Anyone who has used the Public Radio Player can tell that this app is powered by some serious code. Giuseppe Taibi is a key member of our development team. His iPhone skills are big in Italy. (His family makes delicious olive oil, too.) For those of you with a technical mind and ample curiosity, Giuseppe provides a tour of the Player’s architecture.
- Tapping into a large pool of talent: there are far more web developers than Objective C ones
- Portability: WebKit, the core engine for Mobile Safari, is also the core engine for other evolved smartphones web browsers such as Android, Palm Pre and Nokia’s Symbian.
WebKit is the fastest web engine on earth. It is also the one with the lightest footprint and, to top it off, it is also open source.
After downloading the Public Radio Player, you’re probably eager to listen to all the great live streams and on-demand programs now available in the new version. But upon launching the app for the first time, you may find the Public Radio Player takes a moment before it gets going. There’s a good reason for this: the Player is hard at work. To improve streaming performance, the Player stores station schedule information locally on your device. That initial data sync causes the first launch of the app to take a little longer. If you feel the load time is stalling out, a simple exit and re-launch of the app should do the trick. But if anyone has continued problems getting started with the Public Radio Player, please let us know on our Give Feedback page.
Another known issue with the upgrade to the Public Radio Player is the loss of saved Favorites lists. Unfortunately, the transition to the new version resulted in the deletion of any saved stations you had in the previous version of the app. This is the part where we say “our bad”, and apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. But hey, why not take the opportunity to try out a few new stations as you rebuild your Favorites list? If you have a moment, please suggest a couple of stations you think fellow Public Radio Player users should sample and add to their Favorites. I’ll get the thread started in the comments. And please keep the feedback coming – your input is a vital part of making the Public Radio Player a great iPhone app!
Now live in the iTunes Store: The Public Radio Player! We used to call it the Public Radio Tuner, but this version is so awesomely different that we’ve given it a new name, a new logo, and even a new Facebook page.
What’s so different? The Player has the station schedules and on-demand streaming that we’ve promised for months. (Incidentally, in that big survey we recently invited you to take, 75% of Tuner users requested each of those features. Done and done.) Such significant additions required a revamped user experience design. Nor did we let new development distract from the basics: We’ve improved stream performance, too.
As with all major releases, there are some quirks. We are reading your feedback and looking into the issues.
A note to stations: Check the Guide for Stations soon for Web graphics with the new logo and some fun on-air and online promos. Thanks as always for being the force behind the app’s success!
A dropped stream is the nemesis of any regular Public Radio Tuner user. Nothing is worse than being caught up in a great public radio program and have it suddenly cut out. Our goal here is to minimize the occurrences of dropped streams, and we’ve been able to improve streaming on the Tuner with each new release (and will do so again with the upcoming version 2.0). But that’s only part of the story. There are many variable that impact mobile streaming: the quality of the cellular infrastructure, the internet connections it can provide, the connection speed of your iPhone, and even the speed at which you travel.
As you can imagine, mobile streaming over an Edge or 3G connection requires that a signal reach your iPhone via the nearest cell tower. When you’re driving around town using your phone for a voice call (using a hands free earpiece, of course), cell networks are able to “pass” the call from one tower to the next without interruption. Right now, the same is not true of data connections. Stream dropouts may be inevitable if you’re on the move and leave the range of one cell tower and pick up the signal of another. At that point, your phone will be issued a new IP address and the stream connection is dropped.
There’s also the issue of the “size” of the stream and the speed of your mobile connection. This is the fun part where we get to talk about bit rates. Bit rate refers to amount of information (bits) that are conveyed or processed per second (“kbps”, or often shortened to “k”). Common bit rates for live audio streams are 32k, 64k, and 128k. A higher bit rate results in a higher sound quality for the stream. But it also means that a larger amount of information needs to be squeezed into the signal to your mobile device. So a slower Edge connection can have trouble processing a high bit rate stream. Too much information is trying to pass to your phone at one time. The result: a dropped stream.
Stations are faced with finding that perfect bit rate: one that provides a decent sound quality, but small enough to provide stable streaming over a variety of internet connections. The challenge is even greater for music stations, which want to provide high sound quality and a stereo stream (which double the bit rate demand to achieve same sound quality as a mono stream).
For streaming to the iPhone, Apple recommends a minimum bit rate of 48k. But during our testing for the Tuner, we found that an EDGE connection can be spotty for any stream above 32k. So, if a station wants to be reliable on all three iPhone connection speeds (EDGE, 3G, and Wi-fi), a 32k stream is your best bet. But that’s not going to provide great sound quality, especially for a music station.
