Apple’s announcement this week at the end of the Worldwide Developer Conference is some of the biggest podcasting news to happen in years. That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate an entire episode to it.
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Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is wrapping up this weekend in California. While Apple made plenty of announcements during WWDC, the tech giant may have truly left the best for last (at least, if you’re a podcaster).
Today, Apple announced major changes to its podcast spec. The first such spec changes the company has made in years. Apple also announced that it will finally be providing at least some listener data to podcast producers.
Acknowledging recent trends in the podcasting space, Apple will now provide support for seasons, preview episodes, and bonus episodes within its podcast RSS feed spec. That means it’ll be easier for podcasters to organize episodes by season, so listeners can download and listen back to episodes in the correct order. The preview and bonus episode options will make it easier for podcasters and listeners alike to identify episodes that might not be part of a podcast’s regular production cycle.
There’s been a lot of industry pressure as of late on Apple to provide listener data to podcasters. Acquiescing to these demands, Apple will begin providing some actual listener data to podcast producers:
Apple said today that it will be using (anonymized) data from the app to show podcasters how many people are listening and where in the app people are stopping or skipping. This has the potential to dramatically change our perception of how many people really listen to a show, and how many people skip ads, as well as how long a podcast can run before people just give up.
While this might look like the holy grail to some in terms of listener metrics, it appears that this data will be limited to listener activity from the iOS Podcasts app only. Not the cross-platform iTunes desktop application. And of course, it won’t pull in data from any services outside of the Apple ecosphere.
It’s not yet clear when Apple will allow podcasters to access listener data. The full implementation of the new Apple Podcasts RSS spec will likely coincide with the release of iOS 11 later this year. If you’d like to see what the new RSS tags will look like, Apple has released a document that covers the changes it’ll be making to the spec.
Ever since Apple launched the iOS Podcasts app, effectively giving podcasts a dedicated location on Apple mobile devices, speculation has occurred that one day, Apple will break podcasts free from the desktop iTunes application in a similar manner. While that hasn’t happened yet, having a dedicated desktop podcast-consumption app made by Apple may be getting closer.
Today, Apple rebranded the iTunes podcast directory to Apple Podcasts:
Although today’s announcement is merely a branding change, it may indicate a renewed focus by Apple on podcasting…
In February, Eddy Cue teased that the company is working on new features for podcasts at the Code Media conference. Combined with this rebranding, it is possible that Apple is readying a big announcement for later this year, potentially at WWDC.
Renaming the iTunes podcast directory to Apple Podcasts falls in line with other Apple branding efforts, such as Apple Music and Apple TV. It’s possible that the Cupertino-based tech giant is finding the “i” designation that rose to fame with products like the iMac, iPod, and iTunes is in need of a refresh. Regardless, it’s good to see some real attention being paid to Apple’s podcast directory.
Along with this new name, Apple also released new guidelines for publishers who’d like to link to their listings on the Apple Podcasts directory. These guidelines include a new set of badges that make use of the Apple Podcasts name in place of iTunes (see image above).
Apple posted a job ad on January 5, 2016, for a Podcast Producer. The person who gets this job will need to be located in either in Culver City, California, or Cupertino, California. The position appears to have something to do with integrating new podcasts.
The Job Summary reads as follows: “The Apple Podcasts team seeks Producer to help manage the integration of new podcasts, the merchandising of podcasts on Podcasts app and iTunes, and management of provider relationships. The varied work demands excellent editorial taste and account management skill. In the near term, a significant portion of the job will be devoted to planning and executing editorial campaigns, building relationships with providers and seeking out great new content.”
The key qualifications include some things you might not be expecting. They want someone who has “excellent and precise written and spoken English”. They also want the applicant to have fluency in Spanish, Portuguese, or French, and a knowledge of Latin American media landscape.
My best guess, and I may be wrong, is that this job is going to focus on podcasts created by podcasters in South America. The official language of Brazil is Portuguese. The rest of South America speaks Spanish. I can’t think of any good reason why Apple wants a Podcast Producer who has knowledge of the Latin American media landscape other than they want to focus on South America.
No single company is still talked about more when it comes to podcasting than Apple. Since its addition of podcasting to the iTunes Store in 2005, most of the podcasting news made by Apple has revolved around podcasting apps and distribution. But that changes this month as Apple will actually be an active sponsor of an upcoming podcast produced by New York-based Gimlet Media.
Gimlet made a name for itself during the so-called “podcast renaissance” of 2014 with the launch of its critically acclaimed Startup podcast that documented the company’s founding. Gimlet followed up the success of Startup with other popular shows like Reply All and Undone. Gimlet Media is now set to debut its latest creation, a fully scripted serialized fiction series called Homecoming. This new show will be voiced by established Hollywood actors Catherine Keener (40 Year-Old Virgin, Into The Wild), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and David Schwimmer (Friends, Orange Is The New Black).
Gimlet Media has a proven track record of attracting large audiences to its productions. That past performance may be what enticed Apple to step in as the sole sponsor for Homecoming. Specifically, Apple will be promoting its e-book and periodicals platform iBooks thru this new podcast. The move could be a sign of Apple’s confidence in Gimlet’s latest project, as the tech giant hasn’t sponsored many (if any) podcasts before.
Apple’s move from passive podcast distributor to active podcast sponsor seems like a logical one. While many podcast consumers are likely already using an Apple device, they may still be unaware of what iBooks has to offer. It’ll be easy enough for those listeners to tap over to the iBooks app after an episode of Homecoming and pick up a new book or magazine subscription. The potential popularity of a Gimlet-produced podcast will also get Apple’s sponsored message in front of plenty of non-Apple users as well, since podcasts are consumed across many different platforms.
