You cannot do good UX without good features

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

iPlayer on an Android phoneThe BBC have released the iPlayer app for Android phones. It uses Flash, so only works on phones with Android 2.2 or later and the Flash player installed. Restrictions like this are of course the price we pay for fast-paced progress and innovation. Plus I have an Android phone with 2.2 and Flash on it, so it works for me. The phrase “works for me” is said with huge reservation though as I’ll explain in a moment.

Firstly, let us consider the look and feel of the interface. It is very well done. It looks good, works smoothly and is very intuitive and easy to use if one is familiar with the iPlayer website. All in all it ought to be a really good user experience (UX.) It isn’t though for it lacks that oh-so-important basis of good UX: good features.

iPlayer in action

Think for a moment what the most likely use-case is for the application. To my mind, it is someone sat on a train, either catching up on a TV or radio programme they missed yesterday, or listening to live radio whilst maybe tweeting, reading email or playing a game. Unless that person is lucky enough to be sat on a train with good WIFI though, absolutely none of this use-case is possible.

Wi-Fi Only
The iPlayer application only works with Wi-Fi. Even the radio stops working if there is no Wi-fi connection. So this pretty much precludes its use whilst on the move and limits it to the home. This is of course exactly where one will likely have other devices better suited to playing radio shows, such as radios for example. The only time I’ve ever used a phone for radio at home was in the bathroom. This resulted in me drowning my iPhone that I had at the time. I don’t do that any more. The radio part of the application is therefore pretty useless.

No “watch later” support
If you are unlikely to use the radio at home, you’re even less likely to use the TV facility at home. Why watch something on a tiny screen when it can be watched via a computer, games console or a suitably equipped TV? The only use I can conceive for the TV features is to watch it when on the move. As it doesn’t stream over 3G, you most likely assume it must allow downloading programmes to watch later. There is no ability to download for later though. So TV support too is rendered pretty useless.

Even radio needs WIFI

Radio only runs in foreground
Yes, you did read it right: switch to another application and iPlayer stops playing the radio. You have to keep the application in the foreground (ie keep it as the active application) if you wish to listen to the radio. Now I don’t know about you, but I listen to music. I do not feel the need to watch a screen whilst doing so. In fact I’m pretty much 100% guaranteed to want to do something else whilst listening. This isn’t just pretty useless, this is show-stopping and unforgivably crap. It makes the product unusable.

When creating an application, always remember your use cases. Why would someone want to use your application and how will they want to use it? Then, if you want to provide great UX, don’t just make it look pretty, make sure it has the necessary features to meet that how and why. The BBC forgot this and made a useless experience instead. Needless to say, it’s been uninstalled from my phone. Here’s hoping for a fully featured version 2 soon…

Posted in UX

3 thoughts on “You cannot do good UX without good features

  1. from the sounds of it the bbc, who normally do a great job with their web sites e.t.c. haven’t thought this through from a users point of view. They have immobilised a mobile application, silly people

  2. Aside from requiring Android 2.2, Flash (and therefore iPlayer) also require an ARMv7 processor. Most lower end Android phones, even those with Android 2.2, have ARMv6 processors and will NEVER be able to run iPlayer.

    The trouble is its not obvious which phones have ARMv7 processors, and which don’t, making choosing an iPlayer capable phone very difficult.

    I imagine there will be a lot of annoyed people who get an Android 2.2 phone to watch iPlayer (sufficient, according to the BBC’s specs) and discover that it won’t work!

  3. I don’t understand why they went with Flash for video when most other Android apps achieve smoother video playback – and better device compatibility – without it.

    The awfulness of this app persuaded me to look again the the mobile website for iPlayer. Not only was video playback smoother, but there was an option to download for later viewing. IIRC this uses DRM’d WMV format – I don’t know if this is available on all Android devices.

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