Sunday, 25 July 2010

BBC and Apple

I have long noted that the BBC appears to be somewhat in awe of Apple. Any Apple product release gets heavily trailed on BBC Radio, TV and Online, whereas those of its competitors do not. As an example: when the original iPhone was released in 2007, Radio 5 had a long segment in which a breathless technology correspondent lovingly and excitedly gushed over the newly-arrived phone. It was not edifying radio. A similar situation happened with the iPad release earlier this year.

The problem is simple: the iPhone is a smartphone, and Apple is just one player in that market. Smartphones are phones with capabilities that extend a great distance past simply making calls. They can run third-party applications, read email, take photographs, access the Internet and preform many complex tasks. They are the high-end of the mobile phone market, and this is important: the low-end (currently dominated by Nokia) is low-margin and is continuously being squeezed by volume handset manufacturers.

There are three other major companies in the smartphone market: Nokia, who are by far the largest handset maker in the world, RiM, who make the Blackberry, and Google, who have an open source and hardware smartphone system called Android. The figures are telling:Nokia sold 88 million smartphones globally in 2009, and 34 million Blackberry units were sold. Apple sold 24 million units in the same year. Android sold relatively few phones, a result of its recent release. To put these figures into context, Nokia sold 440 million normal (i.e. non-smart) mobile phones in the same period.

Therefore it is of interest that the BBC rarely report on developments to do with Nokia, Blackberry or Android. Worse, they seem only to repeat Apple news (or hype). Even when Apple comes under criticism - as it has done recently with the antennae issue - the BBC more or less report Apple's line without significant question. The BBC are experts in broadcast technology and have some brilliant engineers; surely they could have done their own investigation into the issue instead of parroting Apple's PR?

It is not the BBC's job to repeat Apple hype. If anything, the BBC should be strictly questioning the hype that lies behind the manufacturer. Yet that is not their way, and I wonder why this situation has arisen.

And unfortunately it gets worse. Recently the Government has stopped departments from spending hundreds of thousands of pounds developing applications for the iPhone and not those from rival manufacturers. This was an utter waste of public money when Apple's market was so small. (as an aside, the Labour party created an iPhone app before this year's election to keep in touch with their helpers; an odd choice due to the expense of the iPhone and its non-ubiquity).

The BBC have not learnt this lesson. It has been reported that the BBC have finally released an application that will allow iPhone users to access BBC News. The release was delayed over concerns that it would impact the rest of the industry (it does not say if this concerns refer to the media or technology industries). The BBC Trust have now overruled these concerns, allowing the iPhone app to be released.

I would like the BBC to answer the following questions:

  • Why did they choose to release an iPhone app first, instead of ones for Blackberry, Nokia or Android phones?
  • Have they done an impact statement to see how this would advantage Apple over other manufacturers?
  • How many BBC journalists and correspondents receive gratuities (monetary or services) from Apple and other manufacturers?
  • What advantages does an iPhone app give over web access to the same news? Most mobile phones can access the web nowadays, and the BBC already have mobile portals.
  • How much did the iPhone app cost to make?
  • Can this expense be justified?

These are important questions that need to be answered to ensure that the BBC are fulfilling their public service remit.

I have no side in this debate; my mobile phone is most certainly not a smartphone. Yet I think it is vital for the BBC to answer these questions; I fear that they will not. If this situation continues then the BBC will be swaying an entire technology sector towards one company.

I fear the true reason behind these decisions is that Apple and the iPhone are seen as being sexy, and this has swayed decisions and reporting towards them. If so, then this is a terrible waste of licence-payers money.

No comments: