To say that the BBC has a lot of original content would be somewhat of a gross understatement, having said that, eyebrows might be raised at the thought of a BBC-only iPlayer radio app, particularly when there are already web-based radio apps out there that cover thousands of stations from around the world. Despite this fact, the design and functionality that resides within the new BBC iPlayer Radio app is impressive to say the least.
Once you’ve downloaded the free app you’re greeted with a unique dial interface which lets you scroll through the BBC’s FM and DAB radio stations (bearing in mind you’re listening to them over mobile data or WiFi, the iPhone has no inbuilt FM radio tuner). As you rotate the dial from one radio station to the next you can see which show or DJ is on at that time, plus timings for the current section of that show, all positioned under attractive cover art for the show or DJ currently sitting under the red light.
Tapping on a show takes you to the playback screen; here you can start or stop the livestream, see the overall elapsed time for the show, the current track playing and the last track played. By each track there’s also an option to add it to your favourites list which we’ll talk about a little later. Tapping the information icon on the show’s cover art reveal real-time information on the current segment you’re listening to, offers sharing options for both email and Twitter, the option to set alerts for the next time this show broadcasts and links of available older episodes of the same show which you can playback for however long the BBC decide to archive them for.
Next up is the Search tab which alongside allowing you the ability to manually search for your DJ, show, track or subject matter of choice also features organisation of all the available iPlayer radio content by genre, sub-genre and episode. It’s an amazingly deep search tool that makes browsing the BBC’s recent radio content a doddle.
The Podcasts tab greets you with a podcast-specific search bar, links to featured podcasts, recently launched podcasts and the ability to browse all the latest podcasts from every BBC radio station in numerical/regional order.
The Alarm tab is one of the app’s best features as it turns your radio station of choice into your personal alarm. You set time, station and snooze duration before being able to toggle on and off your alarm, however in addition, the developers have created Night Mode: a minimalist clock UI with a brightness slider and not much else and if you happen to be playing a show at the time, you can set a sleep counter on the fly to snooze the station whilst you get some peace and quite. Last but not least, leaving the tab alone causes the UI to fade out completely leaving you with the clear 24-hour clock display and not much else. It’s a wonderfully elegant addition to the app and sets the example in perfect clock radio functionality.
The More tab is the last piece of this app’s puzzle and it’s reserved for tips on how to get the most from the app, additional app information and your favourite tracks. Whilst your listening to your radio station of choice, any tracks you add to the favourite tracks list end up here. From this menu you can remove select tracks or email the entire list to yourself for use later on.
If it isn’t clear, the previous seven paragraphs stand as a testament to the depth of the BBC iPlayer Radio app. It not only makes navigation efficient and easy; information is well presented, the UI is incredibly intuitive and functionality has been refined to the nth degree. The principles behind this application set the bar for all radio stream apps and for the most part the competition need to step up their game. If the designers of the BBC iPlayer Radio got their hands on a general stream app such as TuneIn Radio, we think it might make for the perfect storm.
Update 8/7/14: The BBC iPlayer Radio app is available on iOS, Android and from today, Windows Phone.