This week I’m focusing on mobile apps for radio stations. Yesterday I shared five reasons to publish an app, and tomorrow I’ll be showing you a really cost-effective and easy way to get your own app developed and released into the app stores.

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and develop a mobile app for your radio station, you might be thinking about what features you should include in the first release. The possibilities are endless, but you need to ensure you cover the main features first. Here are the five essential features for all radio station mobile apps:

1. Cross-platform support

One of the worst things you could do, in the eye of a listener, is release an app and not support their platform of choice. I imagine it’s a bit like throwing a party and your best friend come to it (I don’t tend to throw that many parties, so there’s a little bit of guessing here).

What I’ve seen time and again is stations build an iOS app and then leave it at that. I understand why – iOS is a lot easier platform to build for. A developer could go from zero to streaming app in twenty hours or less. A few years ago it may have been excusable to build for only one platform, but now you can’t really get away with it.

Recent stats reveal about 37% of mobile web users are on Android. iOS is second with 27%. After that we have a steep drop before we get to Symbian, Windows, and all of the other minor operating systems. The fact is, if you support only Android or iOS, you’re going to irritate about 30% of your listeners (on average – varies between countries).

It’s worth your effort developing an app that is compatible and fully functional on at least the big two mobile operating systems.

2. Streaming

This would be the most popular feature of a radio station’s app. Streaming should be high quality (preferably AAC+ at 64Kbps or greater), constant, and background-streamable.

This last point is one people sometimes neglect. Users should not have to keep your app open to keep listening. They should be able to go and use any other app in the device while your audio keeps playing. When a phone call comes in, the stream should stop. Implementing all of this can be hard, but is worth it.

Bonus Tip: AAC+ (HE-AAC) is probably the best codec for streaming audio to mobile devices. MP3 is more ubiquitous and friendlier on desktops, but AAC+ provides a very decent quality stream at 64Kbps. Both Android and iOS can be configured to stream this.

3. On-demand content

On-demand audio (such as podcasting and MP3 downloads), is critical in sustaining the time listeners spend interacting with your brand. It also increases the appeal of your app. People may not download your app to listen to your stream, especially if they live in a decent analogue coverage area. They will download and use your app if you offer additional content and the ability to catch up on something they missed.

Depending on the type of content you create depends on the importance of this feature. However, for most stations this is fairly important. Here’s how you tell: ask yourself if you have a podcasting page on your website. If so, you should build an on-demand feature into your app.

4. Song Info & Program Guide

People like to know what’s happening. If the user has a screen in front of them, they will expect to be able to see the current song details. It’s worth going one further: consider including links to purchase that song in the iTunes or Google Play stores. You can possibly get some affiliate revenue through this.

A program guide showing what’s coming up is also important and shouldn’t be very difficult to implement. Links back to the program page, blog, on demand content or social media pages could also be included.

Bonus Tip: You could use this section to create a listener research opportunity. Add a thumbs up button which tracks how many people ‘like’ each song. The listener could also have the option to cross-post this ‘thumbs up’ to their social networks. This will help promote your station.

5. User notifications

If you want to make the most of a listener, notifications are important. They can be as simple as a configurable popup alert upon app-startup, or more advanced such as a push notification.

This will help you reach a larger audience when you have a important information to share.

Bonus Tip: You could setup push notifications to tell a listener when your street promotions team is going to be in their area.

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I'm Anthony Eden, and I'm a IT Professional, Broadcast Technician, Software Developer, and Solutions Engineer. I've been working in broadcast media since 2008, and developing software and websites for just as long. Right now, I provide freelance services through Media Realm - in particular, to the media and not-for-profit industries.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_eden