Innovation @ BBG » Apple Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Listen to VOA audio programs over your cellular voice connection with the VOA Mobile Streamer apps Tue, 07 Jul 2015 14:16:59 +0000 Will Sullivan The award-winning ODDI Mobile Team is excited to announce a new product launching in July, the VOA Mobile Streamer. This audio-only experience is available for Android and  Apple mobile devices and serves broadcast audio news in more than 30 different languages.

Besides offering hundreds of radio news programs on-demand in more than 30 different languages, the app also offers live 24/7 radio streams of more than a dozen languages. There’s also a bunch of smart features like a low-bandwidth mode that saves on download time and user costs, and deep social media platform integration, but the true killer feature of this app is its simple, unique design that allows you to listen to audio over data *OR* cellular voice connections.

For VOA audiences in emerging markets this is especially valuable since mobile data rates are very high and connections are often poor quality so streaming is not always an easy proposition.

Why are we doing this? What is the unique value of the Mobile Streamer for VOA & its audiences?

  • It allows us to better serve and connect with audiences in low-bandwidth countries using click-to-call cellular/voice minutes to get our audio content, instead of having to stream it over costly data connections in emerging markets

  • It offers a new way to experience VOA audio content on the go through a unique and refreshing design offering a very non-traditional news app experience, especially for younger audiences that might be turned off by the more traditional news approach.

  • It offers a passive, hands-free way to consume VOA’s content in the background while commuting to work or doing chores or other tasks.

  • It helps showcase the depth and breadth of all the thousands of hours of VOA audio programs we produce each week.

  • It allows us to leverage our partner, AudioNow’s, international Interactive Voice Response (IVR) infrastructure, phone numbers and tools to expand our content reach for new audiences.

Try out the VOA Mobile Streamer now on:

The VOA Mobile Streamer will join our fleet of dozens of free, innovative mobile apps for high- and low-tech audiences around the world. Check them all out here!


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VOA News selected as a finalist for “Best Mobile Service” in the 2014 Meffy Awards Tue, 23 Sep 2014 18:45:37 +0000 Will Sullivan We’re pleased to announce that the VOA News mobile and tablet application suite for Google Android, Apple IOS and Symbian has been selected as a finalist for “Best Mobile Service” the 2014 Meffy Awards!

VOA News KhmerThe Meffys are held by the MEF mobile trade association which is focused on cutting-edge mobile and entertainment companies. The awards this year attracted more than 250 entries from 30 countries across the 13 award categories, and was judged by an independent panel of 40 journalists, academics, analysts and VCs from around the globe.

The ground-breaking VOA News application offers original journalism in more languages than any media organization in the world (44 total) and has previously been honored this year as a finalist for the 2014 GSMA Global Mobile Awards for “Best Mobile Publishing Platform or Service” and the Appy Awards for “Best Multicultural App.”

“Hundreds of hardworking journalists, producers, designers and developers helps us create this amazing, unrivaled application,” Will Sullivan, Director of Mobile for the BBG said. “We owe all our thanks and share this honor with them.”

The new version 3.0 of the VOA News apps are launching within the next month on both Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet devices with a big new design and enhanced features including customizable Android Widget support and Google Chromecast streaming.

The winners of the 2014 Meffys will be unveiled in San Francisco at the MEF Global Forum 2014 in November.





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BBG Mobile News apps get a huge update and redesign Wed, 27 Aug 2014 22:29:25 +0000 Will Sullivan The ODDI Mobile team is excited to announce we’ve begun rolling out the 3.0 redesign and functionality update to the BBG mobile news applications on the Google Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet platforms. The platform that was awarded as 2014 finalists for “Best Mobile Publishing Platform or Service” by the GSMA Global Mobile Awards and “Best Multicultural App” by the Appy Awards is getting a big refresh.

Alhurra Android mobile app version 3.0Alhurra and Martí Noticias are already live for Apple IOS in the app stores and the Google Android version should be submitted soon after we iron out some last bugs and the analytics integration.

