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BBC Podcasts on the iPhone and iPod Touch (beta)

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Simon Cross Simon Cross | 12:27 UK time, Wednesday, 14 November 2007

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.

Comments

  1. At 10:03 PM on 14 Nov 2007, John Allen wrote:

    This is a really classy job by the BBC - it melds with the iPhone interface nicely, it's well laid out. Definitely an added bonus for new iPhone users!

  2. At 10:39 PM on 14 Nov 2007, Greg wrote:

    This is brilliant I just tried it out...hopefully services like this will convince Apple to make podcasts available on the iTunes Wifi Store. Thanks a lot BBC

  3. At 11:51 PM on 14 Nov 2007, Greg wrote:

    This is brilliant I just tried it out...hopefully services like this will convince Apple to make podcasts available on the iTunes Wifi Store. Thanks a lot BBC

  4. At 11:02 PM on 15 Nov 2007, Richard Keen wrote:

    Excellent work - just tried this on my iPhone and it's an absolute joy to use and will definitely encourage me to make more use of the BBC's podcasts. Looking forward to the next release!

  5. At 06:18 AM on 16 Nov 2007, Andy Evans wrote:

    Well this would be truly awesome.....if it worked.
    Have just found this today and the interface on a touch is fantastic, the concept is fantastic there's just one problem, no play button so I can't listen to a thing, just look.
    I hope someone is working on this!

  6. At 05:08 PM on 16 Nov 2007, Tristan wrote:

    Hi Andy,

    Sorry to hear it's not quite working right - is that on an iPod Touch? I know we've found that it only works properly on iPhones over wifi and not on the mobile network.

  7. At 07:09 PM on 16 Nov 2007, Tom wrote:

    I've had the same experience. Works fine on wi-fi but no play button, and often no page at all on EDGE. I see you're working on that though, so more power to you. Can't wait 'til I can get my beeb podcasts anywhere. Any ETA on that?

  8. At 07:35 PM on 16 Nov 2007, Andy Evans wrote:

    Hi Tristan,

    thanks for the response. Yes it is on an iPod Touch,

    firmware 1.1.1 (not updating to 1.1.2 since mine is jailbroken).

    As I say the interface looks great and stuck here in the back of beyond (New Zealand) BBC podcasts are one way of keeping in touch with home.

    I can see a very feint grey quicktime icon but no play button.

    I visited a url someone suggested on another site that linked directly to a podcast and that page had a little 'play' button that worked fine so it is obviously possible on my touch.

    I hope you'll keep working on it as it would be a great addition to the best gadget ever.

    Cheers
    Andy

  9. At 07:44 PM on 16 Nov 2007, Duncan Thomas wrote:

    As a one time BBC Radio staffer I am delighted to see that the spirit of innovation is as alive as ever. I liked the post on iPod Touch/iPhone. I am not considering buying an iPhone for all the usual reasons but your adaptation of the podcast directory to the iPod Touch seem to me to be a very good reason to buy one. It would save downloading to the laptop and then transferring to the iPod. However, much as I like Apple kit, there does seem to be the disadvantage of tying a wonderful new facility to one manufacturer (a bit like iMP in reverse). I think your suggestion of a possible extension to PSP is a good one (perhaps your next 10% Time project?) Keep up the good work. PS preview facility does not seem to work at the moment....

  10. At 07:49 PM on 16 Nov 2007, Andy Evans wrote:

    Hi Tristan,

    thanks for the response. Yes it is on an iPod Touch,

    firmware 1.1.1 (not updating to 1.1.2 since mine is jailbroken).

    As I say the interface looks great and stuck here in the back of beyond (New Zealand) BBC podcasts are one way of keeping in touch with home.

    I can see a very feint grey quicktime icon but no play button.

    I visited a url someone suggested on another site that linked directly to a podcast and that page had a little 'play' button that worked fine so it is obviously possible on my touch.

    I hope you'll keep working on it as it would be a great addition to the best gadget ever.

    Cheers
    Andy

  11. At 01:27 PM on 17 Nov 2007, Duncan Thomas wrote:

    As a one time BBC Radio staffer I am delighted to see that the spirit of innovation is as alive as ever. I liked the post on iPod Touch/iPhone. I am not considering buying an iPhone for all the usual reasons but your adaptation of the podcast directory to the iPod Touch seem to me to be a very good reason to buy one. It would save downloading to the laptop and then transferring to the iPod. However, much as I like Apple kit, there does seem to be the disadvantage of tying a wonderful new facility to one manufacturer (a bit like iMP in reverse). I think your suggestion of a possible extension to PSP is a good one (perhaps your next 10% Time project?) Keep up the good work.

  12. At 08:13 PM on 17 Nov 2007, Philip wrote:

    Really, really nice work everyone. The Beeb has almost appeared to be anti-Mac over the past few years, so it's really refreshing to see this implemented so well. Congrats, thanks and let's have more!

  13. At 10:33 PM on 18 Nov 2007, Guy Brooker wrote:

    Shame the selection is so small.

