The other day I talked about the frustration I suffered when I tried to listen to BBC Radio Five Live on my mobile streaming via 3G.
I thought that it might be worth exploring that a little more.
Most of the news about listening to the radio via your phone is about the iPhone. Of course unlike many phones with lesser specifications, the iPhone doesn’t have an FM receiver built into it, so if you want to listen to the radio with it, you’re probably looking at getting an app to do the job.
Many radio broadcasters are busily bringing out feature packed applications that do more than just play the radio. Absolute Radio, my own employer, has recently released its very well received application, and the team at Global have just received a Sony Radio Academy Award nomination for the work on their Capital FM app (which is being rapidly rolled out to other stations in their portfolio).
That’s all well and good, but what about the other smartphone platforms?
Getting accurate market share data for this is not easy. Some of the data is jealously guarded by various manufacturers and operators, and other data is available at a nice premium.
For the purposes of this analysis I’m using data from AdMob. They release regular reports based on the traffic they see for the mobile sites that they serve advertising for.
Their February 2009 report suggests that globally, the Symbian operating system (as used by Nokia) remains the most popular amongst smartphone users. This is followed by the iPhone OS, although traffic from the iPod Touch is excluded since, well, it’s not a phone (although obviously it can be used for online apps with a WiFi network).
In the UK the two are reversed and it seems that the iPhone is the smartphone platform of choice for developers to first concentrate on. However, it should be remembered that the data is not based on device ownership however – it’s based on traffic. And because Apple’s devices have a usefully large screen and excellent data packages, they are likely to be used significantly more than smaller “phone-sized” devices.
To return to my original question. How could I listen to the radio, via 3G or GPRS, on my N-Series Nokia phone? I have listened to Five Live in the past and it was a hit-or-miss affair. But websites have changed since I last tried it in 2008, and I was unsuccessful this week.
A little bit of Googling revealed that Nokia does indeed have an internet radio application. But there was a problem (although I didn’t discover it at first).
The first search result takes you to a Nokia site that insists that the first thing you have to do is download PC Suite. This is a bit of problem for two reasons. First, because Nokia, in its infinite wisdom, keeps releasing different “suites”. And secondly, because it turns out that Internet Radio is included with more recent phones (with superior “Feature Packs” in Nokia’s terminology). Unfortunately, if like me, your phone is locked to your network, and your network provider insists on tweaking the firmware (take a bow Orange), then you’ll never have updated firmware made available for your phone.
When I got my N82 it came with a CD from Nokia with N Series Suite which is fine – but is different to the regular PC Suite and from the newish Ovi Suite. Ovi is the brand that Nokia will be launching for its forthcoming app store.
Unhelpfully, Nokia keeps links to all three of these alive making it hard to know which version I should be using. I’m pretty sure that it’s Ovi, but Nokia does a dreadful job explaining that to the consumer. For all my moaning about new versions of iTunes everytime Apple adds a new property to some other device in its portfolio, at least it’s easy to track down the correct piece of software.
But back to my radio issue. The only obvious way of installing the Internet Radio application was to install PC Suite which I didn’t want to do as I’m now using Ovi. Surely the application existed on its own? It did. The problem was that searching initially led me to this old open source version that involves using Shoutcast. Adding stations is a complicated affair involving using something like Winamp to create a playlist and then export that list to your phone. Not exactly friendly. I installed it and played with it for a while, getting very frustrated.
In the end, I found the version I wanted at S60.com. This works pretty well and is a standalone app with no messing around using Shoutcast or PC applications. It lets you bookmark your favourite stations, allows you to choose quality depending on your connection (3G, GRPS or WiFi), and does a very neat fade in and fade out when changing stations. And of course, unlike a certain market leading smartphone I could mention, you can listen to the radio and do other things at the same time like sending text messages or reading email.
If the station includes the data correctly, as Absolute Radio does, you get details of the current song playing too.
So no problem then?
Well not quite. You see, while Nokia’s directory includes many of the main UK commercial stations – I’ve mentioned Absolute, but Global’s main brands like Classic FM, Capital 95.8FM, and a couple of Heart FMs are in there – there’s a notable absentee. The only BBC service available is the BBC World Service (I should also mention that Bauer services aren’t included, and neither is Talksport).
Now I rather suspect that unless these services aren’t that bothered, the reason they’re missing is to do with geo-IP blocking. Does Nokia have the functionality to allow this? The BBC wouldn’t be allowed to serve much football on Five Live to Nokia phones outside the UK, and for all I know, all these radio services are streaming through a big server in Finland.
The Internet Radio application does allow you to plug in streams directly, but that rather supposes you can find the streams’ details. Have a good look around the BBC website and see if you can find them. I suspect that if I had a working internet radio I might be able to find the stream details that way, but rooting around the website turns nothing up.
So if I can’t get an application to play BBC radio, can I just visit their website and listen there?
Visiting bbc.co.uk on the Nokia cleverly sends me to their mobile website (or a version of it), and that doesn’t include any listening links. I believe that the BBC is concerned that people will run up huge data bills on their mobiles listening to the radio without realising it. So to avoid all complications, I just don’t see the links.
That’s the reason that my N82 isn’t up to date enough to (officially) run the Nokia iPlayer application. In my firmware, Realplayer, which plays the files back, doesn’t refer to your application’s choice of data connectivity and so even if you think you’ve connected on WiFi, without changing a fiddly Realplayer setting, you might end up listening via 3G – and get a big data bill to boot. Once we’re all on all-you-can-eat data plans this will go away, but in the meantime, it’s a bit like stepping back into 56k modem days.
Anyway, I couldn’t find a listen live button on the mobile radio site. Visiting the iPlayer site presents a non-mobile friendly site, but it also doesn’t think that I have Real installed despite the fact that I do, and implores me to load it before I can listen to the live stream.
So there’s no way I can see of using the BBC website, on my mobile at least, to listen to a live radio stream.
I’m obviously not the only person with this problem, because someone has set up this page which works. It’s just a mobile friendly page of links to RAM streams and they play fine. The only downside is that you can’t use another application while listening – unlike most Nokia applications. But that’s a Realplayer shortcoming.
It’d be really good if there was a nice 32k AAC+ stream publicly available to listen to via the Nokia Internet Radio application (128k AAC+ streams are being used for iPlayer, but that data rate’s a little high for mobile). But in the meantime, this non-authorised workaround is the only way I can find.
In summary – radio on the Nokia really should be better, and much easier for the consumer. At the moment with the iPhone we’re seeing nearly every station produce their own application which feels a little silly, albeit providing good additional functionality. Nokia’s Internet Radio application is a nice start, but it really needs the support of the nation’s biggest and most popular radio broadcaster. Listening to the BBC on the iPhone or Windows Media devices, is also difficult, and sites like bbcstreams.com are filling the hole currently.
15-24 listening is declining across the board, and if your station is not on the one device that you know that this age group carry and use, then it’s harder to make sure the next generation keeps the radio habit.
As ever, these are my thoughts and don’t represent those of my employer. And I’m not really trying to bash the BBC who are doing an excellent job in so many ways with radio. I’m just frustrated with the difficulties I had over this earlier in the week, and my attempts to work around them.