Tech Talk: Keeping up with devices for the iPlayer

The BBC's iPlayer: Here today, gone from your TV tomorrow?
The BBC's iPlayer: Here today, gone from your TV tomorrow?
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ONE OF the cardinal rules of technology is never to try and fix something that isn’t broken.

One of the few parts of the BBC that isn’t broken, arguably, is the iPlayer. It is this the corporation has tried to fix. In the process it has, for some, broken it.

Let me explain.

The iPlayer has long since ceased to be a collection of web pages to be accessed on a computer. It is now a “multi-platform app”, available on smart TVs, set-top boxes, games consoles, tablets, phones and media players – all of which work in different ways and require bespoke versions. Since there is no common standard, keeping up with these devices in the face of changing technology is the devil’s own work.

So as each new version of the iPlayer is deployed, usually with newer devices in mind, older ones get left behind. For many viewers, this means waking up one morning to find their telly no longer works as it did the night before.

This is a new phenomenon. We’ve grown accustomed to consumer electronics working in exactly the same way, day in and day out, until they finally give up the ghost. But their interactivity with the online world means now that bits of them can, at the whim of a third-party organisation, simply drop off.

The BBC is by no means the only culprit here: TVs and set-top boxes which received Netflix yesterday are not guaranteed to still do so tomorrow. Sky Go used to work with first-generation iPads, but for their owners it has now Sky-gone. In short, the smart device you bought last year may not be as smart today, or in the future.

Some of the makers of these devices are, to say the least, ambivalent about this.

There would be an outcry if BBC One, or any of the other conventional services, became restricted to only 85 per cent of licence-fee payers - but the corporation is relying here on our resignation to the reality that today’s technology has obsolescence built-in. A few customers have succeeded in returning products which have lost some of their advertised functionality while they’re still in guarantee – meaning that the retailer, not the manufacturer nor the BBC, carries the can.