    Why not have all of the Today program available, for the last three days.

    Where are your wonderful Jazz and Blues programs ?

    Nice try, but some work to do...

  14. At 08:43 AM on 20 Nov 2007, Oliver Dann wrote:

    Fantastic interface on the Touch! I'll be using this all the time.

    Are there any plans for mp3 streaming of live radio through this interface? A US radio station WMFU are currently testing this.

  15. At 06:42 PM on 23 Nov 2007, Harry Harrison wrote:

    Great interface on the iPhone. However I do not get a play link on any of the podcasts. Using wi-fi and firmware 111. Any ideas? I am able to stream content from other sites.
    Really nice dev. Many thanks.
    Harry

  16. At 01:22 PM on 02 Dec 2007, Ali Afshar wrote:

    Kudos for this BBC. Really great work, thank-you. Makes one proud to be British etc.

  17. At 03:15 AM on 13 Dec 2007, Anne wrote:

    This is a great web app--thanks BBC! Like other posters I'd love to be able to listen to live streaming radio as well--any plans for this development?

  18. At 07:25 AM on 18 Dec 2007, iain clydesdale wrote:

    very nice and good but can we listen to live music on the iPhone/ipod touch over edge or wifi? Which is what I was looking to do when I found this site.

  19. At 05:36 PM on 19 Dec 2007, Tom wrote:

    Superb. Keep up the good work.


    Dear BBC,

    I think the licence fee is just too low, I would be willing to pay five times the current, staggeringly small, price.

    ... Ad Nauseum

  20. At 05:35 PM on 21 Dec 2007, Aidan wrote:

    Hi. I'm running my ipod touch on my institutional wi-fi network and not being able to play anything - any suggestions?
    Aidan

  21. At 06:54 PM on 25 Dec 2007, Cymrobalch wrote:

    Well, I'm very much impressed! Just got my iPod Touch today...simple idea, yet useful! Thanks

  22. At 08:21 PM on 26 Dec 2007, S Starkie wrote:

    Excellent service - exactly hat we need.
    10% time sounds like a great idea.
    St.J

  23. At 11:30 PM on 27 Dec 2007, Miki wrote:

    Sadly the majority of podcasts cannot be accessed outside the UK. A real shame. Maybe this can be corrected

  24. At 01:31 PM on 03 Jan 2008, ACarton wrote:

    The iPod touch is impressive, as is the BBC's Listen Again service. However, the two are not compatible because of Real Player.

    Can the BBC and Apple work together to find a solution to this because in the UK being cut off from the most of the BBC's means that the iPod touch has a serious disadvantage. (NO - giving us access to the minority of PodCasts is not a substitute - see https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/2007/11/bbc_podcasts_on_the_iphone_and.shtml%29

  25. At 10:30 PM on 06 Jan 2008, Glenn Alexander wrote:

    If an ambitious, innovative and very creative radio station in Hoboken, New Jersey US can stream live to iPhone, then the BBC can too!

    WFMU is an independent freeform station that makes available a web address so iPhone users can hear live streaming radio ... https://iphone.wfmu.org/

    You'll find both a 32K Live Mp3 Stream (Edge) and a
    128K Live Mp3 Stream (Wifi). Easily listen on your iPhone or sample the stream on your desktop/laptop.

    I'm listening on my iPhone right now, and it works and sounds great!

    The WFMU BLOG entry describes how they got streaming up and running:
    https://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/11/we-are-pleased-.html?cid=88811956

    I admire all of your efforts to bring BBC audio and music to the iPhone. And I sincerely appreciate your spirit of innovation. So, I trust you will embrace this new information with delight and enthusiasm.

    BBC live stream for iPhone is exactly what's needed now. Judging by your rapid brilliant progress at providing valued BBC podcasts, I'm going to eagerly await your live streaming announcment. Confidence is high.

    Sincerely,
    Glenn
    Chicago

    -----------
    So very gifted we are to live during these times when all seems possible.

    Hear WFMU and visit their website at https://wfmu.org/ to get a look at the broad list of eclectic programming.

  26. At 10:40 PM on 06 Jan 2008, Gianfranco wrote:

    The BBC is always ahead of technologies when compare to Radio France or the RAI!
    Please carry on!
    Gianfranco

  27. At 05:25 AM on 07 Jan 2008, Glenn Alexander wrote:

    If an ambitious, innovative and very creative radio station in Hoboken, New Jersey US can stream live to iPhone, then the BBC can too!

    WFMU is an independent freeform station that makes available a web address so iPhone users can hear live streaming radio ... https://iphone.wfmu.org/

    You'll find both a 32K Live Mp3 Stream (Edge) and a 128K Live Mp3 Stream (Wi-Fi). Easily listen on your iPhone or sample the stream on your desktop/laptop.

    I'm listening on my iPhone right now, and it works and sounds great!

    The WFMU Blog entry describes how they got streaming up and running:
    https://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/11/we-are-pleased-.html?cid=88811956

    I admire all of your efforts to bring BBC audio and music to the iPhone. And I sincerely appreciate your spirit of innovation. So, I trust you'll embrace this new information in delight with enthusiasm.