The mobile and tablet apps 3.0 version features:

  • Redesigned for all platforms to feature bigger, bolder images and typography
  • More easily accessible and usable navigation with a deep, touch-friendly side-loading feature
  • A new tablet-optimized version for larger format Androids and iPads to take advantage of the extra screen real estate
  • Much richer analytics suite to track usage and learn how to improve what our audiences demand
  • Related story suggestions to give audiences more information about the stories they’re interested in
  • Social media sharing improvements and Google+ support added
  • More prominent user-generated content submission on the app home screen so audiences can report news tips, photos, video and audio and send it directly to our service’s content management system
  • Language service UGC submission available directly in the Android system sharing tray for easy access to send multimedia content and news to our services
  • Android Home Screen Widget support with customizable categories, sizes and refresh intervals
  • Additional languages added for VOA (now supporting 44 language services) and RFE (now supporting 29 language services)
  • Google Chromecast streaming support for audio and video content
  • Tons of bug fixes

Marti Noticias on Apple IOS

We’ve done all this while still maintaining an app that is amazingly optimized for emerging market audiences with a small binary size (around 5 mb), offline saving of content, low-bandwidth mode, proxy integration, and a wide range of Android and Apple OSes supported going back more than 5 years (equivalent to decades in mobile technology history).

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work of hundreds of language service producers (too many to name), their digital leaders Matthew, Hutch, Billy, Alen, Iscar, Mark, Martha, Steven, Rohit, Saeed, Catherine, Enver, Arkady P., Arkady B., Sasha, Martina, Natalia, Matilde, Kim and the Pangea team, our amazing analytics czar, Rebecca, and Ashley and Tyler, and last but not least the marauding ODDI mobile team of Ashok, Danish, Bo, Mo, Marian, Marek, Pavol, Pauli, Stan, and Al for his help last minute on screenshots and Adam and Rob for their support and leadership.

Over the next month (depending on final qa, analytics and localization testing), we’ll be submitting the VOA, RFE and RFA updates too. Get them all and learn more about our award-winning apps at:



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VOA mobile app named finalist for “Best Mobile Publishing Product” in GSMA awards Thu, 06 Feb 2014 17:59:00 +0000 Will Sullivan VOA’s mobile apps launched this year, and we’re pleased to announce that the Voice of America mobile and tablet apps for Android, Apple IOS and Symbian have been named as finalists for the “Best Mobile Publishing Product or Service” in the GSM Association (GSMA) 2014 Global Mobile Awards!

Here’s the rest of our press release about the exciting news:

The BBG’s Office of Digital and Design Innovation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America partnered to create a mobile app that provides news and information for people in more than 100 countries, in 43 languages on the world’s two largest smartphone and tablet platforms.

“It’s a huge honor for to be recognized by the GSMA for the immense amount of hard work and innovation that went into this application,” said Will Sullivan, Director of Mobile at the BBG. “It took more than a year of blood, sweat and translations for the indomitable ODDI Mobile team of Borana Kostro, Danish Ahmed and Son Tran, working with Kim Conger and the RFE/RL Pangea Content Management System team along with VOA language service experts to make this happen. It’s truly an amazing cross-organization product that we are proud to share with under-served audiences around the world.”

The Voice of America app is available on Android and Apple iOS which account for more than 90% of worldwide smartphone and tablet shipments. The app lets audiences get push notifications of breaking news, stream radio podcasts on demand, as well as download content for offline viewing. Individuals can easily consume and share content in languages ranging from Afan Oromo to Vietnamese. The VOA News app has been ranked in the top news apps in the Google Play and Apple App stores in most of Africa, Asia and the Eastern Europe, with rating of four stars and above from users.voa app settings

“VOA receives millions of visits from mobile and tablet devices around the world. By offering a best-in-class experience for users of iOS and Droid, we can extend the reach of our journalism into new markets,” said VOA Director of Digital Strategy Matthew Baise. “This nomination is testament to the fine work of our colleagues across U.S. international media.”

ODDI collaborated with RFE/RL and software developer EEA to significantly expand the BBG’s mobile offerings. RFE/RL pioneered this work, building out the framework and CMS upon which the mobile offerings are built. ODDI continues to work with them to add features and upgrade the user experience.

“As collaborators on the design and development of VOA’s mobile app, we congratulate our great partners for such distinguished recognition of this shared achievement,” said Kim Conger, RFE/RL Design Director / Deputy Director, Internet Technology and Strategy.

