the BBC on their backfoot with these alleged reasons as to why they cannot provide this...

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.


    Utter crap

    "The copies of the games were held on a server in China rather than on the main Google Play store, it said. After the app is downloaded users must disable some safeguards, grant the app permission to install and give it the ability to browse the web or send texts messages before it will run."

    Akin to being surprised at getting a virus after getting a PC game from a warez site.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Just glad that Rory's "ecosystem" was changed by DD in his answer to "operating system". Honestly, I've never heard a more stupid term than "ecosystem". Meaningless dribble - and kind of gives the game away that RCJ knows very little about the subject he is supposed to be knowledgable about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    DD: "YouTube has lower expectations of quality, and they have no issues with content protection. - That isn't true? I've been playing HD YouTube on Galaxy S2 long before S3 came along...

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    The problems are not with the Android devices or the Android OS, but with the BBC's insistence on using Adobe.
    I used to watch BBC content through an app perfectly well 2 years ago on an very basic Android device until the BBC banned it.
    The Adobe environment causes huge overheads on any devices, an earlier laptop became unable to play BBC content after the BBC started using it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Love Apple products but getting frustrated at their closed approach. £600 for an Ipad and theres no USB? Insane!

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    And I see yet another Android virus comes out. Meanwhile, in Apple's "walled garden", that so many idiots seem to decry, there's not been a single identified virus out in the wild. You couldn't get me to use an Android phone ever, not if you bought me the best, and paid all my bills for life. It's time the other tech companies copied Apple's approach and protected their customers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.


    Also - it isn't 'market distortion' - it's 'the market'.

    And… before I hear 'the BBC isn't a business, it's a service' - well, absolutely, and it's remit is to serve broadly, so going after the majority source of traffic first makes sense there too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.


    I think you're getting the cart before the horse. Remember that while Android is getting better with each release, they are playing catchup. iOS was out first and more mature from the outset, so developers naturally went there first. That the traffic continues to come from iOS only reinforces the sense in prioritising the platform. This is not partisan ideology, just sound business practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    "The interesting question is why it should be that way."

    Might it be because services like the iPlayer are preferentially delivered to iOS, so people keen to use their phones online more (and less as phones) are encouraged to buy iOS devices?

    This isn't a surprise - it's precisely the sort of market distortion that people are complaining about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    @ 42. Sceptic

    "Put down your iHaveMoreMoneyThanSense devices and checkout the alternatives. Yup, they're better."

    In your opinion you mean, perhaps for your purposes they are but for mine they are not and yes I have used Android devices even before getting an iPhone. I do agree though that there needs to be a greater variety of devices and technologies covered by the bbc though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.


    That's just one example, and counts ad _impressions_ (displayed), not clicks - so proclivity to click ads is irrelevant.

    But it's not just them. Here's another source: And another: - Any tech commenter not embedded in some partisan trench has acknowledged this for some time. The interesting question is why it should be that way.

  • Comment number 202.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    @198 What a ridiculous thing to say. I suppose you think iTV own apple as well and thats why they never got sued for naming it the iPod

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Quite amusing and sadly predictable with BBC comment threads:

    - Point out the cold hard fact that iOS dominates web traffic stats regardless of Android market share. (see: & many others)

    - Sit back and watch the Android mob mindlessly downvote the comment.

    Whining about BBC bias is absurd, catering to the largest _relevant_ market first is just common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    As usual many people commenting on here that don't have a clue. Android is still a half-baked OS but slowly getting there. It will always be more difficult to develop for Android for said reasons but I see that the majority of Android users on here just won't see it or don't want to hear it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Have you ever wondered how the BBC got away with naming their streaming media app iPlayer?

    Apple: Dear BBC, call it iPlayer and we will sue.

    BBC: Oh ok, how about we give you unlimited free advertising and product placement & glowing reviews where ever possible?

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Strange how the 'Galaxy S2' can't handle advanced video??

    I'm not sure what they mean by 'advanced video'. It can play HD video if it can get the data quickly enough, and over 3G it can play video from my Slingbox with as good a quality as you'd expect for the data rates.

    Sounds like they don't really know what they're doing...

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Xoot, C# stole its syntax from C++, which stole its syntax from C. No different to Java. Also C# isn't really *fully* OO (due to the underlying framework not being fully OO, but to be fair Java isn't fully OO either for the same reasons).


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