    BBC live stream for iPhone is exactly what's needed now. Judging by your rapid brilliant progress at providing valued BBC podcasts, I'm going to eagerly await your live streaming announcment. Confidence is high.

    Sincerely,
    Glenn

    Chicago

    -----------
    So very gifted we are to live during these times when all seems possible.

    Hear WFMU and visit their website at https://wfmu.org/ to get a look at the broad list of eclectic programming.

  28. At 10:42 AM on 07 Jan 2008, Glenn Alexander wrote:

    If an ambitious, innovative and very creative radio station in Hoboken, New Jersey US can stream live to iPhone, then the BBC can too!

    WFMU is an independent freeform station that makes available a web address so iPhone users can hear live streaming radio ... https://iphone.wfmu.org/

    You'll find both a 32K Live Mp3 Stream (Edge) and a 128K Live Mp3 Stream (Wi-Fi). Easily listen on your iPhone or sample the stream on your desktop/laptop.

    I'm listening on my iPhone right now. And the live stream works and sounds great!

    The WFMU Blog entry describes how they got streaming up and running:
    https://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/11/we-are-pleased-.html?cid=88811956

    I admire all of your efforts to bring BBC audio and music to the iPhone. And I sincerely appreciate your spirit of innovation. So, I trust you'll embrace this new information in delight with enthusiasm.

    BBC live stream for iPhone is exactly what's needed now. Judging by your rapid brilliant progress at providing valued BBC podcasts, I'm going to eagerly await your live streaming announcment.

    Confidence is high.
    Glenn

    Chicago

    -----------
    So very gifted we are to live during these times when all seems possible.

    You can hear WFMU and visit their website at https://wfmu.org/ to get a look at the broad list of eclectic programming.

  29. At 07:24 PM on 17 Jan 2008, Richard wrote:

    At 10:33 PM on 18 Nov 2007, Guy Brooker wrote:

    Shame the selection is so small.
    Why not have all of the Today program available, for the last three days.
    Where are your wonderful Jazz and Blues programs ?
    Nice try, but some work to do...

    =====

    Guy, the BBC makes more podcasts available than any other broadcaster, at least in the UK. There are 150+ now, and more to come. Sadly it's not as easy as flicking a switching and making everything available.

    Regards Today - who has the time or bandwidth to download a full 3 hour mp3 file every day?? If you want the whole show, you can use the streaming listen again service. Podcasting is about portability and convenience.

    Regards Jazz/Blues - we've only recently been allowed to provide music in podcasts, and even then only 30 second clips. There's a post about this on the Radio Labs blog, I think.

  30. At 07:26 PM on 17 Jan 2008, Richard wrote:

    At 11:30 PM on 27 Dec 2007, Miki wrote:

    Sadly the majority of podcasts cannot be accessed outside the UK. A real shame. Maybe this can be corrected

    =========

    Not true, Miki. You'll find that it's only a small minority of BBC podcasts which are UK-only (those which contain music clips).

  31. At 04:46 PM on 21 Feb 2008, Mark wrote:

    Fantastic service ...

    ... just one little niggle that bugs me - when you select a podcast from the list then hit the back button, it goes back to the front page instead of back to the list of podcasts.

    Also the 'comedy and quizzes' page is broken (it just displays 'null')

    Apart from that great work!

  32. At 02:58 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Howard Leigh wrote:

    I bought my iPod Touch in November.
    ******************************
    Soon after I rediscouvered the fact that I tire of "stored tunes and playlists" . I want to pick what I want to look/listen too on a whim. So while I have one 1Gig movie, various tunes, Jean Shepperd, and Agatha Christie stored on my iPod Touch, I do not want to store anymore media "data" and I do not want to have to lineup at iTunes to subscribe to podcast after podcast after poscast ... AND THEN .. engage in various subsequent storage and removal actions on my part. >

    Consequently, thess days I have been searching for RSS feeds that will talk to me and/or quasi-stream data to my iPod on demand.

    Thank You BBC for this test.
    **********************
    It underlines the fact that Apple lives in a world appart. We are lucky that you took the time to get this going. I for one appreciate the decision making and risk-rewards that underpinned your decision. I hope that you drive this kind of an offering across your entire Podcast-Streaming portfolio. Now and in the future.

    I am hooked on my "PMP" .
    ***********************
    I think that Apple have done a narvelous job with the iPod Touch. However, It is clear to me now that I do not want a PMP that centers on pre-purchased content. I want one that streams (or features delayed quasi-streaming like your BBC effort) . So, the BBC has a new customer for life, but that customer may not be visiting with an Apple product in the years to come.

    Thank You,

    A Retired Canadian

  33. At 01:00 PM on 14 Apr 2008, JF wrote:

    The iPhone/iPod Touch player doesn't seem to be showing any content at the moment. Is anyone aware of this? Initial page and station lists are OK, but no programmes??

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