The BBC iPlayer for iPad app is live on the App Store this morning, as promised earlier this week. The free app provides native access to the Beeb's catch-up TV and radio service for owners of Apple's tablet, with an impressively tactile user interface showing why it's a good alternative to the existing iPad-friendly Web version.

Naturally, we downloaded the app first thing this morning to get hands-on with it. The homescreen is visually dense, highlighting featured shows, with the option of tapping on Most Popular to see what's hot on iPlayer, and For You for a selection of shows you might like. Swiping down or along (in portrait and landscape modes respectively) serves up more suggestions in all cases, and there are separate tabs for TV and radio.

Tapping on a programme provides more information, such as a description of the content, its length, when it was first aired on TV, and (more importantly) when it's available until -- shows are removed from iPlayer seven days after they were originally broadcast. An Add to Favourites button lets you save individual shows to your Favourites menu, which is the third tab at the bottom of the screen.

A Search & Categories button at the top right brings up a drop-down menu, letting you drill down by category. Tapping on Drama then Medical brings up shows including Casualty, Doctors and Holby City, for example. You can also type in a specific show name using the virtual keyboard to go straight to it.

All this is accessed through the Home screen, but you can switch to 'Channels' mode for a swipe-based TV schedule, listing shows on all the Beeb's channels for the last seven days, and the next two.

So far, the iPlayer app has worked well over our Wi-Fi connection -- you can only browse the shows over 3G, but not actually stream them. It takes less than 10 seconds for a TV show to start playing on our 20Mbps home broadband connection. That said, we'll reserve judgement until this evening, when tens of thousands more UK iPad owners will be using the app.

We're impressed with the app, although we have a few ideas for new features in future updates. We'd love to see Auntie introduce Spotify-style caching, for example, allowing us to store a show or two locally on the device to watch on the bus. The ability to watch live TV could be better signposted too: it's accessed through the Channels screen, rather than being flagged up on the Home screen.

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Swipe left and right in the schedule to find shows stretching back seven days.
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There's also a search function to drill down by category or simply look for a specific programme.
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You can add individual shows to your Favourites, for easy access.
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The app switches to full screen when you watch programmes. Don't worry, the blurriness of this image is due to the iPad's screen-capture feature not keeping up with the action.
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A menu titled 'For You' suggests shows you might like.
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