Review: BBC iPlayer for iPad
Developer – BBC
BBC iPlayer – Free – iTunes store
App version – 1.0
On Thursday the BBC unveiled its brand new iPlayer iPad app and thankfully what a masterpiece it is. The app which is only available on the UK App Store for free will only work within the UK and Ireland due to restrictions of viewing, after all us British do pay for the luxury of the BBC and its programming.
The app itself is really well built offering easy navigation of the most popular programming available on the iPlayer at the time. The app opens to wherever you left it but on first run will open to the “Featured” page, what’s refreshing about the design of the programme listings is how the programme thumbs are laid out in a sliding pane rather than individual pages.
One thing I noticed initially about the app is that it is fast, really fast. I’m operating off a very fast WiFi connection so I can’t comment too much on how quickly programmes start for everyone but for me they start instantly and I can happily scrub around without any significant or even noticeable lag or issue. Aside from playing shows themselves, all the menus are sleek, load instantly and work fantastically on the iPad.
Programming isn’t high definition in quality but it certainly is very high quality with no noticeable compression artefacts, although it does seem to vary a little from programme to programme.
iPad users in the UK probably already know that we’ve had access to the iPlayer for some time via a web interface, whilst it was functional and served the purpose, many key elements were missing. A lot of programming for whatever reason never made it to this web interface, this app doesn’t seem to have the same problem. The web interface was also slow and for me was quite crash prone. The web interface also didn’t offer access to live TV (technically called simulcast) which is something that the regular iPlayer does offer. Now with the official BBC iPlayer app we have access to simulcasts of all the BBC channels (including radio) with fantastic quality and a lovely time grid interface to help see what’s on, even the desktop version doesn’t get that!
One of my favourite features about the app is the Favourites menu, whilst not being able to try it myself the BBC writes that programmes dragged to the Favourites menu will cause new episodes from the series to appear there automatically, a fantastic feature to help sort through the mass of weekly BBC programming.
The iPlayer app is not without its faults though, the glaring issue with the app—especially on a mobile platform—is the lack of offline viewing. I suspect that some kind of piracy issue is at stake here but the lack of downloading for offline viewing really stops this app from being the landmark app it could be. This issue is made worse by the app being WiFi only, a bizarre decision by the BBC.
Another issue is not being able to sign into my account, the same account which offers me up fantastic recommendations based on my recent viewing and on the desktop versions gives me recommendations from what my friends have been watching. Whilst we’re talking about social media, there is absolutely no method of connecting to Facebook or Twitter. Another great let down.
There is of course a proverbial elephant in the room that goes by the name of AirPlay, like many other apps that stream video from the Internet it seems like a serious oversight to not be able to stream directly to the new Apple TV. Although the feature isn’t in the iPlayer app this isn’t actually the fault of the developer but a fault of Apple who has not made the necessary tools available to developers to allow such a feature. But astute readers will note that the upcoming release of iOS 4.3 will enable third-party AirPlay, expect this app to gain the feature quickly after that release.
- Very smooth app
- Excellent quality video and sound
- Well build menus, especially programme grid
- Access to iPlayer simulcasts of TV and radio
- No 3G viewing, WiFi only
- No offline viewing
- No social media integration
- Can’t login to see personal or friends recommendations
Overall the BBC iPlayer iPad app offers the basic features of the iPlayer and executes the functions well but is severely let down by a lack of 3G viewing, offline viewing and the presence of any social media integration. When AirPlay functionality is finally enabled this app with be seen in a whole new light with a superb reason to purchase a second-generation Apple TV.