To help users navigate these muddy waters, a new feature in the upcoming version 2.0 will provide some guidance based on a station’s bit rate. When you select a station, the app will display icons informing you which connection speeds best fit that stream. You can see them below the DUQ logo on the screenshot. (click image to enlarge)
There may be some instances where you are able to stream high bit station on a lower quality connection. There’s no harm in trying a 128k stream over an Edge connection – but now you have a better understanding why it might drop out while listening.
Some stations offer multiple versions of their live stream at different bit rates to allow users to enjoy the best the sound quality available based on the speed their internet connection. We encourage stations to make those multiple streams available via the Public Radio Tuner. Stations who are interested in adding or updating their current stream can do so using Public Interactive’s stream submission page.
The Public Radio Tuner has been around long enough now that many, many iPhone users have had a chance to try it out, and even make it a part of their lives.
That’s just about the right time to ask you to take a survey.
The survey is hosted by NPR. Please give us a few minutes of your time. Not only will it help improve this iPhone app (with version 2.0 due out soon, we promise), it will inform all sorts of public radio mobile efforts, iPhone and otherwise.
Plus, it’s anonymous, so you can tell us what you *really* think.
Remember back in college pulling all nighters leading up to finals? Lately, that’s been the vibe around the PRX headquarters in Cambridge as the development team works on completing Version 2.0 of the Public Radio Tuner. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get our best work done. The payoff is that we’re closing in on submitting the new version to iTunes for approval and public release in the App Store. The new release will be called the Public Radio Player – and it will take the mobile enjoyment of public radio to the next level. The team, pictured above left to right, consists of Bill Heyman, Giuseppe Taibi, Andrew Kuklewicz, project manager Matt MacDonald, and Eric Sagalyn (not pictured). In addition to adding new features, the team is also addressing your feedback about streaming troubles in the latest version and is working on a fix. We’ll keep you all up to date on when 2.0 is submitted, approved, and ready for download to your iPhone and iPod Touch.
To our friends at local stations – be sure to note some recent changes to the Guide for Stations. Stream submissions to the Public Radio Tuner are now being handled by Public Interactive. If you have a stream you’d like to add to the Tuner, or make changes to information on existing streams, you can do so through Public Interactive’s stream submission page. Also, we’ve added some additional promo copy and web graphics in the Guide for Stations to help you get started promoting your station’s stream on the Public Radio Tuner. Participating station WUWM sent us audio of some great promos they’re running on-air, and we’ve posted them in the Guide for Stations for you to hear. If you are running on-air promos or web graphics to spread the word about the Public Radio Tuner, drop us a line. We would love to showcase your work to other participating stations. Thanks!
The Public Radio Tuner has been downloaded 1.5 million times. Thanks to those of you who helped get us here by spreading the word! But we’re not done yet. We want to be on every iPhone and iPod Touch out there (who wouldn’t?). You can help by joining our Facebook group, twittering about the app, and, of course, simply TALKING about the Tuner with your real-world friends. Given the interesting tug-of-war happening in the iTunes reviews, you might be tempted to participate there, too.
In the meantime, we’re making great progress on Version 2.0: The Public Radio Player. Designed with your input. Coming out in June 2009.
We’re looking for a handful of guinea pigs beta testers to download a trial version of the Public Radio Tuner v2.0. Volunteers should be iPhone power users and devoted public radio fans willing to give feedback on the performance and usability of the new Tuner as we work out the kinks on some great new features. Participants shall be showered in praise, gratitude, and perhaps some public radio knick-knacks when all is said and done. Just express your interest in the comments below and we’ll be in contacts. Thanks!
Update: We’ve got our volunteers! Thanks to everyone who offered to help.
Good news! We have submitted the connection performance update and it will show up in the iTunes App Store as soon as Apple approves it. Testing took a couple weeks longer than planned, so we want to thank you for your patience. This update will bring some real improvements to the way the Tuner handles stream connections. In beta testing of the updated Tuner, we’ve been able to hold a stream as we transitioned from Edge to 3G to WiFi connections without missing a beat.
Also, with this update, we are moving locations in the iTunes App Store. The Tuner will move from the American Public Media store to the Public Radio Exchange store. This will allow the PRX-based development team to more efficiently manage the app, and streamline the process for future updates to the Public Radio Tuner.
The new app location means we won’t be able to automatically “push” an update to current users. Instead, you will need to download what’s effectively a new app in a new store. We have worked to make this small extra step as easy as possible. Here’s how it will work:
The desktop icon of the “old” Tuner on your iPhone will be grayed out, so you won’t get the two versions mixed up. Next time you’re in iTunes doing housekeeping on your iPhone, you can toss the old version.
The “old” version of the Tuner will continue to function just fine, but it will no longer be supported and will not receive any further updates. So be sure to make the switch over to the new Public Radio Tuner. You’ll enjoy the improved performance, and we’ve got big plans for future updates.