BBC Podcasts on the iPhone and iPod Touch (beta)
So last Friday, Apple launched the iPhone in the UK. A few months before, the iPod Touch launched here too. A few weeks before that, the BBC turned its Download and Podcast trial into a full-blown service. This means loads more podcasts (including the seminal Archers podcast), a new Podcast directory, and loads of publicity.
Here at BBC Audio & Music, we like to try new things - so we thought we'd see what we could do with Apple's new devices as a first step for optimising our formidable Podcast catalogue for lots of different platforms.
The idea was to make our content playable on the iPhone and iPod Touch in an easier way that navigating through the normal web-based directory. Hopefully this would allow people to a) more easily discover our content and b) be able to catch up on their favourite podcasts if they had been unable to sync their device to iTunes. The motivation behind this was that Apple's WiFi iTunes store was not supporting podcast subscriptions or downloads - a service we thought we could try and help with.
What we’ve built is a version of our normal podcast directory, but optimised for the iPhone’s user interface. It allows you to browse all the BBC’s Mp3 podcasts by radio station, genre, or in an A-Z list. You can then stream and listen to all the available episodes directly on the device. Limitations with the iPhone / iPod Touch prevent you from downloading the podcasts and listening to them outside of a WiFi or EDGE connection area, but for sitting in a café and catching up on the latest Moyles or NewsPod, its just great.
Chris Johnson (also from Audio & Music), and I thought we'd try and tackle this duing "10% Time" - basically, we get a couple of days a month to try out crazy ideas, and see if we can make anything of them.
To get us started we took Joe Hewitt's excellent IUI JS/CSS framework and the data from our podcasting directory and began to optimise the off-the-shelf code. This included more AJAX-like loading, image placement (including some nifty reflection stuff courtesy of Reflection.js), and a bit of serious back-end work to enable it to run on the BBC's web infrastructure.
Well, our first crack as it is here… https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/podcasts/directory/ip/ or you can just go to bbc.co.uk/podcasts from your iPhone or iPod Touch browser. Remember, to see this on a PC you Safari 3 Beta - as it doesn't work in any other browser. You can also read more about it through Apple's iPhone/iPod Touch Webapps directory. We're also chuffed to bits that today, they've chosen it as a Staff Pick. Cheers guys!
There’s still lots to do though. We're working on an even better version which should be faster, cleaner and will work on the EDGE network (although you'd be brave to download a Chris Moyles Enhanced podcast over EDGE!). This next version also uses the new IUI release which offers loads of more enhancements, and looks even more like the native iPhone interface.
Of course, we're open to suggestions for improvements, and even code itself if you want to get really stuck in.
And this isn't the end. Although we like the iPhone and iPod Touch, they’re only one platform. We'd like to bring the BBC's Podcast directory to more devices - perhaps PSP, Windows Mobile, IPTV - who knows. Now we just have to find the time……
Thanks to Chris Johnson for being an awesome working partner on this project.