Verizon FiOS customers are no strangers to new features, especially widgets. In fact, Verizon has shown a penchant to continuously update its portfolio of widgets to maximize the value that FiOS customers receive in a way so palpable that it is almost hard to believe. The latest widget to arrive on the FiOS Widget Bazaar, officially called the Internet Radio widget, is a genuine treat, as it shows how old technologies can been updated and modernized to remain relevant in the broadband era. There are a few caveats to be considered, the biggest of which is the fact that the Internet Radio widget is still a beta-grade product.
Beta generally refers to a software product that is more or less complete in terms of features but may be totally release-worthy in other ways. User interface problems may be present such as buttons that do nothing whether they are disabled or not, sub-par performance may be the result of code optimization yet to be complete, and perhaps a few nagging bugs may still remain. On the surface, it may seem a little strange to be sharing a beta-grade applications with the millions of Verizon FiOS customers around the world, but there are a few reasons for doing so.
Consumers Can Help Find Bugs
The truth is that software betas eventually reach a stage where most of the aforementioned problems have been solved and the performance optimizations have been complete, but a wide audience of users may be needed to help uncover rare defects. Some bugs only manifest themselves under certain conditions, perhaps the use of certain receivers, or DVRs that are nearly full, or any number of other issues. With only a limited number of resources to allocate to testing, it ultimately helps developers to reach out to the community with a nearly-complete product in order to facilitate additional bug-finding.
One change that broadband has brought to virtually every single industry on the planet is the ability for consumers to collaborate constructively with companies or to vent their frustrations. Instead of companies allowing customers to mail their ideas to a department where they may or may not be read, savvy firms are using social networking and the Internet to find ways to improve products before they even hit the market. Software companies are obviously in a great position to deliver betas with the intent of receiving feedback and acting on that feedback. Feedback can radically change the shape of products, especially in the software industry.
What Does the Beta Internet Radio Widget Do?
The Internet Radio widget actually does more than its name might imply, but also less in some ways. In the ‘more than expected’ category is the ability to play media stored on UPnP media storage devices. Initially this will be limited, and early reports that only Microsoft-based solutions are tested, though third party devices such as NAS (Network Attached Storage) boxes are also likely to work so long as they conform to industry standards. Eventually the ability to manually enter a URL will allow streaming content regardless of source, so long as files are in a compatible formant such as MP3, WAV, WMA, ASX, WAX, WVX, PLS, or M3U. Most of those formats are for playlists, which could be perfect for those that have always wanted to unleash their inner DJ in the privacy of their own home.
For those looking for professional radio broadcasting, virtually the entire Clear Channel portfolio is accessible via IHeartRadio. Clear Channel Communications broadcasts in so many markets that it is hard to imagine a market not being served by them, though there may be a few smaller regions that qualify. Everyone else will be able to enjoy at least a limited selection of local programming, and every FiOS customer with a compatible DVR STB (set top box) will be able to enjoy radio stations from across the country.
Slick User Interface
One thing that can be said about Verizon’s Widget Bazaar is that the participants seem to have a great sense of aesthetics. Whether this is the product of Verizon’s management and widget submission process or something else is unclear, but the results are that almost all of the widgets available to FiOS customers look excellent. The Internet Radio widget is no exception, and like other widgets the Internet Radio widget uses a UI that blends seamlessly with Verizon’s existing menus. The background is a light graduated gray ‘booklet’ design, with ‘pages’ bearing images of broadcasters in their booths or people of note from broadcasting history.
The Bottom Line
It is hard not to be excited about well-executed freebies, even if they are betas. For those who grew up listening to the radio and were worried that radio was nearly as dead as print, the Internet Radio widget is a welcome gift. OS X users may be disappointed however, as there is no native iTunes integration at launch, but perhaps feedback will cause such an addition to be added in the future.