I’m not sure whether it’s because the BBC has been stung by the criticism over their handling of the Mac in relation iPlayer, or the official explanation which is that it’s the highest quality portable device, but yesterday the BBC launched the iPlayer for the iPhone and iPod Touch ahead of versions for any of the other more established mobile devices.
If you’ve not come across the service, BBC iPlayer is the catch-up service that allows computer users to watch programmes that have been shown on the BBC channels over the past seven days. There are two variations, a windows only download version using Windows Media Player, and a browser based streaming version using Adobe Flash.
The iPhone/iPod Touch version uses Quicktime instead, and although it runs off the web based version (as with the desktop version you just need to browse to http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/ using the iPhone/iPod Touch browser) the programmes don’t run within the browser but use the iPhone/iPod Touch Quicktime viewer.
The service is only available over a wi-fi connection – and when you see the quality of the picture you realise why. By way of an example, I’ve taken a couple of pictures of the episode of Eastenders that was shown last night. The first shot is of the opening titles, the familiar aerial shot of London, and then I’ve also taken a picture of a scene later on in the programme. The clarity of the pictures is really fantastic – when you compare it to the quality of image produced by some of the other attempts at mobile TV it is noticeably better, and certainly very watch-able. The quality hasn’t been traded at the expense of speed – there is no discernible sitting around and waiting – nor is it noticeably running at a reduced frame rate. You can also skip forward to later in the programme without any problem either – just touch the screen to bring up the controls and move the slider later in the programme.
The other thing to remember is this isn’t directly costing users anything either – if you use the iPhone you get free access to any Cloud wi-fi hotspots as part of the deal – and it’s free for iPod Touch users too thanks to the BBC Online deal for free access that was announced last year.