The GSMA’s 2014 Global Mobile Awards will be presented as part of the Mobile World Congress program on February 25, 2014 in Barcelona.

The GSMA is the largest mobile trade association in the world, representing the interests of mobile operators around the globe. Spanning more than 220 countries, the GSMA unites nearly 800 mobile operators with 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem. The Mobile World Congress is an industry-leading event, drawing more than 70,000 attendees in 2013.

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Radio Free Asia launches apps on Android, Apple IOS Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:17:33 +0000 Will Sullivan I’m tickled to announce that Radio Free Asia is the latest BBG entity to join our suite of BBG applications for Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet devices with support for 10 languages from English to Tibetan (including 3 Uyghur scripts).

Our partner in collaboration, Catherine Antoine, Director – Managing Editor of RFA Online, welcomed the launch saying, “These multilanguage applications delivering Asian news will inform the new generation of mobile users, who are tomorrow’s leaders.”RFA Article Page

This project took a lot of extra hard work from superhero developer and all-around nice guy, Michael “Flip” McFadden, as RFA is on an entirely different content management system than other BBG entities so ODDI Mobile marauders, Bo Kostro and Danish Ahmed, had to do a lot of testing, localizations and custom development work to get all the framework connected and working.

RFA joins RFE, VOA, Alhurra and Marti Noticias on the Umbrella App framework, which going forward we’ll be able to build features for all five entities in parallel providing innovative, enterprise-quality news experiences customized for the challenges that our audiences in emerging markets face.

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VOA Symbian App Launches for North Africa & Middle East Markets Tue, 14 Jan 2014 21:00:49 +0000 Will Sullivan In the new year, we launched a new application on an old platform — VOA for Symbian OS.

The VOA Symbian app is focused on VOA‘s networks English, French, Hausa and Persian, specifically for North Africa and the Middle East regions, and it features multimedia news, photo, text and video content from the Voice of America news services.

Why Symbian? Because the decade-old Nokia platform is still strong in the African countries, still maintaining a top 4 Operating System ranking in many markets jockeying for position between Google Android, Apple IOS, and Nokia S40 OS. Of all those systems, Android is slowly taking the most market share from the older Nokia platforms, but it’s a slow churn rate due to Nokia’s rock-solid industrial designs — their phones are notorious for lasting forever — and because of the financial and technical challenges in the area, users aren’t upgrading their phone every 2 years (or less) as many people do in the more developed world.

The timing of the app launch will also help us with our surge efforts to help spread news and safety information in the Central African Republic, where there’s currently a humanitarian crisis going on. Symbian holds a stable 10 percent market share in the country, behind Android (42%) and Apple (18%) for the top three mobile operating systems.

The VOA Symbian app joins the Google Android and Apple IOS mobile and tablet applications already released which support 43 languages each.

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VOA News App Now Available in More than 40 Languages Tue, 13 Aug 2013 18:26:08 +0000 Will Sullivan We recently launched several new mobile and tablet news applications for BBG entities, the most recent being Alhurra’s IOS application and VOA News on Android and Apple IOS. These apps offer an epic step forward in BBG’s digital platforms for modern audiences at this especially critical time for mobile publishing, when the mobile internet and applications are opening up an entirely new generation of digital users. To serve those current and future audiences, we built them on the world’s two most popular mobile platforms: Android and IOS, which account for more than 90% of world-wide smartphone shipments according to IDC.

The Voice of America app is especially interesting with more than 43 languages–from Afan Oromo to Vietnamese–supported in the VOA News Apple IOS version and more than 33 on Google Android VOA News app (and more languages coming in future versions), including left to right languages.

This is truly a ground-breaking application given that no others have come close to supporting this many languages. Other news apps are in the single digits for number of languages supported. And I haven’t been able to find any news application not supported by the native operating system. The only comparable content application I’ve found was The Bible, pointed out by my colleague Brian Williamson.

Our app is built for both mobile and tablet devices and supports devices running Android 2.3 and newer and IOS 5 and above, so it covers more than 93 percent of IOS users and more than 96 percent of Android users.

