There is some good news for Android owners in the UK, with the announcement that it is now possible to download BBC iPlayer programmes on devices running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, or better. Download functionality was previously highly restricted, but the new policy means that 96% of those who use the Android iPlayer app will be able to store programmes on their devices.
The new policy is radically different to the way iPlayer developers were previously rolling out downloads to Android smartphones and tablets. Originally, it was only possible to download programmes on 11 devices.
Downloads were initially limited to a narrow range of – admittedly popular – devices, including the likes of the HTC One, Nexus 4, Nexus 7 (2012 and 2013 editions) and three Samsung Galaxy smartphones (the S2, S3 and S4).
Support was added for other smartphones and tablets later, although this was done on a case-by-case basis. The BBC’s developers extensively tested individual devices, before support was enabled.
A new approach to problem solving
The BBC’s new roll-out plan for iPlayer downloads is very much a reversal of the corporation’s previous stance. Instead of allowing specific devices once they have proven capable of handling the feature, all hardware running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, or better, will have downloads enabled by default.
However, if a problem arises on a specific device, iPlayer’s developers will disable downloads until a solution can be found. Although the BBC will not be able to offer a fix in every case, David Berlin, a senior product manager at BBC Future Media, has said that support for popular devices will be prioritised.
“We can’t promise that we will fix every issue that is brought to our attention (there may be device limitations that prevent us from doing so) but we will seek to address problems according to the complexity of the issue, as well as the UK popularity and the user numbers of the device itself,” Berlin said.
Android devices that cannot download iPlayer programmes
A web page has been set up that lists all of the Android devices which have had downloads disabled. It is also possible to report new problems via this page.
Currently, download support has been removed on the Acer Iconia Tab A1-810, Acer Iconia Tab B1-710, ASUS Eee Pad MeMO, HTC Desire C and Huawei G510.
At the moment there are also bugs which affect the Nexus 10 and all devices running Android 4.4 KitKat, or above. The issues are relatively minor, though, so the download functionality has not been removed in these cases.
Why the BBC has become less cautious about Android
The BBC credits work carried out by its Mobile Compatibility Programme for the much more widespread support for iPlayer downloads on Android devices.
Part of the reason for the BBC’s previously cautious approach is likely to be the volume of criticism it received over the roll out of BBC Media Player.
Following the removal of Adobe’s Flash plugin in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, iPlayer was initially unavailable to anyone who was using what was the most recent version of Google’s mobile operating system.
To solve this problem, the BBC developed an Adobe Air-based media player, designed to be used by all users running Android 2.2 and above.
However, anyone running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean had been left without iPlayer support for just shy of two months, whilst the new app was developed. And to make matters worse, BBC Media Player did not perform nearly as well as the original all-in-one iPlayer application on many devices, leading to a flood of negative reviews on Google Play.
Since its experience of finding a replacement for the Adobe Flash plugin, the BBC has been much more cautious when releasing new video services for Android. But the wider availability of iPlayer downloads is likely to be welcomed by most Android users, even if a small minority experience teething troubles.