Introducing BringCast 4

Today ObjectivePixel is excited to start telling the story around our next release of BringCast: version 4. And… it’s a biggie! In this post we’ll cover some of the key new features and details but there is a lot more to talk about in due course.

This release will exploit a number of the key new features in Windows Phone 8.1 that were announced this week at BUILD 2014. For that reason, our preview won’t kick off until the developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1 comes out (which the above blog posts suggests will happen “in the first part of April”). If you are interested in taking part, please send email to subject BC4 Preview Request.

Refined User Experience

So what’s new? In this release, as before in BC3, we took the decision early on to completely rebuild the UI from scratch. Unlike last time, however, we literally deleted all of the UX (for the developers amongst you that means blowing away the XAML pages & controls, styles etc. and rebuild using the new WinRT-based XAML platform). In short we kept the best bits and discarded what was less good. We have also moved away from using third party controls to being 100% native. In so doing we have continued to focus on honing the “player first” experience that puts the content you want to listen to at the heart of the experience. We introduced that UI paradigm back in v3.0 and have taken it further by de-cluttering and simplifying the player
by putting the controls that really matter front and center. The following two screenshots compare the previous player experience first with the new 4.0 experience shown as the second image with the Tangerine theme selected:

 

Fewer buttons; more information about what you are listening to. And, yes, gradients because metro doesn’t have to always be flat. Where have your episodes gone you may ask? The answer is into the new playback selection “drawer”. From there you can get to your playlists, recent items and the latest content from all of your subscriptions with a quick tap on the hamburger menu on the player. This is also the new gateway to subscriptions, playlist reordering etc. By creating this new UI “layer” we can both simplify the player and make it more powerful at the same time.

 

Simplified but more powerful playback powered by Windows Phone 8.1:

In the spirit of simplifying whilst adding more power (Scotty), in BringCast 4 you can now play anything from anywhere. There’s no need to add episodes to a playlist any more. If the content is not downloaded, it’s easy to see that you will be streaming: simply press the stream button and playback starts inline… you can easily start or resume an episode right from the episodes list. If you want to download items, a quick tap and hold brings our powerful download manager into play to ensure the episodes are on your device ready for those places without cell reception (and the button changes to a green cellular budget-friendly button.

 

Helped by a complete rewrite of our media playback infrastructure on top of the Windows Phone 8.1 audio engine, BringCast 4 can now take advantage of new platform capabilities such as the ability to play back at greater than 100% speed. This capability is alive, well and working in our recent builds:

More Automatic for more users

One of the big areas of feedback we’ve received is around the fact that the BringCast has historically given you a lot to manage. In order to be able to play episodes and download them you needed to have them in a playlist. Some users like this but for a large majority it is simply one more thing to manage that can get quickly out of control as episodes pile up in there. The reasoning behind why this design as remained this way for so long stems from a long-standing architectural limitation that has been hard to change without substantial surgery. We decided that now was the time to put the patient under the knife and get it fixed up. One of the major improvements we’re making in BringCast 4 is to make it much easier to manage what content is on the device and how you subscribe and get notified when there are new episodes:

   

 

Cortana enabled for speech

One of the (in our humble opinion) coolest parts of the Windows phone 8.1 feature set
is Cortana.

Not only does she bring a bunch of amazing goodness on her own but developers can also plug in and add application specific enhancements. We have started diving into what is possible here and have some basic capabilities working with more planned. “What podcasts does master chief listen to”.

SD Card support

This is a biggie that folks, in particular Nokia 520 users, have been asking for repeatedly for some time. Thanks to new APIs in Windows Phone 8.1 (that, by the way users of the 520 will be able to upgrade to) we are now able to offer the capability in BringCast 4.

Universal App

We’ve been talking about our “Windows 8” port of BringCast for a while now some of you will be asking what’s up? Back in V3 we did the work to make the application core portable between Silverlight and WinRT but the remaining problem was the UI layer; we don’t want to write new code simply to target a Windows tablet that has to be different than what we need to do for phone. From a user perspective a big part of our hesitation from moving forward this was the lack of a universal model for apps. When you buy BringCast on phone you would expect to also be able to get it for Windows and not have to buy it all over again. You’d expect your in-app purchases to be available. Luckily, Universal App support announced at BUILD should provide a solution to both classes of problem. The work we’ve done to move to WinRT will enable the Windows version of BringCast to be realized with little additional work in the V4 code base. It will also give us the flexibility to roam purchases etc.

Timeline

On the phone side, since we are squarely targeting the Windows Phone 8.1 platform with BringCast 4 our ability to make bits available to users is gated by availability of the OS. We are currently working on a preview version of the app that we hope to make available as soon as possible after the bits are available via the developer preview. On the Windows side we don’t have a final schedule defined yet as Phone is the top priority but hope to share details relatively soon.

In Summary

This is the first update we’re sharing in BC4. There is much more to talk about.. Expect to read more here over the course of the next few weeks.

Thanks!

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