Why and How We Redesigned the Station Apps

January 10th, 2014 → 10:41 am @ // No Comments

PRX is in the process of updating its station iPhone apps. We just launched new versions of the WGBH and Vermont Public Radio apps, with more on the way.

Our station app platform has powered apps for several major stations for the past few years. In that time, we’ve gathered a lot of data and insight into how the apps are used. We’ve tracked shifts in how people use mobile apps in general. And we’ve seen improvements in technology, particularly audio playback.

IMG950025PRX is no longer developing new station apps from our platform. But it was time to refresh the existing apps. We started with iPhone.

We reviewed behavioral analytic data from five stations across iPhone and Android and identified the three core things that people were looking for the stations apps to do for them:

1. Provide reliable access to the live broadcast. Nearly 90-95% of all activity in the station app was listening to the live broadcast. So we knew that improving access to the stream, making the play and pause buttons easier to use, and improving stream reliability would be of high importance. We worked with stations to implement the best stream delivery format for iOS, which is HTTP Live Streaming or HLS. This streaming format provides for an adaptive bitrate, meaning that when you are on a lower quality cellular connection the stream adjusts, giving you a lower quality broadcast, yet tries to keep the stream running without interruption. The app and the live broadcast streaming are still impacted by the numerous variables out of our control, but we optimized what we do have control over: the format.

2. Improve the news reading experience. Reading news content was the second most used function in the station apps. We worked with stations to define a delivery specification for their RSS feeds that would create a high-quality news reading experience. We looked at other best-in-class apps like Flipboard, The New York Times, and Kindle. We focused on typography, readability, and how to better include photos, audio, and video. Mobile users have limited time to read, so a laundry list of hundreds of items is not a good experience. We encouraged stations to actively curate their news feeds to highlight their best stories.

3. Improve the way people access on-demand programs. Listening to “on demand”, or podcast, audio was the third most used function in the station apps. Public radio shows make audio files available for download and listening without a network connection – usually in podcast form. The apps allow users to conveniently stream these files, without requiring them to subscribe to individual podcasts and download episode files. We improved streaming reliability considerably, and took advantage of newer iOS controls that weren’t available to earlier app versions.

Sometimes, improving an app — or any product — VPR app means removing, not adding, features. Our data showed that Member Benefits (displaying local business discounts for station members) and Assignments (inviting people to submit photo, audio, and text responses to “assignments” from the station) had very low use. Such features were either removed entirely or moved to the stations’ mobile websites.

With this update, the station iPhone apps are significantly easier to use. They focus on the core functions and features that users truly want, with an updated design that feels more 2014 than 2009. What I am most excited about, though, is that the stations have amplified and highlighted their own local content, in some cases removing national shows in favor of promoting their own local shows. I love this, because content is even more essential than design in creating a unique and rewarding app experience. Our station partners agree that curating local news is an important way to differentiate themselves in a beyond-broadcast space.

VPR’s Jonathan Butler worked closely with us on the redesign, and offers his perspective here.

Blog &Stations and Programs

The Moth App: The Art of Listening to Stories on Mobile

October 18th, 2013 → 9:00 am @ // No Comments

The Moth app splashWe’re proud to announce that The Moth is now mobile.

The Moth app for iOS and Android, developed by PRX, is the latest product of our ongoing effort to bring audio stories to the places — and devices — where people listen.

The app is also more evidence that great things happen when PRX and The Moth get together. Acclaimed public radio show The Moth Radio Hour, presented and distributed by PRX, is now on 260+ stations. (And yes, those episodes are on the app, too!)

Get The Moth app and start listening!
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The official press release is below.

Renowned storytelling organization partners with Public Radio Exchange (PRX)
for effortless, elegant mobile listening experience

New York, NY (October 18, 2013) – Renowned storytelling organization The Moth has partnered with Public Radio Exchange (PRX) to release a mobile app that gives listeners access to audio stories from The Moth’s live events, its top-rated podcast, and its award-winning public radio show, “The Moth Radio Hour,” distributed by PRX and produced by Jay Allison of Atlantic Public Media.

