This year has been quite a busy and eventful one for me.
Connected Red Button
At the start of the year, I was working on the Connected Red Button team within the BBC. Connected Red Button is a major ongoing project in the Television and Mobile Platforms department at BBC North. Its aim is to replace the classic Red Button text service (which itself is the successor to Ceefax) with a new updated all-singing all-dancing interactive portal to internet content, available on Smart TVs and modern set top boxes. Currently Connected Red Button is live and accessible by pressing the Red Button on the new Virgin Media TiVo boxes. You can access the latest version of iPlayer, and the BBC News and BBC Sport smart TV apps from within one easy portal.
On CRB, I was working on the Java/Spring services layer, which connects to the various APIs of services like iPlayer that we have at the BBC, and gets all the content ready for the frontend. This data then gets passed to the very nice looking AS2 frontend to display, and that’s how it appears on your TV that is connected to your Virgin TiVo box in your living room.
The next version of CRB is being developed for Smart TVs with HTML browsers (so the frontend is in HTML5/JS instead of AS2). This type of Smart TV includes most of the new smart TVs that have come out recently, and will continue to be released in the future. The BBC (and the wider industry) is really anticipating that most TVs will be smart TVs in 5-10 years, and so the reach of Connected Red Button HTML will increase substantially so that most of the audience can be served by new applications that run on smart TVs.
Smartbridge is the transitional frontend that is displayed to both 1) users that have smart TVs and internet connected STB (Set Top Boxes) capable of running our latest BBC applications such as Connected Red Button and the latest versions of iPlayer, and also 2) our traditional users that still have normal (un-smart) TVs that can only receive Broadcast Red Button (the service you get by pressing the red button on any BBC channel). Smartbridge is not a branded BBC product, it is the behind the scenes magic that helps ensure that we maintain the availability of traditional Red Button services as we simultaneously launch and develop Connected Red Button.
For several months this year I was working on Smarbridge. On Smartbridge, I was working to get the project released and out the door, which meant Java/Spring/Hibernate work, with MySQL database tinkering and some broadcast work configuring and testing the TVs that worked with Smartbridge. It was successfully released in October.
Device Hive is the working name for an BBC system that is an Android and iOS emulator and physical device testing platform. A server will run the Device Hive software, and mobile developers will be able to plug in their Android mobile or tablet or iPhone or iPad to the server via a USB cable, and choose an application to run on it, such as BBC iPlayer or BBC Radio Player. This application will then automatically be downloaded onto the device, and the automated Cucumber/Calabash test suite will be executed, which will step through every screen of the mobile application, triggering buttons, scrolling up and down and generally exercising every aspect of the mobile application. There will also be an option to run install and run applications on Android or iOS emulators, so we could have 10 emulators running at once, each running different segments of the automated test suite, and uploading the test results to a logging server.
Device Hive will mean, in particular, that we can test BBC mobile applications on the plethora of Android devices available, every make and model that we own of the different OS/hardware combinations can be plugged into a device hive server, and so we can see test runs for BBC iPlayer Android across all the different variations. This will mean we can help target a wider range of Android devices for new BBC iPlayer features, which will help ease the anger that some of our audience members feel because their specific Android iPlayer experience is not as good as the later models.
In October I moved departments from Television and Mobile Platforms to POD Test, and joined the new Device Hive team as lead developer. I am working in Ruby/Rails/Rspec/Cucumber and using Ubuntu Linux VMs and lots of Android and iOS devices to build up the system.
I have been continuing to work with Manchester University’s Ultimate Programming Society to organise and present talks to the students about working practices in software development that the BBC use. We have covered Behaviour Driven Development, Test Driven Development, Editors and IDEs and Agile Development Practices so far.
Generally I feel that I have worked on some pretty challenging projects this year, and I am very happy with being the lead developer on Device Hive, and look forward to making this project as useful and as powerful as I think it can be.