What Apple Can Do to Fix Podcasts
Right now the podcasts app is one of the most neglected media apps on iOS. The application is pretty spartan. Yes, it helps somebody find, sync, and play podcasts, but it could be so much more if they threw the amount of love into it that they did for Apple Music. Podcasts have gone through a digital Renaissance of sorts lately with podcasts like Serial, companies like Twit, and even celebrities getting into the podcast game. The barrier to entry has decreased greatly with podcasting over the last ten years and the Internet has allowed thousands of shows to bloom and given birth to some truly excellent content. Heck, even the name podcasts come Apple’s iPod line as the company pioneered the concept and made it mainstream. While podcasts is not as sexy as something like Apple Music, I think that the company has clearly shown interest in the topic and with some love and support they could take it to the next level.
The first thing Apple should do to the podcast app is give it an overhaul and break it out of iTunes. Like the rest of iTunes, I think that Apple would greatly benefit from a web-based podcast application and the Mac would benefit from having a dedicated application with its own notifications, big discovery button, and more streamlined UI. As far as the iPhone and iPad apps are concerned, the podcast app could be a lot better at syncing, apps like Pocketcasts and Overcast embarrass Apple’s first party solution in terms of how flawlessly they sync. Also, speaking of mobile apps it’s a shame that Overcasts is the only good podcast app on the Apple Watch and that you cannot easily start podcasts from your wrist, which would be fantastic for runners or really anybody on the go. I do not know about the CarPlay experience, but the Bluetooth audio controls could be better. It makes zero sense why pressing the skip button in your car or headphones would play the next episode in the podcast. Most podcasts are 30+ minutes and skipping forward or going back 30 seconds would make a lot more sense and every podcast app I can think on iOS, Android, and Windows do the same thing. This last one is a pet peeve of mine. I like the visual design of the Apple podcast app and the Siri support, but the inability to skip back and forth in the car is a deal-breaker for me at this point. Finally, hand-off support would be an excellent addition, especially if they improve syncing.
Like Twitter, the revenue model for podcasts is sketchy at best for most people involved. I ran a podcast in college and struggled to find a way to monetize. I know that bigger studios like TWIT, 5by5 Network, Revision3, and Mobile Nations make money, but that is a full-time job. Apple does have a relatively unsuccessful, but I think they could do indie podcasts a solid if they would make it easy for listeners to donate money through the iTunes mechanism like they can for charities or even make it easy for podcasters to embed ads inline on their podcasts over the artwork if they desire like a a Youtube annotation. There are times I am listening to Macbreak Weekly and would love to be able to tap my podcast app and go to whatever pick of the week they are talking about. I think being able to support indie podcast producers in a variety of ways would help more people stick with it and keep making awesome content.
Whoever runs the Discover section of the Podcasts app seems to do a pretty good job. The user interface is nice, but I think that it could do with a little more human curation and machine learning like Apple Music. I would like to see top lists from select curators in different topics as well as the ability to follow topics across podcasts. It would be great to select something like “Apple Watch” and have the Podcasts app recommend episodes from iMore, Macbreak a Weekly, and the Ihnatko Almanac. Maybe even having a Beats1-like podcast station for the news may be interesting, but I don’t know if that’s a realm that a company like Apple would want to get into. News is messy and could alienate different audiences. That being said, having the ability to “Recommend” individual podcasts like you can in Overcast and perhaps have a “Connect” section to follow topics could keep the podcast community engaged.
I imagine podcasts do not have the potential revenue generating potential that Apple Music does, but I think like Music it’s something that makes Apple devices sticky to an entirely different crowd of customers. I feel like podcasts are a creative and educational medium that reflects Apple’s dedication to the liberal arts and human expression. It educates Apple’s users about news, art, science, history, technology, and much, much more. I think like any of their other ventures podcasts is a category that Apple could do well from spending a little more time with. It does not have to be a major part of a keynote or anything, but just some small changes could really put the experience over the top and give users yet another reason to stick with Apple gear and services.