Opinion: The BBC should launch a DAB-enabled mobile phone with iPlayer functionality

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stu-col.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

Cor, did you see the story earlier on today, about the BBC getting into gadgets? It’s funding the development of Olinda, a prototype DAB radio with ‘social’ features, including the ability to see when one of your friends has their radio on, and tune into whatever they’re listening to.

It sounds ace. But if the BBC is serious about getting into the hardware game, it should go the whole hog and turn its attention to mobile phones. Handsets are clearly on the Corporation’s radar judging by this week’s deal with O2, so surely the logical next step is a BeebPhone, with a DAB receiver inside for Olinda-like social features, and a mobile iPlayer application for catch-up TV.

Isn’t it?

Admittedly, there are big obstacles. Like the considerable regulatory hurdles whenever the BBC enters the commercial arena, and the fact that the Corporation knows as much about making mobile handsets as Nokia does about making television (although I’m sure Nokia execs would argue that point).

The latter issue isn’t a problem, anyway, as there are plenty of white-label manufacturers who’d be delighted to partner with the BBC. The former? Well, the optimist in me says it’s just a case of building a strong case for a BeebPhone’s public service benefits (the pessimist says a BeebPhone will never, ever happen, but I’m taking the positive approach in this column, dammit).

Anyway, here’s my reasoning behind the concept of a BeebPhone. Olinda’s social aspects would work just as well on a phone, which benefits from even better connectivity. Research from the likes of Nokia shows that people love listening to FM radio on their mobile phones, and although the UK’s first mobile DAB experiment didn’t go down too well (Virgin Mobile recently canned its service), it’s only a matter of time before DAB tuners make their way into phones.

But the really exciting thing about a BeebPhone would be iPlayer. It’s supposed to be available on a wide range of handsets, mind, but that noble aim got lost somewhere in the development process. Having its own handset would enable the BBC to tune and tweak a slick mobile iPlayer client, allowing people to watch their favourite shows on the phone.

This is, of course, just wild speculation that’ll never turn into an actual product, right? After all, the BBC doesn’t do hardware. Oh, except Olinda appears to show otherwise. If a DAB radio, why not a mobile handset?

Stuart Dredge is editor-in-chief of Tech Digest. He’d settle for a Men & Motors Phone if the BBC isn’t up to the job.

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Stuart Dredge