Apple’s Podcasting Stroke of Genius

Apple’s Podcasting Stroke of Genius

Apple’s developer release of iOS 6 created an instant mystery: Podcasts are missing from the iTunes app! Who dunnit?

At least, that’s the false meme that emerged. In fact, references to “Podcasts” are in there. Things have been re-arranged, and podcasts deemphasized. Something is going on.

The rumor and/or speculation is that Apple will spin podcasts out into a separate app (but keep it in the desktop version of iTunes). This prediction is supported both by funny business in the app, and also inside information from unnamed sources “close to the company.”

The prediction that Podcasts will get their own app sounds reasonable. But the interesting part is: Why?

Why would Apple put music, movies and TV shows all together in one app, but create an entirely separate app for podcasts?

Sounds dumb, right?

Actually, if Apple is doing what I think they’re doing, it’s a stroke of genius.

This single change could align Apple’s organization of services on iOS with multiple strategic objectives at once. Here’s what I think Apple intends to accomplish.

Make ‘iPodcasts’ a Brand

Apple has maintained a curious relationship with the word “podcast.” The company does not use it as a brand, as in Podcast with a capital P. Apple does not have a product called “Podcast.” Yet, Apple goes after companies that use “pod” or “podcast” in their name, citing confusion with Apple’s “iPod” brand.

The word “podcast” is a generic term based on a brand — but not like the words kleenex or band-aid. In those cases, the generic term is identical to the band name. “Kleenex” and “Band-Aid” are “proprietary eponyms” that are exactly the same as the generic versions, except capitalized.

In the case of “podcast,” it’s a generic term more loosely based on Apple’s iPod trademark.

There is simply no way Apple can go in and trademark the word “podcast” at this point, even though the word is based on its own branding.

However, Apple could trademark “iPodcasts.” In order to do that, they’d need a product called “iPodcasts.”

An app, for example.

The successful registering of “iPodcasts” would give Apple more legal juice to go after the companies that try to profit from brand names based on “pod.”

In fact, Apple attempted to trademark “iPodcast” years ago. That attempt was unsuccessful.

Plus, it would make logical sense. The app “iTunes” means music. The app “iPodcasts” would be the same thing, but talking instead of music.

Make Podcasting More Important (Or Less important)

Giving podcasts their own app changes the emphasis. Right now, podcasts are presented as downloadable music’s ugly stepsister. Podcasts are displayed awkwardly in iTunes as a form of music, or at least just a two-bit, third-rate category of audio.

This fact rankles people like me who love podcasts more than music.

If Apple is shameless and greedy, they will give podcasts their own app and not make that app available as one of the default applications in order to favor the categories of audio content they make money from. They did that with iTunes U, but that move made sense as university lectures are clearly a sub-category that appeals to a limited segment of users.

Dropping podcasts from the default set of apps on iOS, obviously, would decrease the importance of podcasts.

If Apple is heroic and respectful of users, they will give podcasts their own app and make it one of the default apps on iOS.

This would increase the importance of podcasts. And I think this is what they’re going to do.

Replace Audible.com

The weirdest thing about iTunes isn’t the existence podcasts, but the existence of Audible.com content.

Audible.com is a great company, and I’ve been a user and customer for over a decade. Years before Apple launched the iPod, Audible.com actually made and sold their own dedicated player. (In fact, I even demonstrated this device on the Regis and Kathie Lee show in the late 1990s.)

Here’s the thing: Audible.com has been a subsidiary of Amazon.com since 2008.

Amazon.com is the single most aggressive company directly challenging Apple for downloadable content. Apple is locked in a bloody war with Amazon over eBooks. Amazon uses Apple’s model, roughly, of offering a tablet as a Trojan Horse in people’s homes to favor its downloadable content. Amazon is probably Apple’s Enemy #2 after Google.

So why would Apple actively promote Amazon’s audio books subsidiary?

I think they’ve decided to stop doing it.

There’s a good chance that the new podcast app will include audiobooks, as part of Apple’s first stage in taking over that business from Audible and Amazon.

Replace Car Radio

As I’ve described many times before in this space, Apple’s core competency is finding common but horrible content consumption experiences and replacing them with awesome, Apple-designed experiences.

One of the biggest scenarios for common but horrible content consumption is car radio. Anyone who gets used to listening to podcasts and downloadable music has trouble even listening to car radio. The cheesy commercials. The lack of control over selection. It’s awful.

Already, millions of people are replacing live radio with downloadable audio content while driving. They do it with iPhone-compatible jacks, FM-radio gadgets, and for older cars even special cassette-tape adaptors that plug into iPhones and other phones.