Moth stories span the great range of human experience. Storytellers come from all walks of life to stand in front of a live audience and tell their funny, sad, and moving stories without notes. The app features hundreds of the Moth’s stories, including rapper Darryl “DMC” McDaniels’ confession of his love for Sarah McLachlan, writer Malcolm Gladwell’s wedding toast gone horribly awry, and A. E. Hotchner’s death-defying stint in a bullring with his friend Ernest Hemingway.

The app’s minimalist design keeps the stories front and center:
• Favorite stories you want to remember
• Share stories you want others to hear
• Download any story for offline listening

“We are thrilled about the possibilities the Moth app brings to our listeners,” said Sarah Haberman, the Moth’s Executive Director. “It is the perfect storytelling hub where Moth fans can find and share their favorite stories, whether they appeared on our Radio Hour, our podcast or at a live event. The Moth could not have achieved this milestone without PRX, and we are confident the app will serve to strengthen and broaden an appreciation for the power of storytelling among current and future listeners.”

“The Moth apps marry PRX’s love of stories with our insights into how listeners access content on mobile devices,” said Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX. “As public radio expands to serve audiences on emerging platforms, PRX and The Moth are pioneering new paths.”

The app was developed by Public Radio Exchange, which distributes The Moth Radio Hour, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Public Radio Exchange (PRX) has developed acclaimed apps for This American Life, PRX Remix, and Radiolab, PRX also just announced the second class for Matter, its media-tech accelerator that fuses the values of public media with Silicon Alley entrepreneurship (See coverage in NY Times, AllThingsD).

Originally formed by the writer George Dawes Green as an intimate gathering of friends on a porch in Georgia (where moths would flutter in through a hole in the screen), and then recreated in a New York City living room, The Moth quickly grew to produce immensely popular events at theaters and clubs around New York City and later around the country.

Today, The Moth is a nonprofit organization with ongoing programs, all of which contribute their best stories to The Moth Radio Hour: The Moth Mainstage where celebrities appear alongside unique voices from all walks of life; The Moth’s StorySLAM competitions, which are open to all and rapidly expanding to cities across the country; and The Moth’s community outreach program, MothShop, which brings workshops to people whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Public Radio Exchange (PRX) is an award-winning nonprofit public media company, harnessing innovative technology to bring compelling stories to millions of people. PRX.org operates public radio’s largest distribution marketplace, offering thousands of audio stories for broadcast and digital use, including The Moth Radio Hour, Reveal, Sound Opinions, State of the Re:Union, Snap Judgment, and WTF with Marc Maron. PRX Remix is PRX’s 24/7 channel featuring the best independent radio stories and new voices. PRX is also the leading mobile app developer for public media, with apps including Public Radio Player, Radiolab, This American Life, WBUR, KCRW Music Mine, and more.

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Android Apps &Blog &More iPhone Apps

PRX and FRONTLINE: The Future Of TV Beyond Broadcast

July 22nd, 2013 → 1:41 pm @ // No Comments

Stories are core to PRX’s existence: Our Mission is to harness technology to bring significant stories to millions of people.”

For thirty years, WGBH’s FRONTLINE series has brought groundbreaking documentaries on public affairs and human issues to public television. Their work wins awards and has real impact.

Significant stories. Millions of viewers. frontline-logo

We are proud to announce a partnership with FRONTLINE to develop “the definitive documentary app” that will “make a bold statement on the future of television beyond broadcast.” (Those quotes are from our original proposal to FRONTLINE.) We will collaborate with the talented Studio Rodrigo, which will lead the user experience and graphic design.

The app will be for iPad, with the goal of creating a viewing experience that will appeal to loyal and new viewers alike. It will take advantage of the tablet’s unique form and features, and the unique ways in which people tend to use tablets — in particular, tablet users spend more time with longer-form media. It will keep FRONTLINE’s powerful work front and center, while also providing deeper multimedia info and follow-up to ongoing events. This app will further FRONTLINE’s and PRX’s reputations for bringing broadcast and digital together in innovative and effective ways.