The most potentially exciting part of the app–if properly supported by the language services–is the ability for users to send photos, video, audio, text and video news updates from the field directly into our content management system for BBG web producers to use. I think of it as sort of a ‘Trojan Horse’ way to give our users, who are often in regions that are hostile to journalists and free press, tools to send us multimedia news information. It exponentially expands the potential of our news reporting operations.

There are many other innovative features including:

  • Multimedia content publishing including photos, video, audio and text content, including background streaming of audio content
  • Breaking news push notifications
  • Radio podcasts available on demand, without downloading
  • Low-Bandwidth Mode allows user to save download time and data costs
  • Directly send user generated content–photo, video, audio and text news reports–to BBG entities from within the app
  • Customizable navigation items and ordering
  • Share functionality for favorite stories, videos and photos via email, Twitter and Facebook
  • Offline downloading and saving of news content for later enjoyment
  • Integrated proxy available on Android in the settings to circumvent Internet blocking
  • Apple AirPlay sharing support integration for IOS

These launches follow our applications already on the market from RFERL and Radio y TV Martí, which are built on the same framework and integrated into our content management system so that BBG web producers can easily and efficiently manage content across all platforms. RFERL was the pioneer in this work, building out the framework and CMS and we’re working with them to continue adding features and upgrading the experience and design in the future when we have all BBG entities on one platform.

This is just the beginning though. We have Alhurra on Android coming soon, as well as Radio Free Asia. …But the garden is never finished–we have many exciting upgrades coming soon, including more feature and streaming support, as well as a design refresh by the end of the year.

Get all the BBG apps here:

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Ready for the storm of Umbrella Apps? Tue, 07 May 2013 22:31:37 +0000 Will Sullivan One of our big mobile projects for 2013 has been preparing a series of mobile and tablet apps for most of our language services and major brands (Alhurra, Voice of America, Radio y TV Marti and Radio Free Asia).
These “Umbrella” apps will be available in the market under the umbrella core brand, such as VOA, and then within the app the content, design and language customizes based on which language service you select. Doing this is in so many languages is challenging and frankly, unheard of.  From our survey of the major international media organizations, the most languages supported are 4-5 in their apps. We’re working on supporting more than 40 languages in the VOA app alone.

The Radio y TV Marti application is the first out the gate available now on Android and Apple IOS tablet and mobile devices. They’ll soon be followed by Alhurra, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia too — joining Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s apps that are already on the market.

The applications are available on Android mobile phones and tablets, as well as for the Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. We’re also working on a Symbian version focused on African countries/languages, where the Nokia operating system is still popular within the market.

The app features include:

  • Ability for producers to send out push alerts through Pangea for breaking news (on platforms that support push notifications).
  • Bandwidth consumption optimization.  When the app first starts, the user will be notified about the possibility to turn-off the loading of images.
  • Psiphon proxy integration for content delivery in closed internet countries (available only on Android only, IOS doesn’t allow proxies).
  • Support for content assets served out of the core CMS:
    • Video
    • Audio
    • Live streaming audio (for services offering this)
    • Text stories
    • Photos
  • Allow background downloading and offline access to content.
  • Locally stored user generated content (audio, video, photos, texts).
  • Support continuous play as a background app (on platforms that support multi-tasking and continuous play in the background on platforms that support it).
  • Support for the landscape and portrait orientation, as well as design changes for right-to-left reading for Arabic language services, and support for core touch gestures including pinch to close, swipe left and right navigation through sections and stories (on platforms that support touch interactions).
  • Sharing of all the content (articles, audio clips, videos, photo galleries) on Facebook, Twitter, VKontakte and by Email. (On Android Operating system, any other installed sharing application is integrated too.)

  • User generated content submission built into the application so the audience can send pictures/audio/video/text directly to the CMS from the app.
  • Customizable navigation categories/tab bar order for iOS.  This is to allow the user to customize the the number of articles shown within the section at home view and to customize the auto-refresh of data after application start.
  • Full featured audio player – seeking, volume, play/pause, playback time/remaining time for listening to full programs/audio clips and news casts.
  • Customize the article categories shown on home screen and its order.
  • Search for articles within the app integrated across all assets based on asset metadata.
  • Apple TV OTA streaming is supported, DLNA streaming is supported for DLNA enabled Android phones and TVs.

