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BBC World Service iPhone App in Russian

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Phil Buckley Phil Buckley | 13:16 UK time, Friday, 2 March 2012

Capture of Russian iPhone app, with text in Cyrillic.

World Service Russian iPhone App Homepage

I'm delighted to say that we released a News App in Russian for the iPhone yesterday.

You can find the BBC News app (Новости Би-би-си) in the App store and get stories, breaking news, and video in Russian delivered straight to your mobile.

This is the latest step in a long history of Russian output. World Service Radio started broadcasting the occasional show in Russian in 1942 (see slide 11 on the link), and became a full service in 1946.

Since last year the service has been internet only and BBC Russian is a full service news site, with 30+ articles a day along with audio and video content, the best of which is now available in the app.

Unlike the website however, the app allows you to browse offline. This should be very useful for anyone with variable internet access; we also know that some of our audience simply prefer using apps to the browser on their phones.

How we built and tested the app

This is the first foreign language app the BBC has produced and we hope there will be many more. However, building an app for all the World Services's 27 languages on every platform would be hugely expensive. So, we hope we have an innovative solution to this, by using a system called PhoneGap, which allows you to develop apps for a number of operating systems from a single codebase. This should allow us to roll out not only the app code to more of our languages, but also the Russian app to other operating systems such as Android.

screenshot of coding application, showing lists of files on left, and resources including homepage graphics on right

Hot PhoneGap coding action

We're starting with Russian both because of the elections taking place on March 4, but also because the Cyrillic alphabet is actually less of a problem than may appear. Russian reads left to right, and has a limited number of letters - so although the text takes up slightly more room, the app can follow an English language pattern relatively easily. This is how Vladimir Putin's is written in Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, and Hindi:

  • Vladimir Putin
  • Владимир Путин
  • فلاديمير بوتين
  • व्लादीमीर पुतिन
A female reporter and Vladimir Putin in a brightly coloured studio. Laptops in the foreground, and scrolling chat text - in Russian and English - behind them.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall and Vladimir Putin in a News Online web chat, 2001

Testing however is a proper challenge - even our native speakers in London can't test the performance of the app in Russia itself. So, for this app we have worked with a company called uTest who supplied us with an army of testers across Russia. These guys charge per bug found - so it's obviously worth our while to get as perfect a version as possible before we send it to them; but they found a few obscure bugs which we have now corrected.

As a manager, you are often claiming credit for presenting work other people have actually done - and this is particularly true here as work had started before I joined the World Service team. So I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all who have worked so hard to get this app out. I would be very pleased to hear from any Russian speakers as to their experiences with it.

Phil Buckley has moved from CBBC/CBeebies to be Executive Product Manager, BBC Future Media World Service


  • Comment number 1.

    Looks nice! Did you use some kind of gui toolkit? And how do intend to adhere to platform specific UI guidelines?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Gabriel-

    Thanks for your kind words.

    No, there's no GUI on PhoneGap - the pic above does look like it I know but the job is pure coding - the codebase is HTML5 and CSS.

    For platform-specific stuff - there's not much planned, though when we do the Android version, we will probably use the hardware keys on those devices (Back and Menu). Is there anything in particular you were thinking of?

    Best wishes -


  • Comment number 3.

    Russian speakers (or those who - like me - are familiar with Google Translate) might be interested in the perspective of Jan Leder, Managing Editor of the BBC Russian Service here:


  • Comment number 4.

    BBC Russian App offers users offline access to the top three stories from each category. Nice

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Is there any performance issues bcz of using phonegap. I am an anroid developer, got rumours from many that phonegap applications are a bit slow compared to native. Is there any such issues encountered in this BBC Russion App?. If not, i am also planning to make android app using phonegap

  • Comment number 7.

    "we also know that some of our audience simply prefer using apps to the browser on their phones" - How many? How much did it cost to develop in comparison to the revenue generated by the 'some'?

    I am no longer shocked by the chaos caused by the 'script kiddies' in the BBC internet team and this proves that madness and havoc is spreading through-out the department.

    Another BBC gimmick to hide the fact that they have stopped investing in their own website and continue to waste money in narrow fields of development.

    If I want news I must have facebook - If I want russian I must purchase an iPhone....

    BBC please, just develop your own website to deliver this kind of content! Stop wasting our money on applications that not every licence fee payers has access too.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi all, thanks as always for your comments.

    365socialmedia - thank you for your kind words.

    Vishnu, well, that's a good question. I have spent some time comparing our PhoneGap app with native apps such as BBC UK News and those of various Russian news providers, and I am not convinced it is any slower at all. However, there is a bit of a lag in scrolling etc before the stories are fully loaded and the Russian users have certainly noticed this. So - I am flirting with making it load a few articles before you can start interacting, which would give a longer load time but a possibly better experience. But you are of course very welcome to give it a go and see what you think? We haven't tried it in Android yet so I don't know about there I'm afraid.

    Marcus - I suspect I won't convince you, but -

    I think actual numbers are possibly commercially confidential, but it certainly cost a lot less to develop the app than the website, by a factor of at least 10. Of course the app relies entirely on the systems powering the website so there's no exact comparison. Meanwhile, if I have interpreted the cyrillic correctly, we are the number 1 news app in Russian currently - https://itunes.apple.com/ru/genre/ios-novosti/id6009?mt=8 so there is definitely a market there.

    How big is the market? Well, at this point we leave the realm of data and enter that of opinion - but based on various user testing sessions I have been on, I reckon maybe 15-20% of people prefer apps to the mobile browser? The people I met at least said that the mobile browser experience was just too cluttered; with this in mind, the Новости Би-би-си app has a simpler interface than the browser and also only includes the most important articles of the day - if you want more on any subject you are linked through to the mobile website.

    And by the way, using either the desktop or mobile sites is entirely free anywhere on the internet at bbcrussian.com (as is the Новости Би-би-си app) - all the content is on the web, you don't need an iPhone to get it.

    I hope that answers your questions - best wishes all -



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