Two ‘world firsts’ were announced at the Radiodays Europe conference in Paris last week. LG unveiled a mass-market smartphone with DAB/DAB+, covered in last week’s newsletter. But also significant was a demonstration of the world’s first hybrid Radioplayer app, on that LG Stylus 2 handset. We speak to Radioplayer Managing Director Michael Hill on how the app was developed.
Why did you build it?
Radioplayer’s all about broadcasters collaborating, to make it easier to listen to the radio. Our work was historically around streaming (apps, web players etc)… but over the last year or two we’ve also been working on hybrid interfaces for cars and smartphones.
In the same way as a hybrid car switches automatically between its petrol and electric engines, the radios of the future should offer the content the listener wants, taking care of the distribution complexity in the background.
When we spotted that a smartphone was coming out with DAB/DAB+, we decided to use it to test our theory, and build a proper hybrid mobile app. Our dream was to allow the listener simply to tap a station in the Radioplayer app and automatically benefit from the lower data-costs and improved battery-life that free-to-air broadcast radio offers (if the station’s available on DAB).
How did you work with LG?
Largely through IDAG (the International DMB Advancement Group). They gave us access to the LG Stylus 2 handset, liaised with LG in Korea over the specifications, and ensured we got answers to any deep technical questions we had. In recent weeks we’ve also been speaking directly to LG in the UK and Norway, as we negotiated the deal which will see the Radioplayer app installed automatically on new handsets in those territories.
What were the main challenges?
Despite efforts by the Universal Smartphone Radio Project, there’s still no agreed standard whereby an app can talk to a radio chip in a smartphone. So we had to rely on reverse-engineering the ‘example app’ that LG gave us, to work out how their DAB chipset communicates.
We wrote a ‘wish list’ of all the hooks we knew we’d need into the chip. Then our app developers, All In Media, built a simple ‘skeleton app’ to prove that we could access all the functions we’d need. After a few emails back-and-forth to Korea, we knew we could do it, so we built a ‘demo’ version of the Radioplayer app, with hybrid capability. (Watch video below)
A temporary ‘hybrid settings’ screen allowed us to walk around and test switching behaviour, altering key parameters like the levels of antenna reception we’d tolerate before switching, the frequency with which we’d scan for services in the background, and the ‘hold-off’ period before switching back to an improving DAB signal.
Where could this go next?
The apps will go live to the public over the coming weeks, when the LG Stylus 2 is available. The whole process has taught us a huge amount about building a hybrid radio, on a device with a single DAB tuner and an internet connection. We’ll use that to develop future radios for smartphones and cars. We also hope that the industry support we’re showing LG will encourage them to put DAB chips into more of their range.
And, of course, we hope that Samsung, Apple, and other manufacturers will join in too. If that happens, we’ll definitely need to progress work on an agreed standard for accessing radio chips – then one day all radio apps can be truly hybrid, on any phone that supports broadcast radio.