High-level discussions on vision, values, and strategy have just begun. Please share your thoughts: What do you want from a FRONTLINE app? What do/don’t you like in other viewing apps? Tell us here, or on the FRONTLINE blog.

Blog &iPad

PRX Remix App: The Best Stories, In Your Pocket

July 9th, 2013 → 8:37 am @ // 3 Comments

Remix-app-playPRX is brimming with audio stories. A few years ago, we launched an XM satellite radio channel (XM 123) to showcase the best short pieces from PRX.org plus select podcasts. The channel quickly went from satellite to internet to broadcast. It’s listed in our Public Radio Player app, too.

But we feel this amazing channel deserves its own app.

Say hello to the PRX Remix app for iOS and Android.

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It’s simply the beloved PRX Remix stream, the title and producer of each piece, and a couple of buttons for basic audio player things. It’s an app for people who don’t want too much choice, just great stuff. For people who don’t download podcasts because it’s too much work. For people who love stories.

Mostly, you put it in your pocket, or in the console between the front seats of your car (unless you have a really old car), and let curator-in-chief Roman Mars take care of that ‘What should I listen to?’ problem. Roman, by the way, is host of 99% Invisible among many other things, so he knows what he’s doing.

Special thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts for funding this app – it’s one of their early forays into mobile.

Android Apps &Blog &More iPhone Apps

A Palm-Sized KCRW Music Mine

June 12th, 2013 → 3:18 pm @ // No Comments

Music Mine iPhone
So small! So powerful!

KCRW Music Mine is a gorgeous way to enjoy and discover the best music, if you trust KCRW’s DJs. Which we recommend you do!

The app first made a huge splash on the iPad, then we worked with KCRW to make one of the first Spotify apps.

Now, we’ve brought it to the iPhone, liberating you from your desk, couch, and bedside so you can float through the world immersed in a beautifully curated music experience. Learn more.

Get the iPhone app now.

PRX has been proud to partner with KCRW on Music Mine in all its manifestations. We hope you enjoy using the app at least as much as we’ve enjoyed developing it.

Blog &iPad &More iPhone Apps

Radiolab App is a Webby Nominee. Please Vote.

April 18th, 2013 → 9:52 am @ // No Comments

Radiolab icon Another year, another Webby nomination, win, and/or honor. We’re proud to be recognized this year for our user experience design and development work on the Radiolab app for iOS and Android.

Please vote now to help us get a People’s Voice Award!

We worked closely with the Radiolab team and design gurus One Trick Pony to build a beautiful app that also does things. Listen to the entire archive, read the blog (yick alert: latest post is about eating cicadas), and even submit audio, text, or images in response to various assignments.

The sound of other people’s laughter is indeed contagious. This and thousands of other audio submissions can be heard here.

Did you vote yet?

Android Apps &Blog &More iPhone Apps

It’s Public Radio Music Month on the Player

April 11th, 2013 → 12:48 pm @ // 2 Comments

Public Radio Music Month is taking April to celebrate local stations Public Radio Music Monthand the music they play: jazz, classical, indie, country, blues, folk, pop, hip hop (yes, hip hop), from all over the world, the US, and their local music scenes.

The Public Radio Player app has hundreds of public radio music station streams. The latest version of the app lists them by Format under Stations & Streams. Or look for the Music category in Programs & Podcasts.

