In our eyes, the BBC is nearly perfect. We love its TV stations, its Web sites and all of its radio stations that don't have One in the title. But when it comes to iPlayer support on mobile devices we have a bee in our bonnet and that bee is angry and very stingy. Why? Because we think the BBC is being very unfair about who can access iPlayer, and on what device.
We recently reported that the BBC had requested the unofficial beebPlayer app be removed from the Android Market. beebPlayer's creator Dave Johnston confirmed how his app worked in a recent blog post -- it wasn't doing anything illegal, only making a BBC stream available to people on another mobile platform. It was using BBC-created streams, and abiding by all the rules for accessing BBC content, namely geographic restrictions and respecting copy protection.
beebPlayer used 3G video streams that were designed for phones such as the Nokia N series and other Symbian-based handsets. So you'd assume there would be no problem using them on any device, right? Wrong, because the BBC says it won't allow unauthorised applications access to iPlayer. And that, right there, is nonsense -- pure and simple.
Does the BBC really think it's acceptable to tell us what handsets can and cannot access publically available streams that the British public has paid for? Would it be okay if the BBC said, "You can only use Internet Explorer to watch iPlayer online"?
The BBC does, however, support the iPhone and the iPod touch. These devices get a stream of their own, leading us to wonder why Android can't make use of those files. The answer, it turns out, is that although the Apple streams -- which use the H.264 video format -- are perfectly compatible with Android phones, they're contained in a file wrapper (MOV) that isn't. Apple handsets could cope with video in a non-Quicktime wrapper quite easily, and that would open the streams up to any device that wanted to use them.
This would produce another issue for the BBC, in that any device could then access its mobile iPlayer content. If video was ever available on all devices, it's been proven by scientists that the Earth would cease to spin and all life on it would come to an end. Oh no, wait, that's not what would happen at all. In fact, the BBC is entirely too restrictive with iPlayer, and as much as we love the service, we're bitterly disappointed that we can't access it on our choice of devices.
The BBC is giving Android 2.2 users access to iPlayer, but that doesn't go far enough. Many Android phones on the market won't support 2.2, and more potentially won't run Flash 10.1. So while every iPhone user gets iPlayer functionality, only a fraction of those on Android will enjoy the same luxury. Plenty of other platforms are being ignored too, such as Palm's WebOS and BlackBerry.
What do you think? Is it reasonable of the Beeb to restrict its mobile development in this way? Let us know in the comments section below or scrawl something on our Facebook wall.