We’re working with RFERL and the Pangea team to merge and upgrade the mobile app platform, we’re moving to a single code base for all the applications on the services fed out of our core CMS. This allows for web producers to manage their website, mobile website and mobile apps all in one interface for each of the platforms.

Web browsers have a larger overall audience... (Pew Report, 2012)

Web browser users are a larger overall audience…

This is just one new product we’re working on to help spread our content and information around the world. One of our next major projects is building the CMS in a fully-responsive and progressively enhanced format optimized for mobile- and performance-first. It may seem like duplication but these projects can be complementary products as the audiences for both can be very different from a contextual and usage perspective, as research indicates app users tend to consume content longer, deeper and more frequently, but they’re a smaller and more passionate group.

Mobile web users are quick content grazers, they come from social media, search engines and other quick visits, but they’re a much larger group

...But app users are more rabid and deep news consumers. (Pew Report, 2012)

…But mobile app users are more rabid, frequent and deep news consumers. (Pew Report, 2012)

Serving both these audiences is important for BBG audiences, but this just two mobile/tablet products we’re building, with many more in the works — including tools focused on low bandwidth and offline tools like eBooks, iBooks, PDF, and traditional cellular tools like SMS, MMS and voice communications like IVR.

These apps would not be possible without the indomitable spirit of ODDI’s Borana Kostro and Rebecca Lundregan, who have worked tirelessly to customize, train and test these apps, as well as the support of each of our language services for their hard work translating and providing feedback. They’re built on the foundation of work done from RFERL and their amazing team. We’re also blessed to have the support of our QA team Alena Simakova, in Prague, and our newest team members, Danish Ahmed and Son Tran, in DC helping us move this project forward faster.

Go ahead and download the Marti Noticias apps now on Apple IOS or Android.

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Eye-tracking news design and consumer habits on tablets Thu, 01 Nov 2012 09:08:15 +0000 Will Sullivan

Last week I attended a meeting at Northwestern University unveiling new eye-tracking research about how news consumers interact with content on tablet devices.  The research was lead by Sara Quinn of The Poynter Institute, Dave Staton of Smart Media Creative and Jeremy Gilbert of Northwestern University. I’ve been contributing as an advisor to the research over the past year and was excited to see the first wave of results.

Poynter design prototypeThe research focused on two core groups of tablet users–the “digital natives” (ages 18-28) and the “printnets” (ages 45-55)–who viewed apps from ESPN, USA Today, NPR, and CNN, as well as three Poynter-produced prototype designs that represented current news tablet design standards:

  • Traditional (like the New York Times and Boston Globe)
  • Carousel (like Pulse and the Orange County Register)
  • Tiles (like Flipboard or CNN)

Some of the key take-aways that news organizations should keep in mind when designing and creating content for the tablet include:

  • Seventy percent said they preferred landscape over vertical or portrait orientation. Their overall choice has a lot to do with the screen dimension for watching videos, they said. These factors are important as news organizations determine the resources they need to devote to creating and design content in multiple modes.
  • Readers have an overwhelming instinct to swipe horizontally through a full screen photo gallery, regardless of portrait of landscape orientation, as we reported previously.
  • As with earlier eyetracking studies, people tended to enter a screen through a dominant element, generally a photograph. Faces in photographs and videos attracted a lot of attention.
  • There was strong reliance on using the browser to navigate between stories, even though navigation tools were also designed into the publication. Sixty-five percent of study participants used the browser back button, rather than the home button or publication nav design. This speaks to the importance of the familiarity of tools — people will default to what they know if it’s available.
  • Tablet design requires the same sorts of finesse with color, type, image, grid and navigation necessary for print or Web design. But touch … well, that’s the new factor in keeping a reader engaged.

At the event, Quinn said the research will continue with the next piece focusing on advertising in news content on tablets. More take-aways and analysis are available here.

Here are more tweets and coverage from the event:

[<a href="" target="_blank">View the story "Poynter EyeTrack: Storytelling on Tablet" on Storify</a>]The public presentation is archived and viewable here:

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