10 apps the BBC should make

Over the years, the BBC — which started as a radio service — has chosen to move into new, risky platforms including television, home computing, and the internet. It’s safe to say that we’re all quite happy with how those ventures turned out, so my question is, why stop there? The BBC should raise its digital ambitions to create original interactive experiences for computers, smartphones, and tablets; experiences that inform, educate, and entertain.

I am specifically not talking about apps that distribute or repurpose existing content. While the iPlayer apps for TV and radio are very successful, they don’t involve the creation of new interactive content.


Nor am I talking about websites such as the new educational iWonder brand. iWonder is a very well-written and very nicely designed website and it has some excellent articles, but it is not fundamentally interactive.


So what am I talking about? I can best explain with ten examples of genuinely interactive apps that would complement existing BBC TV shows and properties (because, you know, it’s all about brand synergy), and are provably feasible and popular.

1. BBC News = BBC News

BBC News app

Credit where credit is due: the BBC News app is a simple yet decent extension of the BBC News Online website, itself an exceptional BBC property due to its world-leading, online-only nature. It’s arguable that it’s not a particularly interactive app, but then again, I don’t think that making it more interactive would add much.

2. The Sky at Night/Stargazing Live = Star Walk


Thanks to presenters like Brian Cox and shows like Stargazing Live, there are plenty of people interested in stargazing and astronomy, but do we really expect them to go outside and fumble around with a compass when they could use something much better – like Star Walk? Want to find Jupiter or identify a constellation? Just point your smartphone in the right direction. It’s augmented reality of the finest kind, providing a supremely accessible and highly educational experience. If you combined Star Walk with audio or video commentary, you could provide viewers with a new stargazing tour every week. Perhaps you could even crowdsource counts of Leonids and Perseids meteor showers. Continue reading “10 apps the BBC should make”

Perfection, Quantified

I am too lazy to be a good self-quantifier. And yet I persist. I have a Fitbit activity tracker that automatically syncs with the internet whenever I’m near my laptop. For a while it gave me the intense satisfaction of routinely topping the step counts of my friends, reported on Fitbit’s website, until I realised that their totals – and mine – never seemed to change much between weeks.

In the first year, occasionally my daily step count might creep over 20,000 or 30,000 steps and I would get excited about setting a new record. Sadly, that excitement has gone – having reached 45,432 steps on the day of the Edinburgh half-marathon last year, the prospect of going beyond is now confined to, well, marathons.


Even the flicker of pleasure I gained from the Fitbit leaderboard was extinguished by a ‘friend’ I recently added who now consistently beats me. He probably works in a job where he actually has to walk during the day, or something equally unfair. But it still provides entertainment. My girlfriend and I both enjoy walking and I’ll often ask her to guess how many steps we’ve taken so far. She’s gotten really good at this now: “Six thousand… two hundred?” “Six thousand five hundred. Only four percent off!” I’ll marvel. I can’t honestly say that the Fitbit has made me walk any more than I used to, though.


Then there’s my internet-connected Withings scales. I got these as a birthday present from my parents (stop laughing – I asked for them, you jackals!). They’re several times more expensive than my old, perfectly-accurate scales, but like the Fitbit they also automatically sync with the internet, so I don’t have to record the figures myself. At a conservative five seconds saved every day, or 30 minutes a year, in the extra time I’ve saved before I die I could watch the entire first season of Friends. Could that be any better?

While, technologically-speaking, the Withings scales do far less than the Fitbit, its ability to show me long-term trends in my weight makes it very far more useful than looking in a mirror and feeling vaguely worried/pleased.

Finally, Foursquare. Over Christmas, we visited my brother in Portland and then my girlfriend’s family in Toronto. Whenever I travel outside of London and visit normal people’s flats and houses, I am always reduced to a raving madman, rending my clothes in fury. “$350,000 for three bedrooms and two point five bathrooms? You can barely get a toilet for that price in London!”

I have a pet theory (which is wrong and offensive, but I’ll continue) that ‘professionals’ in London only stay there because they grew up in ultra-boring places elsewhere in the UK. When they eventually get to London and see the bright lights and such, they accept the horrific house prices as a necessary evil of not living in a place where nothing happens. Continue reading “Perfection, Quantified”

A Proposal for Managing In-App Spending

This year, the European Union’s Consumer Protection Cooperation network, the EU Justice Minister, and the UK’s Office of Fair Trading have all expressed concerns about consumers being confused or misled about in-app spending; particularly on freemium games, and games aimed at children.

Their recommendations include developers providing better information about the true costs involved in freemium games, and ensuring that children are not exhorted to buy in-app items or persuade an adult to buy items for them. These are a good start but time will tell whether they are effective.

In related gaming (that is, gambling) news, as of this month gamblers in England and Wales will be able to set limits on the amount of time and money spent on high-stakes gaming machines (e.g. slot machines) in betting shops. According to BBC News, there are 33,000 fixed-odds betting terminals across England and Wales, on which approximately £40 billion is gambled and £1.5 billion lost each year. These terminals will now provide alerts to gamblers every 30 minutes or £250 spent. Despite these moves, the UK government said that more could be done, so clearly this is not the end of the road for gambling regulation.

There is a very, very big difference between gambling and (some) freemium games. Freemium games are not even in the same ballpark when it comes to harm against society. However, they also have a few things in common, most notably their use of behavioural psychology and compulsion loops to keep players playing more and spending more. There are plenty of freemium game players who will spend hundreds of hours and many pounds playing them, and then regret their actions afterwards – I know because I was one of them.

What would freemium games look like if they adopted the same kind of limits that fixed-odds betting terminals will have? Here’s a possibility I mocked up:




Feel free to repost these images but please link back. These are mockups. Any relation to existing apps is intentional but meant only for comic effect. I welcome any corrections.