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

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storing books, apps, TV shows, and movies to toasting bread. The addition of the Ping social network for music fans in 2010 was my personal breaking point—that’s when I wrote a long rant calling iTunes the epitome of cruft and predicting that Apple’s burgeoning digital-media empire would falter unless it ditched the program and started over.

Well, Apple hasn’t killed off iTunes yet. But it’s paving the way, at least on the mobile side, by introducing iCloud (which largely ended the scourge of sync) and assigning the jobs formerly handled by iTunes and the old iPod app to a series of standalone apps. Last year it peeled videos off into a separate Videos app. Then came the iBooks app for managing e-books and the iTunes U app for lecture series, both with their own built-in stores. Now we’ve got a separate Podcasts app as well.

And there’s word that Ping will be retired with the next release of iTunes, which makes sense, since no one used it. I think these moves are more than just housekeeping. As Peter Kafka at AllThingsD puts it, they “may signal an effort to put iTunes on a diet, something many Apple fans have asked for.” That would be a welcome change. It may have made sense to consolidate digital media management tasks in one program back in 2005, when the most powerful multimedia gadget in Apple’s lineup was the video iPod. But it makes no sense today, when iPods, iPhones, and iPads are powerful standalone computers with their own connections to the cloud.

“Given everything the company has riding on iTunes,” I wrote back in 2010, “the idea of rebuilding the program from scratch (or more likely, breaking it into several programs, in order to bring some logic to the media management madness) must seem incredibly risky and ambitious.” It’s good to see Apple gathering up its courage.

Update, July 23, 2012: I’ve been using the new Podcasts app regularly for three weeks now, and I feel compelled to temper some of the excitement I expressed the June 29 article above. As it turns out, this is a buggy app that falls far below Apple’s usual standards. The main issue, for me, is lag: touch commands often produce no result, or take 10 to 20 seconds or more to register. Other users are reporting problems with crashes and subscription syncing, and the app is drawing a large number of 1-star reviews in the iTunes App Store. Until Apple can make the app more responsive, I’m unable to recommend it. Readers may be better off for now using an app like Downcast or Sketcher or downloading podcasts one at a time from iTunes.

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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!!!”