A letter to Sir Michael about the iPhone apps

Posted on March 30, 2010

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Dear Sir Lyons (or Sir Michael or Mr Lyons, I’m not sure which I should use),

I’m sure you receive a great many emails and letters. I’m certain too there’s probably quite a lot written about you on the internet. I’m sorry to add to your day (or indeed one extra Google result) but I’ve got a thing to get off my chest and I figured I’d do it this way so that everyone else can see what I’ve said. You know, in a transparent kind of way.

This business about the development of the BBC’s iPhone news apps being postponed. I’ve got a bit of a problem with that. In fact I’ve got a massive problem with that. Let me explain.

I own an iPhone. I was a late starter to the Apple revolution, purchasing my MacBook pro at the end of spring last year and later stepping onto the iPhone bandwagon a few months before the 3GS was released. I know. What a stupid idiot. You’d think I would have been more patient.

Since then I’ve maximised the use of my iPhone to such an extent I’ve been diagnosed with tendinitis. I’ve been taking anti-inflammatories for nearly two months now. I’ve moaned about it a lot. Things seem to be getting better.

The point is I am rather addicted to my iPhone. I am an advocate (like Apple really needs one more of those). I use it to catch up on iPlayer content since the dweebs in Future Media and Technology have released a special iPhone version of the iPlayer website. It’s brilliant. It’s so convenient. It’s perfect. I hope they’re all very proud. I think of them every time I use it.

The only thing I don’t like on my iPhone is the way in which I’m forced to access BBC content via the web browser installed on it. I know there’s a mobile version of the site, but really its just a cut down version.

If I wanted to dig deeper into the news website I’d have to go to the standard website. And really Michael sir, nobody really likes doing that regardless of the pinch functionality offered on the device.

Consequently, plans to develop a BBC News app were actually one of the few BBC ideas I actually got quite excited about. (I’ve yet to hear of any plans to get me on the radio. In the event that does happen I imagine you’ll be getting quite a few calls for investigation about that one.)

The iPhone app seemed like an eminently sensible way to go. They don’t cost that much to produce. I have a mate who produced a game in his free time (and he’s a father of two small children with a full time job). My point is that most if not all of the back end functionality for the iPhone app is already there on the infrastructure. Producing the app isn’t going to command great armies of coders eating pizza and guzzling Coca-Cola. Most of the work is done already.

More importantly, in line with Director General Mark Thompson’s recent rallying cry about ensuring BBC content is more accessible, the iPhone app surely ticks that box. So too the fact that it was going to be rolled out to lots of different platforms as well. It’s not about world domination, it’s about offering people choice. Simple really.

The idea that this is an anti-competitive move is a bit silly really, in my opinion. It takes me back to hideous times spent standing in the corner of the playground watching the school tell-tale who cried every other five minutes scream at the teacher on duty saying “It was Jacob! He said a rude word.”

No-one is forcing anyone to consume anything with the BBC brand on it. No-one’s standing behind every iPhone user in the UK with a shitty stick poking them in the back of the neck until they download it. We wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that.

There’s a Sky News app already available. I know, I’ve been using it for the past week and on the strength of that I think it would be unfair if the BBC didn’t have a share of that particular distribution market. Not least because I don’t especially like the design of the Sky News App (or indeed the Sky News font – I’m very big on fonts). But I have downloaded it. That was free as I recall.

Fair enough. I don’t necessarily present a robust argument. Maybe that doesn’t really wash with the great and the good. But I’m sincere and I’m authentic and I’m honest.

I’m getting a bit tired of hearing of all the things us drones at the BBC shouldn’t do as though we’re the most hated people in the playground. It’s as though people are just sneering at us for even stepping on to public transport and going into work. I’d quite like to feel as though our interests are being borne in mind as well as those of the licence fee payer. And I see no better place to start than with the BBC iPhone News App.

Postpone it at your peril. My mother has already got her one-way ticket to London. She’s got a meeting with Erik Huggers about the top-level directories in the morning and tells me she’ll set up camp outside the offices of the BBC Trust and remain there until she’s taken you to task.

And .. I might add, none of this has anything to do with the job I applied for at the BBC Trust for which I was more than adequately suitable for and for which I didn’t get an invitiation to interview.

No. No. I’m not that bitter.

With sincerest best wishes (no, really)

Jon Jacob


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