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RAIN 4/8: New iPhone OS to support "background audio"

Posted on: 04/08/2010


Apple announced today that its new iPhone 4.0 operating system (upon which the iPhone and iPad run) will enable limited multi-tasking ability, allowing for “background audio” from certain applications, so users can enjoy audio sources like Pandora while managing other tasks on their device.

The new operating system with the limited multi-tasking ability will be available by summer for iPhone 3GS and the third-generation iPod Touch, and by fall for the iPad.

A major limitation of Internet radio apps for the iPhone and iPad was the fact that listening to a stream via a third-party app prevented the user from using other features, like web browsing or e-mail. As of this writing, Apple is currently hosting a press event to unveil its new operating system, and Pandora founder Tim Westergren demonstrated the new background audio capability.

Wireless Week reported yesterday Apple gave Pandora early access to the iPhone 4.0 software development tools. Apparently, the background audio feature “is enabled by setting up an audio service and a networking service that’s stripped down so that when a user exits the app, the app launches those services that are designed to run seamlessly in the background.” Read more from Wireless Week here.


Since the iPad’s launch on Saturday, broadcasters and webcasters continue to consider just what it might ending up meaning for radio.

Pandora, the webcaster that owes a significant part of its growth over the past two years to new registrations and listening via its iPhone app, had an iPad app update ready on Day 1 (as did NPR, CBS Interactive, and AccuRadio, see RAIN coverage here). For the new app, Pandora improved the audio quality and connectivity (for quicker start ups and less dropping out). But the look of the app also takes advantage of the iPad’s greater screen “real estate” to offer larger album cover artwork and bio info on the artists you hear (see image). Pandora founder Tim Westergren spoke to RAIN about the iPad and his company’s approach to its presence on the device.

“To me, it’s a portable ‘lean-in’ device,” so the intention with the app was to create a “portable, lean-in version of
Pandora,” he explained. “It’s a bit like, you know, when you were a kid listening to music and checking out the album while you were doing it, but this has the capability to do a lot more… liner notes, files, reviews, pictures.” He said the straight-forward approach now with bios and reviews will likely soon give way to things like social networking, related events and concert info content.

“And I think that the actual design of this device, the way Apple
intended it, was for you to carry it around — from the kitchen to the bedroom to the living room, to the train,” Westergren (pictured) said. “And it’s always on, and it’s always connected.”

Pandora’s app (as well as apps from other webcasters) has been getting lots of favorable reviews and recommendations in the press. TechCrunch (here), TabletBlorge (here which also likes CBS Interactive’s Radio.com app), Appolicious (here which also likes Wunder Radio’s app and calls AccuRadio’s app a “hidden nugget”), and Wireless & Mobile News (here which also likes Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio and the Slacker apps) all ranked Pandora’s app among the best for the device. Meanwhile, The Boston Globe (here) raved about NPR.org’s iPad approach, calling it “The best media app so far,” which “sounds as good as it looks… Smartest of all is the ability to tune into the Internet audio stream of every NPR station.”

Triton Digital Media VP/Strategy Jim Kerr (right) tempered the enthusiasm for the iPad somewhat, at least as far as the idea that it could be a “game changer” for radio. He seems to really love the device itself, but doesn’t think it’s going to redraw the map when it comes to radio.

Kerr describes the iPad as a “foreground” device. That is, since, as it is on the iPhone, you can’t multitask with third-party apps, most anything you’re doing on the iPad is the only thing you’re doing, radio listening included. “In fact, it turns the iPad into nothing more than a large and clunky iPod Touch,” Kerr suggests.

Now, Kerr’s article, “An iPad Review for Radio Professionals” in Radio-Info here, was written and published before today’s announcement from Apple that the new iPhone/iPad operating system will, in fact, allow for “background audio.” [See today’s top story in RAIN.] However, one strong point he makes still holds weight: Kerr reasons that since the device’s large screen and graceful interface make web browsing such a positive experience, that apps are somewhat superfluous (unlike on mobile devices, where the web isn’t so nice). As such, the iPad “marginalizes the app ecosystem. With an iPad, if you have an audio stream, you… don’t need an app.”

Kerr suggests simply making sure your website is optimized for the iPad’s Safari browser, and that’s exactly what webcasters like Radio Paradise’s Bill Goldsmith and SomaFM’s Rusty Hodge are doing. Both sites can detect the mobile browser being used, and serve up a version optimized for the iPad. Streaming via the browser (and not through an app), allows listeners to minimize it and manage other tasks while listening. Goldsmith says (here), “Our mobile website allows users to do virtually everything they can do on our regular website: get song info, purchase music, rate and comment on songs, search for music and artists, and interact with fellow RP listeners on the forums.” More on SomaFM’s mobile service is here.

Radio and the iPad will most certainly be a major topic addressed at Monday’s RAIN Summit West in Las Vegas. In fact, Triton’s Jim Kerr will moderate the “Building Brands Online / Building Online Brands” panel at the event. Radio Paradise’s Bill Goldsmith will be on “The Leap to Mobile” panel on Monday; and SomaFM’s Rusty Hodge will take part in the panel “Exploring Internet Radio Business Models.” Monday’s agenda and complete list of speakers and a link to register for the event are here.

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  1. I would like to point out something that many have not yet noticed on iPhones and iPads. That is the fact that the original iPhone OS versions have not been able to directly load streaming audio via the Safari web browser.

    My item to bring to attention is that Apple has silently slipped this into one of the recent OS updates for iPhone and it works by default in iPads out of the box.

    Why am I mentioning this? Because you CAN listen to music IN THE BACKGROUND, like RIGHT NOW.

    Check it out:

    In your iPhone or iPad running a newer version of the OS, go here:


    Wait a sec and you will hear our station playing on your device. Push the button to go to another app and you will notice that the stream continues to play on the iPhone or iPad or iPodTouch in the background! :-)

    This is death to apps made to provide internet radio access to the users of these devices. We have an app, yep! jellyradio app in the store is a GREAT application, however with the point and click ease of using a link and safari many users will not buy or download internet radio apps unless they offer some additional features that make the app more favorable over the point and click method.
    We have added audio processing, live station chat and listener to listener chat, twitter support, facebook and myspace support right in our app. We also provide the standard song titles and such. Hopefully this will keep people interested in our application. The audio quality overall is much better with our patented 3d sound processing.

    Norman Jester
    CEO JellyRadio, Inc.

    Norman Jester · Apr 14, 07:56 PM · #

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