Why I don’t want to view bbc.co.uk through an app

The BBC has announced mobile apps for BBC content, the first being for the iPhone. There is a demo posted by David Madden here:

Our aim is to develop core public service apps that bring some of the BBC’s most popular and distinctive content to mobile in a genuinely user-friendly and accessible way.

In another post Erik Huggers explains our mobile future.

I have reservations about this approach, and wonder if the BBC has been unduly influenced by Apple’s iPhone marketing – “there’s an app for that.” The iPlayer desktop application makes perfect sense for downloading and viewing video offline; but why make an app to view a web site? I can think of several objections:

1. It introduces inequality between devices. So iPhone is first. Blackberry and Android are mentioned. What about Palm WebOS? What about Windows Phone 7? Maybe Flash can help with that as a common runtime; but Flash won’t be on Windows Phone in its first release. Older devices will be left behind, even where they have decent web browsers.

2. It breaks the web. Well, one app does not break the web. But if every major web site decides it has to deliver its content through an app, what happens to hyperlinks? You can go from app to Web, I imagine, but if the target site also delivers its best mobile content through an app, what then? Imagine what the web would be like if, instead of browsing, you were constantly app-switching.

3. It moves mobile to a separate world. The truth is, there isn’t a hard and fast distinction between a mobile device and a desktop device. A laptop is mobile, but more like a desktop in terms of web browsing. What about the iPad? What about all the new form factors coming down the line? There isn’t any more reason to have apps for mobile devices than there is for desktop devices.

4. It distracts investment away from what the BBC should be doing: optimising its web site for mobile, and degrading gracefully for less powerful web browsers.

Are there cases where a BBC app might make sense? Maybe a special for the 2012 olympics, that delivers the latest results, for example? Quite possibly; but what concerns me is the idea that apps become the main way to view BBC content on a phone, rather than the web browser. It is a bad precedent, and one that I hope is not imitated by others.

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6 comments to Why I don’t want to view bbc.co.uk through an app

  • Peter

    Hear hear!

    Why do I want to waste space on my phone for an App that is, in essence, a glorified web browser? If I can store news, that might be useful while in an environment with no/poor Internet access.

    If you really want the panache of the iPhone, do a website optimized for it. I use sigalert.com every day from my iPhone. It works great and it acts like an iPhone App.

  • I agree. I feel they’re being led by the technology (“hey guys, wouldn’t be cool to develop iPhone apps”) rather than any real need.

  • I believe this goes back to what I mentioned in one of your other posts about silverlight. The web is already broken from a UI perspective, it isn’t at all strange that people want to go down the app route, it is a much better user experience where the app is tailored properly for the device.

    I still firmly hold the opinion that you cannot make decent UIs and UI exeperiences with standard web (i.e HTML/CSS and broken javascripts), anything slightly useful is called great and I just don’t understand why, they are not great in comparison to what can be accomplished outside the web (standards).

    The programming model for silverlight/iPhone are vastly superiour both for the user and the developer.

    How often do you really click hyperlinks and they do what you want in a smooth and predictable way? How often do you really want to navigate out of a website once you are there? Unless of course you visit mash up sites that don’t produce anything of their own but hijacks other peoples work. I for one want a website, like any good app, to do one thing and one thing really good and stay in the genre/site for that purpose.

    Spotify is a recent example. I can browser inside it, the content that is relevant, you can hyperlink from the web into the app and even out if you wish. Rarely do I want to go out of the app to the web though..Into the app is useful for sharing, out, not so much.

    Many many iPhone apps gives such a huge increase in UI experience that it makes you wonder how we ever accepted the web as it is. The facebook app, the twitter app.. well the list goes on, they all beat the web page, and more often than not, by far.

    The web is still mostly a document/data repository, and it takes Adobe AIR, silverlight or flash to make it better or even interesting in a UI sense. What hyperlinks/linking enables more than anything is linking adds and commercial data where it doesn’t belong. Take this blog engine as an example.

    I very rarely meet people that like web UI for their UI, most people seem to dislike them or tolerate them at best. What they do like though is the availability and that their data is reachable where ever they are (not on whatever device, people mostly stick to a few set devices anyway so that set of devices are enough).

    It most likely, in my experience at least, takes a lot more resources and time to streamline your web site for mobile devices and you still can’t get it great compared to developing an iPhone with an already set framework for doing most thing great from the start…And since it is so hard to make the mobile web experience great, you might as well spend little time, which gives almost as much and the rest of the time developing “apps” for your major devices visiting you, which in the end probably aren’t that many any way, and will make the experience great for sure.

    When using the web it is like developing a UI program in Java(or gtk or whatever you feel is a good platform independent UI framework), you get stuck with the worst common denominator.

    As for iPad, it will most likely run iPhone apps in a great way already the framework is the same, pretty sure apple thought about making the form factors scale well.

  • I’m with Niclaus I think it offers a much better streamlined UI than just using a browser. Its all about making the content easily accesible and using best of breed technology, not something that hampers the use of technology by using old standards.

    The PS3 has an incarnation of iplayer which is essentially a web browser and is a good example of how using a browser style interface on something other than a PC is problematic.

    And so what if its another app? as mentioned we already have FB, ebay, amazon and for me they make using those sites pleasurable as opposed to having mobile optimised content delivered to the device. In fact without the apps I wouldnt use those sites in a mobile context.

    Gary

  • FWIW, here is the BBC news Web site on a Nexus One with Flash (scrub in about three and a half minutes):

    http://theflashblog.com/?p=1781

    Today there is a big gap between the processing power of a laptop and a smartphone. So we’ll see when Flash Player 10.1 ships how much that matters to users on Flash enabled mobile devices…

  • I would have tended to agree with you until I started using the flickr app for Windows Phone 7. So much better than a website experience