Apple has probably empowered the medium of podcasting more than any other company. The Cupertino-based technology giant gave podcasting its first big boost when it added podcasts to the iTunes desktop application in 2005. Thanks to the popularity of Apple’s breakthrough portable media player, the iPod, iTunes had become a ubiquitous destination for consumers looking to easily acquire new audio. And when those users suddenly found a podcasting directory chock full of free content next to their favorite music store, they began consuming podcasts in droves.
Apple gave another healthy push to podcasting when it released the first iteration of its standalone Podcasts app in 2012. The app was ultimately developed to work alongside what would become Apple’s streaming music service (Apple Music). But there was some definite confusion when the app first showed up. Previously, users had been able to access podcasts thru their iOS devices’ iPod and Music apps. Apple would go on to include the new Podcasts app in its “core” collection of apps that couldn’t be deleted by users. This meant that iOS users had to deal with the app, if for no other reason than to stick it into an “unused apps” folder. And while it’s certain that many users did just that, many others opened the app and began listening to podcasts for the first time.
Apple’s Podcasts app is still a standard part of iOS. It shows up any time the operating system is freshly installed. But a big change came to the app with last month’s release of iOS 10. The app is no longer indestructible, and can now be removed by simply pressing and holding the app icon, and then tapping the X that pops up in the top left portion of the icon.
The change was likely made due to consumer demand, as many iOS users have wanted to be able to remove Apple’s core apps for years. It’s doubtful the app’s removable status will have any impact on podcast consumption overall. But it is kinda sad in a way that the app can be deleted now.
Ever since it rolled out the first Macintosh computer over 30 years ago, Apple has been on a mission to make products that are smaller, sleeker, and minimized. That ethos has played out over and over again thru the years. The first iMacs had no floppy disk drives. Then, Apple stopped installing optical drives into its desktop and laptop machines. Now, in the modern age of the iDevice, this practice is repeated with Apple designing phones and tablets that are increasingly thinner and lighter. It was pretty obvious this trend wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. And while it seemed Apple couldn’t possibly make these devices any smaller, they still found a way.
Rumors began circulating earlier this year that the iPhone 7, the latest edition of Apple’s wildly popular smartphone, would ship without an analog headphone jack. And those rumors were confirmed today during an Apple event that announced the iPhone 7. Apple’s Phil Schiller made his case for a bold, wireless future by rolling out a quaint image of an old-timey switchboard operator that was meant to enforce the analog headphone port’s origins in old technology. Indeed, Apple is all about the future. The bright, shiny (and most importantly), wireless future.
Thanks to a proliferation of audio/video apps and accessories for iOS, these devices have become invaluable tools for many podcast producers. And while the death of the headphone port may be discouraging, it’s not the absolute end of the world. Apple will provide an analog adapter that’ll plug into the Lightning connector, allowing users to connect headphones and other analog-driven devices. It’s also a good bet that a whole new line of third-party products will hit the market to service those who’ve been abandoned by the headphone port’s disappearance.
Of course, another alternative would be to just hang onto older devices instead of trading them in right away for the iPhone 7. But just like that telephone operator, I know this is also a quaint notion for most modern technology users.
About a year ago, I suggested that it was time for the iTunes team to create a dedicated user portal for podcasters. Perhaps someone over at Apple is listening. Last week, podcasters looking to add new shows to the iTunes Store noticed that the “Submit a Podcast” option that’s been available in the iTunes desktop application since Apple first added podcasts to the platform, was gone. A few days later, the option returned. Instead of opening a submission form inside the iTunes application as it has always done, clicking the “Submit a Podcast” link now opens a web browser that directs to the new iTunes Connect page.
iTunes Connect prompts you to log in with an Apple ID and password. Once logged in, the site provides an iTunes Connect: My Podcast page that shows a list of all of the podcasts you’ve submitted to iTunes using your Apple ID. You should see any active shows under your account and you may see old shows that (for whatever reason) have been removed from the iTunes Store. Click on the album art for any of the shows and you’re taken to a new page that presents a short list of options: Refresh Feed, View in iTunes Store, Hide Podcast, and Delete Podcast. There’s also a field for the podcast’s feed URL (in the screenshot below, I’ve blanked the field – you’d normally see the current feed URL of the show in this field) along with the show’s status in the directory as well as the date/time of the listing’s last refresh. (Altering the text in the URL field activates a Save button on the right-hand side of the screen. Presumably, you could use this to update a podcast’s feed URL in the iTunes system.)
Apple brought this new podcast dashboard online with little fanfare. It’s possible they’ve done this to cut down on some of the frequent support requests they receive (refreshing feeds, changing feed URL’s, etc.). This web-based system also makes it possible to submit podcasts using devices other than Mac or Windows computers. It’s the logical next step for what is still podcasting’s biggest directory to give a little more access and control to those of us who are providing its content. It’s a long overdue change.
It seemed like a curious omission that when the new Apple TV launched to much fanfare during the final quarter of last year, it didn’t come preloaded with Apple’s ubiquitous Podcasts app. The Podcasts app had been standard issue on iOS devices as well as previous iterations of Apple’s set-top box for some time. But still, it was absent from the newly redesigned Apple TV.
And now, several months after the new Apple TV made its way into the hands of consumers, the device is finally getting an official Podcasts app from Apple. Earlier today, it was revealed that with the release of tvOS 9.1.1. (the special operating system for Apple TV’s), the Podcasts app will now be available to 4th-generation models of the media player.
If your Apple TV hasn’t already updated to the latest tvOS, you can force the update manually using the Settings app. Once the update is applied, the new Podcasts app will automatically show up on your home screen. Following suit with other Apple devices, the Podcasts app is a permanent fixture once it’s installed on the new Apple TV. It can’t be deleted.