In Apple’s WWDC keynote, Apple indicated its intention to integrate Siri commands into automobile controls, including buttons on steering wheels.

So what are people going to tell Siri?

Turn-by-turn directions with Apple Maps, to be sure. Voice-controlled phone calls and texts, obviously. But also the MP3-borne alternatives to yucky radio music and talk radio.

The home-run approach to all this is that you subscribe to your favorite podcasts, and new episodes download automatically from the cloud to your phone. When you’re in your car, you tell Siri: “Play my podcasts,” Siri will play them in reverse chronological order or in order of user rankings (depending on your preferences).

During your daily commute, you’ll listen to “talk radio.” But instead of desperate groups of un-funny idiots trying to imitate Howard Stern or put-you-to-sleep NPR type shows, you’ll hear the podcasts you’ve selected from the thousands available.

I think the new iPodcasts app will work a lot like Stitcher, but Siri-controllable.

As a HUGE fan of podcasts, I’m really excited about what Apple has planned for podcasting in iOS 6.

The big losers are likely to be the companies using “pod” in their trademark, Audible.com and radio.

The winners are going to be…. everyone else. By making a big push to increase the “consumption” of spoken-audio content, Apple will be leveraging its market power to make the world a better place.

At least, that’s what I think they’re going to do.

(Image courtesy of psdGraphics)

  • Derek Martin

    While you might be right about the idea, there is no way the name of the app will be plural; the trailing “sts” is too awkward to say, especially if you’re going to have to say it multiple times, such as during a demo. It’d just be “iPodcast”, like “iPhoto” or “iMovie”. 

    If we’re lucky it’ll include all the functionality of 2 other apps, currently found in the “Utilities” folder on OSX: Podcast Capture & Podcast Producer. See, that would make the name of the app an actual sentence, describing what the person does. What do you do? “I Podcast”, using the iPodcast app. It’s all about podcasts, but creating as well as consuming them.
  • LTMP

    Considering the number of video podcasts already available, I think we have to consider the possibility that Apple is also going to try to deprecate Youtube.

    Trying to compete with Youtube on the desktop is insane.  Despite the fact that Youtube is a mess, it is ubiquitous… on the desktop.
    Having an iOS app that allows you to create, search, compile and view/listen to podcasts might just do the trick.  At least enough to put a little bit more pressure on Google.
    I think Apple would try to position it as the thinking man’s Youtube.  
  • Shane Bryson

    It would be much more like Apple to name the app iCast. iPodcast is just too long and awkward. That said, moving podcast into it’s own app is going to be extremely annoying. It would make more sense to consolidate all these services into the Music app. iPodcast or iCast, what ever it ends up being called, will be one more app that jailbreakers hide or normal users tuck away in a folder, never to be used. 

  • Seth Chapman

    If they move Podcasts into its own app, and remove Amazon.com’s audible podcasts….requiring me to have two separate apps for something that used to be in one…that would really suck. Especially since Audible.com’s app doesn’t sync with iTunes.

  • Daniel M. Clark

    I think Shane is right that iCast is more likely than iPodcast. That name also catches people like Leo Laporte who insist on calling them “netcasts” ;)

    As a podcaster, I wouldn’t object to an app dedicated to podcasting, but… as a consumer I’d much rather they split it only two ways: an Audio app and a Video app. Put everything that’s audio in Audio and put everything that’s video in… well, Video. There’s no need to have separate apps called Music, Audiobooks, Podcasts, University or whatever… if it’s Audio, just put it in an Audio app.
  • David Nielsen

    I think iTunes will see a major redesign, it has grown way to complex and encompasses far to many use cases. However I do not think splitting out one set of content handling is the path to sanity. You are increasingly seeing content covering multiple fields, podcasts ship video content and is increasingly also capable of being treated like TV Show content. So splitting it out would likely require also adding TV Show content to this new application to represent equal content in the same place.. at which point we might question what the point is as we could gain the same from reworking content presentation in iTunes (or rather replace iTunes entirely with a rewrite that is content specific, splitting out the store elements and device handling).

