Monday, May 06, 2013

NPR, I Love You. But do something about your wretched Android app.

I love NPR. I have spent a big chunk of my life, perhaps averaging 40 minutes a day, for more than 20 years, listening. I was a born news junkie, born into a news junkie family. Once I discovered NPR news in my late twenties (c. 1992), I couldn't listen to anything else. Both because NPR is that good, and because the alternatives are that bad. Other than the BBC, there is really no broadcast news worth listening to. For a serious person. NPR is the only game in town country.

Like many people, I did most of my listening during commute time. So for a brief period, when I first switched to telecommuting in 2010, my NPR listening declined dramatically. Then I discovered the Android NPR app. That, along with a super-comfortable bluetooth headset, led to sustained and improved NPR news consumption. When I do menial chores--clean kitchen, my laundry, tidying, shaving--and when I life weights, NPR news is my go-to genre. With the ability to skip the stories that don't interest me (maybe 25%), my devotion to NPR news is greater than ever.

So this is obviously a bit of a love letter. But I really do wish NPR would get its act together with its Android app. I have been using it for 3+ years, on 4 different Android phones, and it is BUGGY as all get-out! It is an amazing paradox--may favorite app is also my most hated app. The problems:
  1. Frequently locks up. Not a full-blown crash, just an inexplicable lock-up that may last 20 seconds, or 3 minutes, or forever. I frequently resort to task-killing the app, just to re-start it.
  2. When it isn't locking up, it even more frequently starts segments mid-way through the segment. I think this happens at least 25% of the time.
  3. Amazingly, the app is going backwards by losing features! Functionality that has disappeared:
  • Ability to share any given story in your playlist by long-pressing.
  • "Clear played segments" option
  • Ability to re-arrange sequence of stories
I am almost completely baffled by this state of affairs. I am an NPR contributor, of course, but I would happily contribute more or pay significant $ for an Android app that works. I grope for an explanation. This old NPR blog post indicates that the app was developed as a hobby. That might have been okay for first release in 2009, but something so important really deserves more attention.

The only other explanation I can think of is conspiratorial...NPR is owned by its member stations. From my perspective, the idea of a local NPR station in every district is very outmoded and inefficient. Like the U.S military or auto dealer networks, there are way more outlets than justified by modern conditions. In fact, I tried to find out if I could give directly to NPR, rather than through my local affiliate, and I couldn't find a way to do it. So part of me has to wonder if the app is being crippled, either deliberately or back-handedly, by affiliate pressure.

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