What Apple’s New Podcasts App Means For Listeners—And for Apple

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spend a lot of time listening to podcasts from their computers, which I don’t. And in general, I’m a fan of all changes that further decouple Apple’s mobile devices from the desktop, for reasons I’ll come back to in a moment.

The bottom line: if you listen to a lot of podcasts on your Apple mobile devices, you need to get the new Podcasts app and stop using Music to access your shows. Of course, there are still lots of great third-party apps for listening to podcasts, including Stitcher, Instacast, Podcaster, PRX’s Public Radio Player, and show-specific apps such as the This American Life and NPR: Planet Money apps. But most of these other apps are streaming-only. If you don’t want to eat up huge amounts of 3G data and run down your battery while you’re outside of Wi-Fi range, you need a way to download podcasts and take them with you, which means you need an app like Podcasts that can save files to your device’s media library.

What It Means for Podcast Creators

For better or worse, the evolution of podcasting has always been linked to Apple and its ideas about digital media and mobile software. The very word “podcast” comes from the iPod, the first popular device that could be made to function as a sort of audio mailbox, or a DVR for radio. The first generation of podcast publishing and sharing tools such as Odeo (the thing Ev Williams built before Twitter) basically disappeared after 2005, when Apple first added a podcast directory to the iTunes Store. And it’s still iOS device owners who consume the vast majority of podcast content. So anything Apple does to make it easier for audiences to find and listen to podcasts must be good for podcast producers, right?

Well, yes, mostly. Speaking for myself, I’m likely to consume a lot more podcast content on my iPhone now that it’s so much easier to get it. But there are a couple of wrinkles for podcast creators to worry about. One is that Apple still isn’t allowing podcasters to charge for subscriptions, meaning podcasting will continue to be an LoL activity for most. (That’s for Loss Leader or Labor of Love, take your pick. But definitely not Laugh Out Loud.)

Another worry is the possibility that people might stop listening to podcasts altogether if they can’t find them through the Music app that comes with iOS. (Apple hasn’t evicted podcasts from the Music app quite yet, but this is likely to happen with the release of iOS 6.) Robert Wagner, a Portland, OR-based podcaster, says the disappearance of out-of-the-box support for podcasts in iOS would be “the beginning of the end” for the genre, since many people won’t know about the separate Podcasts app or won’t bother to download it.

But just because the Podcasts app turned up in the App Store this week doesn’t mean that Apple can’t make it one of the standard out-of-the-box apps in iOS 6. And there’s a big plus to the app that should excite podcasters: it plugs a huge hole on the iPad. When Apple came out with iOS 5 in October 2011, it also overhauled the old “iPod” app, replacing it with the Music app. There were (and are) many, many things to dislike about the iPad version of the Music app, and one of them was the way it tucked podcasts away in an obscure category called “More.” (Podcasts later disappeared entirely from the app.) The new Podcasts app brings podcasts back to the iPad; in other words, it’s exactly the sort of “Newsstand for podcasts” app that many Apple observers have been asking for ever since the company screwed up podcasting support with iOS 5. It’s not the beginning of the end; it’s just the end of a very long beginning.

What It Means for Apple

After years of criticism, including quite a bit from me, Apple seems to be getting serious about its iTunes problem. The issue is a simple one: bloat. What started out as a simple music-management program grew, over the course of a decade, into a Hydra-headed monster that handled everything from ripping CDs to activating iPhones and iPads to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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14 responses to “What Apple’s New Podcasts App Means For Listeners—And for Apple”

  1. Derek Glenn says:

    I wish Android could find a simple solution. Google listen is quite confusing.

    • Scott says:

      Derek, if you haven’t tried Stitcher, give it a shot.  It’s a great app that works across multiple platforms.  

