Shown off at Mobile World Congress by the Beeb’s Head of Future Media and Technology Erik Huggers, both new applications are the corporation’s first official foray into the world of iPhone apps. Previous incarnations are unofficial efforts, tacitly accepted by the BBC. The question is, do we need these mobile add-ons?
In the BBC’s defence, the plan is to roll out webOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile versions of both apps after the initial iPhone versions hit the App Store in April. On his official blog, Huggers said the apps were “designed specifically to focus on what the audience most wants from the mobile device, taking the BBC's audio-visual content to audiences on the move".
All well and good. And let’s make it abundantly clear, both look ace. But they do little more than repackage content already easily available from the BBC Mobile site. Want to know the latest Premier League scores? Add a shortcut to the BBC from your iPhone’s homescreen and tap into them over the weekend. Want to keep up-to-date with the headlines? Do the same for the news pages.
Huggers has also been talking up a move towards location-based services and social integration, making BBC Mobile content more localised. It’s a worthy idea, but is it one that the BBC should be pursuing?
Huggers makes the point that working on these apps is servicing the future, a future where hopping on the web via your mobile is more commonplace than doing so on your PC. “Long term, mobile could become the primary point of internet access for the majority,” he says. “The potential is stronger for the younger digital natives of today who become the licence payers of tomorrow.”
Too true. But that also means the BBC is getting a jump on its commercial rivals. Of course, we all pay for this, but this will doubtless cause competitors to baulk at their lack of prospects when the Beeb has rolled up already with something as good as the BBC News and Sports apps.
It’s easy to forget that not everyone out there owns a snazzy smartphone, or one that can simply access the web. And even if you load up these apps onto everything from Samsung bada to BlackBerry OS, it still won’t cover off enough people to make it a worthwhile exercise.
The BBC is a wonderful thing, but the news and sports apps seem a somewhat needless expense when the brilliant and worthwhile BBC Mobile continues to win plaudits. Keeping a focus on that would surely deflect the waves of criticism and would lead to fewer accusations that the licence fee is being spent on supposed frivolous new media projects.