Android App of the Week: BBC iPlayer
The sluggish attitude of the BBC to Android apps has meant that numerous pretenders have appeared: search for BBC in the Android Market and you'll find dozens of tools that provide stories from the corporation's news and sports sites, as well as a couple that provide iPlayer content unofficially.
That's changed with the release of an official iPlayer app. It's potentially one of the biggest apps to ever hit the market, and it's been released simultaneously with the iPad edition.
Boot up the app and it's immediately obvious this is something special. Featured programmes sit at the top of the screen, and scrolling down sees more fade into view smoothly. Switch your phone around and you're able to scroll horizontally through Auntie's top content.
Click on a show and the familiar iPlayer layout appears, with options to share the the show over any social-networking apps you've got installed or add it to your favourites for later viewing. Graphics illustrate the programme's channel, duration and availability on iPlayer, and there are eight links to recommend shows at the bottom of the screen – just scroll through them horizontally and click.
The Radio tab is designed along the same lines, with the latest shows, exclusive live performances and (for older listeners) episodes of The Archers available.
At the top of the app sits an unobtrusive little button that's actually key to the iPlayer experience. Click it and you're able to browse through numerous programme categories, from comedy and drama to sports and documentaries, as well as divide shows by their channels: all the main stations are supported alongside more obscure ones such as BBC Parliament, BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Radio 7.
And then there's the live TV and radio options, which stream current content. None of iPlayer's playback options work on 3G, but our office wireless network coped admirably, quickly streaming BBC at fine quality. While it's not what you'd expect from the corporation's HD channels – or, frankly, its SD broadcasting – it's certainly watchable.
Some of the Beeb's archived content, though, didn't fare so well. Top at the time of writing was a David Attenborough documentary, Madagascar, which proved difficult to watch as the app kept stopping to buffer images. The latest episode of Panorama was the same. This could be down to increased launch demand peaks or a temporary glitch on our wireless network, but it's a shame to see such an impressive app potentially scuppered by outside forces.
Official BBC apps have been a long time coming but, now the first has arrived, we're still impressed: iPlayer mimics its desktop cousin superbly and – when your wireless connection plays ball – offers a smooth and responsive experience. It's free and available in the Android Market right now as long as you're running Android 2.2 or above.