  2. Mark LowensteinMlowenstein says:

    Hey Wayne-
    Great column. I use podcasts the exact same way. Since I don’t have much of a commute, I use long runs as a way to catch up on content such as i NPR shows, TED, and other content. Two major improvements with the podcast app is that there is information more readily available on the content of a particular podcast. This was a feature that had disappeared in the iTunes version of iOS 5. Also, some podcasts have a feature that displays what content comes at a particular time in the podcast, which is useful for shows with multiple segments. On the content side I have one request: when is Charlie Rose going to be available in podcast form?
    – Mark Lowenstein

  3. Cib says:

    I tried this new app for a week. Big disappointment. the interface is horrendously ugly. And the lack of sync across devices kills it totally. Impossible to just listen to selected episodes in a row while cycling, it will just play them all, regardless of what it’s been downloaded or not. Awful.Took it off my iPhone now. 

  4. I like the new Podcasts app, but not as much as Wade… Didn’t make space for it in my dock. I use it every night to listen to the PBS News Hour, as I fall asleep. My initial impressions were that it needs work. After spending more time with it, I feel it needs work. But it has replaced iTunes and Music for me… The pathetic thing is Apple’s lack of decent documentation. They have a little support article that is far from comprehensive. Not even a screen shot. Check out my blog (Appledystopia) for some tips, with screenshots, that will probably help you use this a little better…

  5. Interesting… for all things NPR, I use the NPR app. The iPad version is pretty awesome. You can read text versions. Sometimes I like to multitask and read another story while listening to the 5 minute news cast. That said, NPR is trying to be too hip these days. Well, nothing too new. I prefer the stodgy, painstaking detail of the PBS NewsHour. They just seem to get more experts and dive into stories with more depth.

    That said, the PBS NewsHour doesn’t have the hipster music stuff. No post-rock bumper music between segments… It makes it harder to play my NPR drinking game — take a swig of Pabst Blue Ribbon every time you hear hip “post rock” music.

  6. Carl L says:

    Apple’s new Podcast app sucks. No syncing and the controls that limit the number of podcasts don’t work regardless of which one you try to use.

  7. JNelson says:

    how do I go back to using podcasts in ‘music’ ??? I can’t figure out how to LISTEN to all the podcasts (back issues!) I suddenly have on my iPhone4!

    • Wade Roush says:

      JNelson — I don’t think you can. Once you have the Podcasts app, all your podcasts show up there. As far as I know, the only way to get them to show up in Music again is to uninstall Podcasts.

  8. Wade Roush says:

    After suffering with Apple’s Podcasts app for more than five months, I’m ready to take back everything nice that I said about it in this June column. It’s sluggish and unresponsive, even on my brand new iPhone 5. I’m gradually switching over to Stitcher. I’ll have more to say on that soon…

  9. Ray says:

    terrible…for some reason it wipes out my is on my Ipod…itunes tells me everything is installed and good, then I look at the ipod touch…and all music is gone from the player. All this is from apple forcing me to use this app, it won’t show podcasts on my ipod even though itunes tells me installed them!

  10. Russell Knight says:

    I like listening to podcast that I place into playlists. This new app has made it impossible to do now. How do I reverse this abortion of an app?

  11. CheshireCatastrophe says:

    Never had an issue finding and downloading podcasts before. I tried this app when it released, and again a little while ago, both times being monumentally disappointing.

    I completely disagree with your enthusiasm regarding this app, Wade. If you had trouble directly downloading from iTunes, that was your personal failing, and as a tech writer no less. But I’ve downloaded everything from tech, lifestyle and even hobbyist podcasts with no problem navigating iTunes. In fact, the concern regarding managing your podcasts via your phone is sort of moot as you use the same basic layout on pc and Mac.

    Really, you’ve simply segregated two audiences that have potential crossover. If I look up Soundgarden, per se, isn’t it cool that I see some possible podcast interviews under “podcasts” below “albums” and “songs”. This all seems like common sense.

  12. Podcast App says:

    This podcast app is totally unacceptable and the latest update has made it 100% unusable! If you want a story for a column, you should go look at the Podcast app reviews in Itunes and read through them. The big story apparently is that either, Apple has decided to destroy podcast entirely, or has 100% inept developers…There is a big story here either way! Why did they remove podcasts from the music app and force people to use this app that is 100% unworkable? Maybe this is the first sign of the end of Apple? Here is a headline: “An Apple inhouse developed app that received an average score of ONE STAR!!!”