If you happen to read the BBC Internet Blog, the picture that has appeared today on one of their postings might be familiar, especially if you’ve read my post about the BBC iPlayer. One interesting thing I’ve learnt from the e-mail exchange with the BBC guy who asked to use the picture though, Apple apparently don’t like you using a capital ‘T’ when referring to a certain iPod – so it’s iPod touch rather than iPod Touch. Looking back over my previous postings, I guess that’s me off Steve Jobs Christmas card list…
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.
It’s been about eight years now since I ditched the bunch of muppets at Lloyds TSB in favour of Smile, the Internet bank from the Co-operative. Quite apart from their ethical banking policy, they offer decent rates on their accounts, and more than that running the account is a minimum of hassle.
Tonight, Watchdog on the BBC published the results of their recent banking survey, which showed that my decision of eight years ago was a good one now, with Smile in second place, just piped at the post by First Direct, another internet based bank.
What was interesting to note was the big names down at the bottom of the table, my former bank Lloyds TSB was right down there – ironic considering the comment of the manager at Rickmansworth when I closed my Lloyds TSB account that he hoped to tempt me back – along with the Halifax and Bank of Scotland, and award for the worst bank of all going to the Abbey.
However, the detail of the figures is what makes interesting reading, so for example the banks that did well had most voters saying that they hadn’t had need to complain, and those that did found problems easily resolved by the bank. In comparison the banks that did poorly had larger numbers of complaints, and it was more of a problem to solve.
In the past it has been reported that people didn’t change banks because they thought it was a hassle – it is perhaps pleasing to see that only ten percent of respondents to this survey believe this. Certainly even eight years ago it was relatively straightforward for me to switch, and the problems there were came down to Lloyds TSB incompetence rather than Smile. The biggest reason for non-switching now seems to be that people think they won’t get better service elsewhere – based on the results of the survey, if they are with one of the big banks in the bottom five this is untrue. When you look at the massive numbers of people who have been with the same bank for years – almost two-thirds for ten or more years, you realise that the big banks essentially rely on the apathy of the vast majority of their customers to make them money. They hit their customers with big charges, pay miserly interest rates and offer us lousy customer service because they know that the vast majority of people won’t bother to move, because they either think the other banks will be the same, or they think it’s too much hassle.
Certainly I’ll disagree. I’ll happily recommend Smile, the accounts have run without a major hitch for years. The most recent time I had to call customer service was actually to unpick my screw up, rather than something they’d done, but they were really helpful and apologetic that they couldn’t be more help, despite it being my fault. On top of that they have a current account that pays almost thirty times the interest of some of the major banks on my whole balance rather than just part of it (check out the small print on some of the competition), and doesn’t hammer me when I go overdrawn either. The changeover is not too bad either – with Smile it’s one form to fill in, and then a month or so of keeping an eye on the old bank to make sure they do their part in switching you over. So, if you’re still with a high street bank, and dissatisfied with their service, why not vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere?
One of the things you learn pretty quickly looking at the statistics for your blog is that the most surprising posts are popular, and that for no apparent reason, posts suddenly get a burst of popularity.
That kind of thing periodically happens with the BBC News site, that lists the most read and most e-mailed articles at the current moment. Currently, the most e-mailed article is this one reporting on an Economist Intelligence Unit report that lists Vancouver as the best city in the world to live in, and also putting Toronto and Calgary in the top ten.
The problem? The article was written over two years ago, at the beginning of October 2005. Patriotic Canadians perhaps?
One of the biggest criticisms of the BBC iPlayer has been that the download service is Windows only – and limited to specific versions at that – ruling out licence payers using other platforms such as the Mac. Indeed I’ve blogged previously about the pressure that the BBC is under by the BBC Trust to get such a cross-platform solution.
The basic problem has always been that there wasn’t a solution that met the requirements – the ability to have programmes downloadable, but then only able to be watched for a week after the original showing, but was cross-platform. Windows Media DRM provided the functionality, but not the cross-platform support.
That all changed this week, with the Macworld Keynote. As part of that, Apple announced iTunes Movie Rentals. Although the lengths of time are different, the fundamental principle that the BBC required, that the programmes only be able to be watched for a limited period are there. When I was watching the keynote, the thought did cross my mind as to whether we’d find the BBC amongst the big film studios come the UK launch.
The announcement from Macworld about the effective relaunch of the AppleTV (Jobs: “we tried with AppleTV, but its not what people wanted. So we’re back with AppleTV take two – no computer is required”) is encouraging.
This, coupled with Apple’s (long anticipated) move to a rental model, means that we can look to getting BBC iPlayer onto this platform too, as we should be able to use the rental functionality to allow our programmes to be downloaded, free, but retained for a time window, and then erased, as our rightsholders currently insist.
Whilst it won’t reach Linux users, using iTunes would reach more users than the current solution – more than that, the programmes would be transferable from a computer, to an iPod, and could even be watched back on a TV using the Apple TV – giving an option for people without a suitable computer at all.