Making some noise about audio recording Questions on iOS
Keeping our ears to the ground and anticipating change has lead to a vastly improved user experience of the audio question type.
The development team at Learnosity has always strived to make the experience for client developers as seamless as possible.
Providing a powerful set of embeddable learning questions that make any e-learning application – and its creator – really shine, we’re all about supporting all platforms and open standards across devices and operating systems, whatever they may be.
A good example of this is the company’s strong support for the multimedia audio recording question, which has been meticulously maintained, despite dramatic ebbs and flows in the browser technology libraries that enable its multimedia functionality.
From the first implementation, the enabling libraries behind the audio recording question have been unpredictable at best: changing, fading, or just flat-out disappearing. Support for them has been patchy, varying at different times between different browsers and operating systems.The team at Learnosity strive to make the experience for client developers as seamless as possible. Click To Tweet
At times, Learnosity relies on the browser and platform vendors to provide support for certain technologies so that we can leverage them for our multimedia questions.
Which brings us to recent developments.
Apple now includes support for Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) in the Safari browser on iOS. WebRTC allows for powerful real-time handling of audio and video in a web browser, and is the most viable replacement for the aging Adobe Flash.
Safari joins the list of other browsers that support Learnosity audio recording questions. The supported browsers are:
- Google Chrome (Windows, macOS, Chrome OS, iOS, Android).
- Mozilla Firefox (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android).
- Microsoft Edge (Windows 10).
This is great news for our users since WebRTC enables a bold new world of video, audio, and messaging apps that load instantly in the browser.
Without getting too misty-eyed, it’s worth looking back at the earliest versions of this technology as it holds a special significance in our company’s history. This audio recording question was one of the first Learnosity questions created.
Voices from the past
In the early days of Learnosity, language trainers were publishing courses on the internet. They could push information out, but what they really wanted was to allow students to record themselves speaking from their web browser and then send the recording back. Learnosity pushed the boundaries of what was possible online at the time and delivered a zero-install solution that “just worked” across the range of web browsers that customers were using. It used the ubiquitous, browser-bundled Flash technology.Students want the freedom to use their own devices for more mobile language learning. Click To Tweet
This was a big step forward in the delivery of language learning and assessment, and it helped set the stage for online language training as we know it today.
Gone in a Flash
After years of ubiquitous use, Flash became increasingly plagued by security exploits. Consequently, Apple decided to drop support for Flash for the iPhone operating system (iOS) when it launched. In January 2017, when Google decided to block Flash from executing automatically in their Chrome browser the writing was on the wall. Adobe finally announced that Flash would go end-of-life in the year 2020.
A better user experience: Enter WebRTC
The Learnosity team had anticipated this sea change. With one eye on the horizon (or an ear to the ground), our engineers were already using a new technology called WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications). This powerful browser library enables high-performance video and audio streams, and is supported by the majority of popular browser platforms.
Learnosity delivered a new functional basis for the audio recording question type with WebRTC, delivered seamlessly in the background, so that our customers would enjoy an uninterrupted experience. So as WebRTC functionality was enabled in browsers, and as Flash was disabled, Learnosity smoothly transitioned the audio recording question type over to the new technology.Learnosity studies the trends to plan ahead for the next revolution in web audio technology. Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, for a period of time, Apple was not providing support for either technical option on iOS. In fact, it still doesn’t support WebRTC inside Web Views on iOS. Still, the switch from the audio recording question’s Flash origins is largely complete*.
Language learning made mobile
Students want the freedom to use their own devices for language learning in the setting of their choice without needing to boot up a computer. Adding iPhone and iPad support allows this (joining the existing support for Android devices). It seems a small thing, but it marks a significant increase in convenience that should enable a harmonious user experience.
The road ahead
Change is inevitable in all areas, but in technology, it is inexhaustible. There are always new innovations appearing on the horizon that signal a new dawn. Part of the engineering team’s role at Learnosity is to study the trends and plan ahead for the next revolution in web audio technology. Future features that are based on WebRTC’s expanding capabilities will provide an even better experience by applying more efficient audio encoding and decoding, improving the recording quality from “phone call” to high-fidelity audio.
Edwin Dawson is a Technical Writer and Communications Specialist at Learnosity.
- Flash mode still exists as a fallback for a handful of older browsers. Flash is still required for audio recording in Microsoft Internet Explorer 11 on Windows, as Microsoft has not incorporated support for WebRTC. However, Microsoft’s newer “Edge” browser does support WebRTC.
- WebView modes on iOS still do not support WebRTC, so the audio recording question cannot be used in this context yet. Developers are still waiting for Apple to build in this needed support.