Apple’s Podcasting Stroke of Genius

By

microphone

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)