An App-tastic Year Ahead

February 8th, 2010 → 5:34 pm @ // 3 Comments

There’s good news in store for Public Radio Player fans! We’re excited to announce renewed CPB funding for the project that will result in two major updates to the Public Radio Player during 2010. The first, version 2.1, will be released in the coming weeks, with a second update planned for the summer.

Green light, go!
[Flying White / cc / Flickr]

As you may know, the Public Radio Player iPhone app originated from a CPB-funded collaboration of APM, NPR, PRI, and PI, led by PRX. That first grant ended in the summer of 2009 following the release of version 2.0. PRX is once again leading the project and continues to work with Public Interactive as a source of station schedule data and on-demand programs from the NPR API.

For version 2.1, the PRX development team has rewritten the code from scratch to improve performance and introduce some great new features to the Player (we’ll be showcasing some of these in the days ahead). We’re currently adding the finishing touches to v 2.1 and will let you know as soon as it goes live in the iTunes App Store.

We’ve also been updating some stats for the Public Radio Player. The app now provides public radio fans 463 station streams and nearly 1,000 on-demand programs, with more added all the time. Since launching in the fall of 2008, the Player has logged a cumulative total of over 2.5 million downloads! Now, with the renewed funding for the project, we’re looking forward to making 2010 a great year for the Public Radio Player and all its fans.

About the Project &Blog &Public Radio Player &Version 2.0

2.0.1 update now available

August 18th, 2009 → 1:51 pm @ // 6 Comments

A few tweaks have been made to the Public Radio Player, and what version 2.0 taketh away, 2.0.1 giveth back: Your favorites list! If you had favorite stations saved on version 1.2 prior to upgrading to the new Player, they should be recovered with the 2.0.1 update. In addition, 2.0.1 will provide a faster start-up of the app and improved load times for both station streams and on-demand programs. And finally, you’ll find that search results return at a snappier pace. The update notification should be auto-pushed to your phone, so just check your App Store icon for updates and install 2.0.1 to enjoy a more finely tuned Public Radio Player. And let us know how the Player is working for you on our Give Feedback page – your comments have been a great help to the development of the Player. Thanks!

Blog &Public Radio Player &Version 2.0

Not just another pretty face

July 27th, 2009 → 2:22 pm @ // 3 Comments

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.

My involvement with this project has been primarily as an expert in hybrid development techniques for the iPhone. Hybrid apps are a class of apps developed primarily using web standards (HTML, CSS and Javascript), then wrapped around a native Objective C/Cocoa Touch so that they can be conveniently distributed as binary via iTunes App Store. There are several advantages of following this approach to building iPhone apps:

  1. Short learning curve: Objective C is not as easy to learn as Javascript
  2. Faster development time: no need to compile app to test it as Javascript is interpreted
  3. Tapping into a large pool of talent: there are far more web developers than Objective C ones
  4. 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.

Read more at Giuseppe’s blog.

Blog &Version 2.0

Even Players need to warm up

July 24th, 2009 → 9:19 am @ // 6 Comments

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!

Blog &Public Radio Player &Version 2.0

The Tuner is now a Play-ah

July 19th, 2009 → 9:18 pm @ // 21 Comments

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!

Blog &Version 2.0

Bit rates and ballyhoo

July 9th, 2009 → 10:19 am @ // 7 Comments

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)

  • If a stream’s bit rate falls under 48k, the app will show icons for EDGE, 3G, & Wifi
  • Above 48k, but under 128k, the app will show only 3G & Wifi
  • 128k will show Wifi only

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.

About the Project &Blog &Version 2.0

Version 2.0: The Home Stretch

June 1st, 2009 → 11:01 am @ // 25 Comments

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.

Blog &Version 2.0

Feeling the Love at 1.5 Million Downloads

May 8th, 2009 → 9:46 am @ // 6 Comments

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.

Blog &Version 1.2 &Version 2.0

Looking for Beta Testers for Version 2.0

May 6th, 2009 → 10:51 am @ // 30 Comments

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.

Blog &Version 2.0

Tuner, two point oh!

February 27th, 2009 → 6:23 pm @ // 21 Comments

The Public Radio Tuner iPhone app is approaching 1 million downloads since its initial release last fall! But we’re not going to sit around and rest on those lofty laurels. Development of version 2.0 of the Tuner is already underway, and your input has been a big part of it. All the user suggestions and comments left here on this blog have shaped our planning for the next release. While there’s still a lot of work to be done and some details to be hammered out, I did get clearance to reveal a couple of great features that will included in the next release. 

First off, the new version of the Tuner will offer a program guide. With this feature, you will be able to open the iPhone app and see what’s on right now. The programs currently airing across hundreds of station streams will be right at your fingertips. A large number of users have requested this feature, and we’re planning to make it happen for version 2.0. This is a big job, and we’re gathering all the program schedules and related metadata from participating stations to create this new feature. 

But it’s not just about listening to public radio where you want. It’s also about listening to your favorite programs when you want. With that in mind, version 2.0 of the Public Radio Tuner will offer streaming of select on-demand content from both networks and local stations. With this feature, you will be able to pull up the Public Radio Tuner on your bus ride home and listen to recent episodes of Studio 360, Fresh Air, and Marketplace, just to name a few. The development team is working with the collaboration partners to determine the roster of programs and segments that will be made available for streaming on the Tuner. On-demand streaming has been another of the most common user requests, and it will be a great addition to the Tuner.

We are aiming to release version 2.0 of the Public Radio Tuner later in the spring, and we’ll be keeping you up to date on its progress here on this blog. Thanks to everyone who has downloaded the app (nearly a million times!). And keep the questions and comments coming – they have been a big part of the Tuner’s success. We’re very excited for the next phase of the project.

Blog &Version 2.0