iPlayer is the BBC’s brilliant catch-up service allows you to watch pretty much any programme broadcast on BBC TV and radio channels over the past 7 days using a web browser. The iPlayer service is only available in the UK but, as long as you’re not watching live TV, you don’t need a TV Licence to use it.
A mobile-optimised version of the iPlayer website has been available for some time, but only now have the BBC developed specific mobile apps for iOS and Android.
Despite the wealth of content, the iPlayer app is easy to navigate – you can search, browse or let iPlayer make suggestions based on your favourites. Live streams of BBC channels are also available, but officially you need to be a TV Licence payer to watch these (though there’s nothing technically stopping you from flouting this law). You can access radio too, though BBC cutbacks mean this feature is likely to be removed in the coming months.
Both audio and video streams rely on the latest version of Adobe Flash (10.1), which you are prompted to download for free from the Android Market – however, you will need a phone running Android 2.2 or above in order to make Flash work. You can check your Android version by visiting your phone’s settings menu and choosing ‘About Phone’ followed by ‘Software Information’.
The iPlayer’s video quality is pretty impressive on high-spec phones – we found there was a slight judder but videos were perfectly watchable. There are, however, reports of poor performance on mid-range Android phones.
So far, so good – but we think the iPlayer app is in serious need of some new features. Turn off your Wi-Fi connection, and the iPlayer app will stop streaming altogether. It won’t even play radio over 3G. This is bizarre, because if you switch to your browser and visit the iPlayer’s mobile web page you can easily listen to radio over 3G – and even watch video, if you’re willing to wait for some extended buffering.
With no ability to download shows for later, that means the iPlayer app really isn’t very mobile at all. We’re sure the BBC will improve and update the app over the coming months, and it’s hard to be harsh on an app that offers access to so much amazing ad-free video content without requiring a subscription. Nonetheless, there’s no real incentive to download this app when it offers no more – and in some cases less - than the mobile-optimised iPlayer website.
The Bottom Line
Great programming, but this app doesn’t offer anything more than the iPlayer’s mobile web page.
Version reviewed: 1.0 (Android 2.2 and above, requires Adobe Flash 10.1)
iPlayer streams only available in the UK