Looking forwards whilst staring backwards - Thoughts on Apple's new Podcast

Published June 28, 2012

I recently wrote about the cyclical nature of my feelings towards podcasting and how I am currently losing interest in many of the subscriptions I used to listen to. (As an aside, after years of listening to Leo Laporte talk about it, I finally signed up to Audible. The new-member special of £3.99 a month is great but when that goes away and it heads up to £7.95, I’m going to be less enthusiastic, I think.)

As if in direct response to my musings, Apple released a new and individual Podcast app, separating out the subscription content from the now-familiar orange Music app. It’s a free download and the insides have been completely revamped - not all for the better.

I’m curious why Apple have decided to revamp the podcast section of their business, considering they have shown decreasing love for it of late. After being the front runners in making the podcast community a thriving place, their store has been updated less and less often, and it’s been dominated by big name producers - the BBC being a major culprit. The podcast world doesn’t make them any money, so it made sense that they would focus on other areas, like movies.

This new app, then, could either be a way of spinning off the genre out of the iTunes world completely and letting it do its own thing, or it could be their first step into putting a bit of life back into it. If they could only see their way to allowing you to charge for podcasts, we would see a whole new media revolution on our hands. Motives unknown, then, the app itself is not my ideal solution seemingly going back several steps in the podcast playing journey. I’ll hold my hands up right now and say I have spent only about ten minutes using the app, and I’m therefore not an expert and I have made relatively quick judgements. Here’s my thoughts so far:

Podcast screenshot

Opening up the app, it downloads lots of my subscriptions - from where, I don’t know. Is it syncing with the music app, or have I signed up to a cloud somewhere I’ve forgotten about? Probably. It doesn’t matter. I have a minor panic that we have to look at the cover art for each podcast subscription before finding the list button. Much better. (Nothing wrong with cover art, I’m just not down with items being displayed that way. Same as how I hate Coverflow.)

I’m quite fussy about things I have listened to and things I haven’t so I find a subscription that has all episodes already consumed, so that I can play about at will. As it turns out, that happens to be The Archers. For some reason, Apple have returned to organising the subscriptions in strict alphabetical order with The Archers way down under T. I wouldn’t mind this so much, except iTunes - where I organise all my subscriptions - has it listed under A.

Into the list of episodes and they are the wrong way round. I have a slightly more major panic before finding the setting to order by newest first or oldest first. Unfortunately, I also see that this is a by subscription setting, meaning I’ll have to go through each and every one of my 70+ feeds and change it over. Not a fan of that, at all. I cannot fathom why the default would be newest first. I understand that not everyone is freakish about consuming everything and not missing things, but most shows follow some kind of chronological order and will reference ones that have gone before. Newest at the top might be useful for some, but I can’t see how it is the norm.

With episodes facing the right way, I press play. I struggle to find the x2 button, before realising the weird little squiggle in the middle of the screen is a rabbit. There’s a toggle between tortoise and rabbit, which is about as obvious as mud. Supposedly, this is in reference to the reel-to-reel machine that the design is based on. How forward thinking!

Podcast screenshot

Another thing that intrigues me about Apple apps is their willingness to innovate but their inane desire to make everything look like really old stuff. I’ve never seen a reel-to-reel in action, and there’s a whole generation beneath me starting to get into technology. What are they going to think about these gadgets made to look retro into things they have no reference of? It’s a novelty, and it’s fun for a bit, but at some point surely we have to throw up our hands and say, hey, you know what, times change.

Anyway, I now have an episode of The Archers, playing at the speed I am comfortable with and it all seems to be working okay. Except that when I try it for real, starting a new show that is on my to-listen list, I go to check the time I am through the podcast and the whole thing grinds to a halt and crashes. Oh well.

It’s a new app, I know, and the bugs take some working out. The irritations are just the small things that I have worked out a system for and Apple have completely turned on their head. They’re a company well known for telling us how we want to consume things, so I am not surprised at this. I’m mostly just documenting it for future reference, and to put my foot firmly in the camp of “not liking the new app.”

I haven’t even got to looking at the stations and the podcast discovery and how subscribing to things via the app works now. Mostly I have been put off by the fact it looks like an old radio dial. WHY? Anyway, small props to Apple for attempting to revamp things for a new world, with major points taken away for ruining fundamental functionality. Oh, and no props at all if they are spinning podcasts off to die, as per above.

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