BBC iPlayer Radio Brings on Demand Radio to the iPhone

While some radio and television networks have firmly cemented themselves in the past, opposing digital distribution of media, the BBC has been quite the opposite, embracing digital distribution with their award-winning iPlayer service. More recently, the BBC has been quietly revolutionising radio in the same way they did with television by making almost every radio show broadcast available through iPlayer, with a select number even distributed as podcasts.

To make BBC radio as accessible as possible, the company have released the BBC iPlayer Radio app, which has recently been updated with podcast support. It’s an app we’ve not looked at so far, but with the golden age of podcasting upon us, it’s high-time we check out the latest app from the Beeb.

This is BBC Radio

Unlike a traditional radio which can only receive broadcasts from stations that are within range, the BBC iPlayer Radio app allows you to tune in to almost any BBC station, both national and local. You’ll find most BBC local radio stations are listed, as well as all of the national ones.

The app makes use of a rather frustrating jog wheel that feels more like a rotary phone than a useful navigation element.

The app makes use of a rather frustrating jog wheel that feels more like a rotary phone than a useful navigation element.

Selecting a radio station is done by way of a wheel that resembles an old rotary phone. Unfortunately, it’s a rather poor way of interacting with the app as you’ll often be continually scrolling to find the station you want. A preview of the current show and presenter are provided above the wheel which also slides into view as you scroll.

Now Playing

Listening to a station is simple, simply tap the station name or the show information and you’ll be able to tune in. An AirPlay icon is prominently displayed to provide alternative speaker options, though there’s a huge amount of wasted space below the show information in the Now Playing view, for some reason.

Tapping the artwork reveals more information regarding the current show, including previously broadcast episodes that you may have missed as well as being able to download episodes if there’s a podcast.

Previously broadcast episodes of the currently on air show and a full show schedule are all accessible directly within the app.

Previously broadcast episodes of the currently on air show and a full show schedule are all accessible directly within the app.

A full broadcast schedule for the next few days is available, thankfully in a more traditional list view, including show descriptions. As previously broadcast episodes are available, the number of shows that are listed can be far too big to scroll through. Instead, the app lets you filter by genre or, perhaps easier, using the search function.

Alarms and Reminders

You can set a reminder so you don't miss your favourite radio show.

You can set a reminder so you don’t miss your favourite radio show.

The app features an option to set a reminder so you can remember to tune in to a particular station live. Since every show is available on catch-up anyway, don’t worry too much if you miss it.

If you’d like to wake up to a particular radio station, you can set an alarm that will automatically start the app. It does need to keep your iPhone awake to do this so it might not replace your alarm clock radio… yet. To provide some utility in that respect, a clock view is available so the light of your iPhone doesn’t keep you awake.

An alarm function is also provided, though it's basic at best.

An alarm function is also provided, though it’s basic at best.

Podcasts

The biggest update to the app has been the introduction of podcast support. Unlike the iPlayer app for TV which allows for the download of any TV show for a certain amount of time, this isn’t possible for radio shows. What the BBC does offer, however, are a large number of shows made available as podcasts. This provides a means to download certain radio shows completely free and DRM-free.

BBC podcasts have been going for some time but, with the latest update to BBC iPlayer Radio, it is now a built-in function that provides similar features to the iPlayer video app. For any show that has a podcast, you’re able to download episodes directly within the app and listen back whenever you like.

Podcasts are a welcome addition but the function is limited.

Podcasts are a welcome addition but the function is limited.

The Now Playing view isn’t as cramped as listening to live radio, instead the artwork takes up most of the view and a scrubber is present to skip through the episode.

There is a downside to the podcast function, and it’s a pretty big one. Unlike standard podcast apps, you cannot subscribe to shows. You’re able to listen and download to individual shows but it’s no replacement for something like Instacast which can download episodes automatically. All of the BBC podcasts are available for download through any podcast app so if you’re wanting to automatically download new episodes, the BBC iPlayer Radio app isn’t for you.

Wrapping Up

Despite the basic podcast support and the unintuitive navigation, the BBC iPlayer Radio app is a great way to enjoy BBC radio both live and on demand. It is a shame that shows can’t yet be downloaded unless they are available as a podcast as it limits those who aren’t fortunate enough to enjoy a data connection on their commute.

As a frequent BBC radio listener, I’ve found the app indispensable, though I can’t recommend it over Instacast for my podcast needs.


Summary

A great way to enjoy BBC radio, both live and on demand. Podcasts are a welcome addition but its limited functionality is no competition to dedicated podcast apps.

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