Why Isn’t the Public Radio Player App on Android? Let Us Count the Ways

    by Rekha Murthy
    May 23, 2011

    We know, we know. Android users want the Public Radio Player, too. We’ve received plenty of comments from our feedback page:

    • “Patiently waiting for bliss…” — Stephenmm
    • “hurry up please. i love your app and i want it on my phone!” — ryan
    • “Enjoyed this on my wifes Iphone but was disappointed to find out it isnt on my new Android device. Ohh How will I survive without it? Please hurry up and release it.” — Ben
    • “ I cannot help but wonder if this project has actually been…gulp…abandoned!” — Dan D

    Oh, the drama.

    Here’s the deal. Public Radio Exchange (PRX) wants to develop the Public Radio Player for Android. We know the Android OS dominates in smartphone sales. And we know we’ve been putting out teasers for a while — sorry about that. We made big progress last summer, thanks to the Google Summer of Code. But the app is pretty complex, and there’s a lot left to do.


    The Public Radio Player iPhone app is a vast directory of public radio audio streams, both live and on demand. The app came out of a collaboration of American Public Media, NPR, and Public Radio International led by PRX and was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. PRX now manages the Player on our own, and we maintain a blog as a way to stay in touch with our huge community of users and participating stations.


    The Public Radio Player has had well over 3 million unique downloads since it launched in the iTunes App Store in January 2009.


    The original grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting did not fund Android — at the time of the grant, Android went from nonexistent to fledgling. Meanwhile, PRX expanded our mobile app offerings to public media organizations, including “This American Life” and several stations. We’re a small team, and we’ve been busy with that.

    But that’s not the only reason why Public Radio Player’s iPhone app isn’t on Android yet. Since last summer, we launched the “This American Life” Android app, with the same design and features as the comparable iPhone app. That was a cautionary learning experience. For one thing, the adoption of the Android app has been less than 10 percent of the iPhone app — this, despite the reams of requests PRX and “This American Life” received from desperate Android users right up until launch. That may be an extreme situation, but — and I know all you Android users will not like to hear this — it’s true that app use by Android users is currently lower than Apple iOS users.

    Yet it cost no less to develop.

    Android’s Openness Hard on Developers

    There’s more. The beauty of Android’s openness is also a headache for developers (and it hasn’t changed much since this post last year). It has many different versions of an OS across thousands of various devices. Despite our best efforts at testing, the “This American Life” app on Android is, shall we say, challenging for us and our users. As of now, media playback varies widely across devices, and it’s likely we’ll have to build our own solution. Netflix just announced it’s handling Android’s lack of a media playback standard by releasing on only five devices for now — five out of hundreds.

    Plus, it’s not just about developing an app; it’s about caring for it once it’s in the wild, and caring for you, our (ahem) vocal audience. Audio playback sourced from thousands of station streams and podcasts compounds the issue. That’s true of the iPhone, but it’s even more true of the Android.

    Oh wait, there’s even more. We are gearing up for a development sprint on the iPhone soon. We want to get at bugs and UI pain points, and make improvements for stations and users alike. When we do move forward on Android again, we want it to have the newest version of the iPhone app…so yes, more waiting.

    I have an Android phone — a couple of my colleagues do, too. We would love to have the Public Radio Player (I use it on my iPod instead). But for a small, non-profit organization with tons of awesome stuff going on, it’s going to take more time.

    OK, commenters. Let us know what you think. As you can tell from our Give Feedback page, we approve all but the very rude, and we welcome niceness, too. We are currently inviting ideas for the next version of the Public Radio Player. If you use the app, please tell us what you want.

    A version of this article was cross-posted on the Public Radio Player blog. PRX gets frequent requests for an Android version of the app, and the original post is a response that aims to 1) give a thorough explanation of the technical and logistical hurdles in the spirit of transparency that PRX continually strives for; and 2) let other Android developers — and iPhone developers hesitating before the Android plunge — know they’re not alone.

    Tagged: american public media android app iphone npr prx public radio exchange public radio international public radio player

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