Mobile Devices

April 26, 2013

BBC Releases Android Version of iPlayer App

The BBC announced on Wednesday that it had released the Android version of its iPlayer app, which plays streaming radio, has a program guide, alarm and a list of shows that can be played on demand. The free app is currently available on the Google Play store and will soon be available on Amazon.

The release of the Android version comes six months after the release of the iOS version, continuing a pattern of Android updates following iOS updates. 

One of the reasons for the time gap between the two platforms appears to be related to Adobe Flash, which is no longer supported on Android devices. Previous versions of iPlayer used Flash, but its abrupt discontinuation forced the BBC to rewrite much of the iPlayer code. The app now uses HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and is best run on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) devices. A big advantage of HLS is that it can stream live video while allowing other apps to run simultaneously.

According to the BBC, usage statistics indicate most Android devices using the iPlayer are using the latest version.

Another important issue for the BBC dealt with providing a level of security that satisfied those holding intellectual property rights to content on the network's site.

Stating one of several requirements for a new Android player in a September 2012 BBC blog, Chris Yanda, executive product manager for the BBC, said, "We needed a solution which would meet the security obligations we had agreed with our rights holders."

Yanda did not come right out and claim that Flash had security problems, but Adobe would later issue an emergency update in February to address two potential zero-day attacks found in Flash.

One attack tricked Windows users into opening a Microsoft Word attachment containing an ActiveX version of malicious Flash content. The second attack primarily targets Mac versions of the Safari and Firefox browsers, but like the first attack, was also found in Windows versions of Word.

Although it no longer supports Flash for Android, Adobe has issued security patches since the February emergency update in other operating systems – possibly a sign of chronic security problems.

Smartphones using Android prior to the 4.0 release, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, may not deliver the HLS video properly on certain networks and will soon get bug fixes.

Initially, Adobe’s withdrawal of support for Android seemed like it would be a huge inconvenience to the BBC and app users, but it has instead turned out to be serendipitous. The iPlayer app for Android performs much better than its Flash predecessor and likely better than an updated Flash platform would have performed. Thanks to several new features, it’s also possible that the iPlayer for Android is better than the one for iOS.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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