    This is not as daft as it sounds, iCloud already paved the way for the death of device handling, your device backups e.g. will be going there soon. What is left in local content syncing can be handled in other ways. Likewise the iTunes store going into it’s own separate application isn’t really rocket science. You already have the App Store and friends, it is likely going to be merged into one larger market place where applications will just be one kind of content available.
    So my prediction is that we will see Apple split iTunes into a content consumption and management only application that will be much simpler than the application we know today. Device management will largely go away as the magic of iCloud will make that just work. Finally shopping will be it’s own realm entirely. This split is likely to start on iOS simply because that is the best platform to start such a project on and the fact that they have more resources to do this work but we will see it on OS X and Windows eventually. iTunes simply lacks elegance and is filled with complexity which makes it hard to support and debug.
    (disclosure, I am affiliated with a competing media player project, Banshee. See Banshee.fm). 
  • technochick

    OR it has zero to with trademarks and everything to do with tech. One of the biggest problems with podcasts is that you can’t subscribe to them on devices. That is something that many folks would like to see solved. Apple might be pulling podcasts out to their own app to make that happen. Or they might be updating another app, like say Newsstand, which already has that kind of updating function going. 

    As for the whole Audible.com thing, it’s unlikely that Apple will cut that cord completely since many of the titles are on exclusive contract which is why Apple hooked up in the first place. The change they might do would be to roll audiobooks into ibooks where they have a thematic connection rather than Music where it feels like it was crammed in cause there was no where else for it (which is probably true)
  • John Howell

    what has really annoyedme so far with the latest iOS was splitting video out from audio. IT’s ALL MEDIA for crying out louud. It wouldn’t be such an issue if the video player shared playlists and EVERY search and sorting feature of the iPd audoi player. I have a play list for Unplayed Audio Podcasts, and a plylist for Unplayed Video Podcasts, so I cout use voice commands to “PLay Playlist [Playlist Name] Now the video postcasts dont work this way. want to sort the movies from the TV shows, nope, want to sort the music videos by Artist, nope. I REALLY hope podcasts dont go the same way.
    BTW, I have a 6 disk stacker in my car, but as a Japanese IMport in NZ, the readio frequencies are all wrong. Normally you would fit a band expander to shift the reception up to NZ FM frequencies, especially as the stereo is an OEM with a custom front panel integrating the Aircon controls. However I instead fitted a Parrot Bluetooth hands free kit that pretty much replaces the stereo with a small remote and a 3″ LCD screen and just uses the car speakers for everything else. I dont think I even know if the stereo in my car works, I’ve never used it.

  • technochick

    If they move Podcasts into its own app, and remove Amazon.com’s audible podcasts….requiring me to have two separate apps for something that used to be in one…that would really suck. Especially since Audible.com’s app doesn’t sync with iTunes.

    Audible.com isn’t podcasts, it’s audiobooks

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  • Tim Lanfair

    Im fine with the separation i think its a smart move, separating media out like they have, its paving the way for iTunes to be what is used to be, without all the add ons.  My only real wonder is this;

    Since the end of mobile me, iWeb has become obsolete for the most part. So the simple way of publishing a podcast to iTunes is now gone. Will apple incorporate a new way of doing this,,maybe though an app or iMovie itself? this remains to be seen.  
    I’m a long time apple fan and have to say the ditching of iWeb,,, in my eyes was a mistake! 
  • skellener

    Just use Downcast.

  • Tim Rosencrans

    Dump Audible? Not likely. Your forgetting the fact that Audible is a content creator. They produce most of the audiobooks on their site and Apple’s. Just trying to get the rights to produce their own versions would be a monumental task. I cant see Apple abandoning audiobooks or creating a huge new content creation division.

  • TomVoelk

    I would love to see Apple break podcasts out on their own, right now it seems like they’re lost in iTunes.  When I send people to my podcast, Driven Car Reviews, they always seem to be confused, like they didn’t know they could get free videos on iTunes.  As a guy that puts days worth of work into every episode, I really hope they intend to promote it better.  

    Also, I’d love to see them offer some sort of revenue opportunities like YouTube.  I get WAY more hits on iTunes than YT and have no way to make any money from it.     
  • Protagonist

    iPodcast? Is that the best name you can give? Come on, Apple deserves more respect than that.

    If you guys are going to pick up small differences between iOS updates and start speculating about what’s in store for Apple like it’s the total truth, at least use a little more creativity.
    And Mike, I’m really sorry, but to claim to love podcasts more than music just for the sake of promoting a story isn’t very professional. I bet a cool writer like you loves music more, but that’s just my opinion.
    Back to the app rumours, if it’s going to happen for sure, then I think it would also be more of a redesign of the radio. After all, the only time you listen to radio is in the car, so coupling that with a iPod Nano-operated Siri button attached to your steering wheel, then you have a layout for a whole new system of entertainment.
    The app, if it does exist, would be the Apple treated redesign of the current radio industry.
  • Israel Navas Duran

    iTalk, iComment, iSpeech, iListen, iFeed or iDeas. Do they already exist?
    As for the car radio substitute, iStream.

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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