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Digital Disruptor

101 ways to listen to Marketplace, including our upgraded iPhone App

Marketplace Contributor Apr 30, 2012

Roughly 9 million people listen to at least one episode of one Marketplace program each week on their local public radio station, according to those who count.

Here in Los Angeles I fit that demographic perfectly. At least once a week I find myself in the car tuned to 89.3 KPCC just in time to hear Kai Ryssdal “do the numbers.” Sometimes while driving on weekends, I catch a bit of Tess Vigeland dishing out personal finance advice on Marketplace Money.

But more so I represent another audience demographic: the mobile, on-demand listener. That’s because the other six days each week I use my iPhone, iPad, or desktop computer to listen to Marketplace. I prefer it because I can tune in to what I want, when I want, where I want it. And, I can do something that radio listeners can’t do: rewind.

Enter: The APM: Marketplace Radio iPhone App.

Keeping up with “audio everywhere”
In this connected world, listeners increasingly demand these same conveniences. For makers of radio, we face a new business challenge that’s become just as important as creating good, engaging audio content. We have to be tech companies, too, and keep up with a growing number of applications and devices where listerners expect to find us – from the web, to iTunes, to the dozens of mobile apps like Flipboard, and Stitcher (where you can find us now) and Slacker (where you’ll be able to find us next month).

Last week, we got an angry email from a user who couldn’t figure out how to listen to our show on his Microsoft Zune. (should I mention that the Zune was discontinued last year?)

It’s no longer just about distributing our shows each dayto radio stations around the U.S. We also have to zip it up as a portable digital audio file – package it with descriptive metadata – and send it out across the Internet via dynamic XML feeds . 

Now (functioning) on the iPhone
Today, I’m happy to announce yet another way to listen to Marketplace: our new and improved APM: Marketplace Radio iPhone App.

This is our third attempt to present a simple listening experience for iPhone users who want on-demand access to our latest episodes. We’ve been working on it for eight months (when we released the first version of the app) and we finally think we’ve got it right – or at least got it functioning.

In one click from the home screent, the app features instant access to the latest episode of each Marketplace program in one click. You Can listen immediately or save episodes for future playback and offline listening. Flip your phone to landscape mode to skip ahead, rewind, and adjust the volume.

You would think that making an app like this is a simple task; How could anyone mess it up? We’ll, it isn’t. And we did. Just ask the dozens of angry users who left bad reviews in the App Store for our two previous versions.

In our latest release, we’ve rebuilt entirely the way audio is downloaded to your phone. The new system no longer causes the app to crash when you interrupt a download to listen to a different episode. We also fixed a bug that caused users to download partial files.

But the hard work for us has only begun. What about Android? What about a more enhanced version for the iPad? And what about the dozens of other platforms and devices where users demand us? These are the questions we hear from listeners every day.

Look how far we’ve come
When ever I begin to feel overwhelmed by this technology arms race I remember back to a much more simple time when I was a tech reporter in San Francisco during the first dotcom boom.

It was 13 years ago this month when I became a user of the first-ever wireless handheld device. The Palm VII (photo above) was unlike any other so-called PDA (personal digital assistant) that came before: It featured a pop-up antennae and used wireless internet access and location-based services to deliver real-time information and services on the go.

Using so-called “query applications” (of which there were about 20 available) users could quickly update the content on these apps over the Internet without having to synch to a desktop computer, as previously required. There was a query application for accessing email, one from ESPN that delivered sports scores, and one from Fidelity that posted real-time stock quotes. The Wall Street Journal and ABC News had query applications that presented the day’s top headlines. You could even get driving directions on the go with a query application from MapQuest.

As far as specs went, the Palm VII ran on two AAA batteries, came with 2MB of storage capacity and featured a 160 px by 160 px greyscale LCD touchscreen that could be navigated with a stylis pen. All that for just $600 and a $15 per month fee for always-on connectivity.

“We are going to change the way people access and use the Internet forever,” a top executive from 3Com’s Palm computing division told the media at the time.

You can say that again.

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