Some of our faves:

  • WQXR and Q2 – traditional and contemporary classical from New York Public Radio
  • WXPN – rock, blues, roots, and folk (aka Triple A) from Philadelphia and beyond
  • KEXP – emerging and established artists of all genres from the Pacific Northwest and beyond
  • Native Voice One – traditional and contemporary Native American music
  • Bluegrass Country – from WAMU in DC
  • Radio Free Nashville – community station playing pop, rock, bluegrass, jazz, electronica, goth, and more
  • WWOZ – Jazz and much more from New Orleans
  • KUVO – Jazz, latin jazz, and blues out of Denver

You’ll find the highest music to talk ratio in music streams like All Songs 24/7 from NPR, AllDayPlay from Youth Radio, and Eclectic24 from KCRW in LA (you’ll probably love KCRW’s Music Mine iPad app, also by PRX). All on the Player.

We can’t possibly encapsulate public radio’s wide music variety in one short list. Tell us *your* favorite public and community radio music stations. Or, while you’re listening on the app, tap Share. In honor of this special month, add #thankspublicradio to your tweet so your favorite stations feel the love.

Blog &Public Radio Player

Public Radio Player, Redone and Relaunched!

February 11th, 2013 → 2:43 pm @ // 27 Comments

We understand that ‘downloading app update alerts’ might not be on your daily to-do list. But trust us, you want this one.

Welcome to the new and improved Public Radio Player app for iPhone.

  • New look and interface design
  • Better audio performance
  • Easy search
  • Station news and tweets
  • Donate to stations you love most
  • Listen to program episodes without an internet connection
  • See what’s playing now on Public Radio Remix, our 24/7 stream of stories

Learn more.
Get the app.
Don’t see a public radio station or program in the Player that you want? Let us know.

Blog &Public Radio Player

The Public Radio Player: Makeover Edition!

January 17th, 2013 → 6:56 pm @ // 15 Comments

It’s been four years since the launch of the original Public Radio Player iPhone app (under another name we won’t mention because it has lingered much too long). We stopped counting downloads at 4.5 million, and even now the app has 21,000 active users each day. Public radio stations and programs continue to add or edit their listings, often at the request of enthusiastic Player users.

Thank you, stations, programs, and people everywhere, for your incredible support.

So the Player has been durable. But we know better than anyone that it could use a major update, and we’ve hinted at one for a while. Well, now we’re just weeks away from launch. We are so excited about this. We just gave participating stations (i.e., the vast majority of public radio stations in existence) an early heads up, especially because we need info from them to enable new features.

Stations, if you want your news and Twitter feeds and/or a donate button (yay!) on your Player page, go here.

Stations, producers, and true fans can view a recent webinar with a close look at the new app.

Or just gaze upon these preview shots. That way, you’ll know what to look for when you download the update. We’ll post a launch announcement here and on our Facebook page.


Blog &Public Radio Player

How Much Does an App Cost?

November 26th, 2012 → 5:42 pm @ // One Comment

We get this question all the time. Sometimes, the asker will add, “At least just a ballpark?”

photo by irrefutableundeniable

It’s a tough one. If we answer, “Anywhere from $3000 to $300,000,” we sound evasive or just plain annoying. But it’s true: A mobile app, like any piece of software, costs as much as it takes to build it with the features and quality you want. A seemingly simple feature can be expensive if the underlying systems and integrations required to run it need work, too. A magically complex feature might be cheaper if there’s a good out-of-the-box solution with a straightforward set of hooks into the app code.

And that’s just for developing a product with a clear design and goal. If you want to push the boundaries of what an app can do, or how an app might represent your organization or serve your audiences, there will be some building, trying, unbuilding, and rebuilding. Personally, once I accepted that unraveling my knitting is an integral part of the knitting process, my projects (read: scarves) went more smoothly and turned out better. But they also took more time.

Fortunately, I don’t knit within a budget of time or money. Apps, however, are very much tied to that reality. We understand you need answers, and there are ways to approach this. Below are a few posts that say it well. If you want more, talk to us – we can give you benchmarks more specific to the public media apps we’ve built. We can guide you on what app you might get for your budget, and ways to fund an app project, too.

Q: “How much does an app cost?” A: “About as much as a car.” — DarwinApps

Dear business people, an iOS app actually takes a lot of work! — Kent Nguyen

How much does it cost to build an iPhone app? — Quora