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Rebuilding Radio NZ – Part 7: iPhone App Data (and an iPhone app)

Late 2009 we were thinking about releasing an iPhone app. The main impediment was the complexity of providing audio data from Matrix quickly and reliably.

The project was shelved until mid 2010 until ELF was well underway, at which point we chose to work with Wellington company Southgate Labs.

Providing audio data from ELF would have been a relatively simple proposition except for one thing – none of our audio data was being stored in ELF. This presented a major challenge: how do we publish audio to Matrix where all our programmes were still hosted, have it display in Matrix, but have that data also available to ELF as it published and updated?

The solution was to create a private XML feed of all audio in Matrix and import that into ELF at regular intervals. The audio item’s unique Matrix ID was stored in ELF and used as a key to allow updates and avoid duplication. The feed spanned the last 24 hours to cover any changes to items in Matrix.

Within ELF audio items were associated with the same programmes defined for schedules. The audio part of ELF and the whole audio publishing process is pretty interesting (I think), and I’ll cover that in more detail in a later post.

Once the data was inside ELF it was simple enough to roll a data feed to supply a listings of audio by programme for the app. The app can request data from a specified date, assuring that there are no gaps in programme data on each device. Koz supplied us with a json template and behaviour spec for the data feed and this was implemented by Nigel from AbleTech.

And that’s it.

Building the app itself was another thing entirely, and was achieved with very little hassle from our end.

Amnon at Southgate Labs came up with initial screen shots, and from there I had several conversations with their team about what the user experience would be like. This led quickly to the first alpha version of the app. I was impressed with how quickly Southgate Labs captured the essence of the desired user experience.

Once complete we tested the app with a wider group of iPhone users, their bug reports and feedback being incorporated. One special area of attention was accessibility – this was an early criteria and we asked accessibility expert Jonathan Mosen to test the app. Only one minor tweak was required to a button label.

The app was designed to do one thing, and to do it very well. Reviews have been favourable, and downloads have been fairly constant since an initial peak at release. There was a second peak in demand right after the second Christchurch earthquake.

Southgate Labs are working on the next version of the app at the moment (May 2011). This includes the much-requested audio scrubbing feature that enables scrolling to any point in the audio (provided it has downloaded).

Next time I’ll move on to the Highlights section of the site.

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