What Apple’s New Podcasts App Means For Listeners—And for Apple

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storing books, apps, TV shows, and movies to toasting bread. The addition of the Ping social network for music fans in 2010 was my personal breaking point—that’s when I wrote a long rant calling iTunes the epitome of cruft and predicting that Apple’s burgeoning digital-media empire would falter unless it ditched the program and started over.

Well, Apple hasn’t killed off iTunes yet. But it’s paving the way, at least on the mobile side, by introducing iCloud (which largely ended the scourge of sync) and assigning the jobs formerly handled by iTunes and the old iPod app to a series of standalone apps. Last year it peeled videos off into a separate Videos app. Then came the iBooks app for managing e-books and the iTunes U app for lecture series, both with their own built-in stores. Now we’ve got a separate Podcasts app as well.

And there’s word that Ping will be retired with the next release of iTunes, which makes sense, since no one used it. I think these moves are more than just housekeeping. As Peter Kafka at AllThingsD puts it, they “may signal an effort to put iTunes on a diet, something many Apple fans have asked for.” That would be a welcome change. It may have made sense to consolidate digital media management tasks in one program back in 2005, when the most powerful multimedia gadget in Apple’s lineup was the video iPod. But it makes no sense today, when iPods, iPhones, and iPads are powerful standalone computers with their own connections to the cloud.

“Given everything the company has riding on iTunes,” I wrote back in 2010, “the idea of rebuilding the program from scratch (or more likely, breaking it into several programs, in order to bring some logic to the media management madness) must seem incredibly risky and ambitious.” It’s good to see Apple gathering up its courage.

Update, July 23, 2012: I’ve been using the new Podcasts app regularly for three weeks now, and I feel compelled to temper some of the excitement I expressed the June 29 article above. As it turns out, this is a buggy app that falls far below Apple’s usual standards. The main issue, for me, is lag: touch commands often produce no result, or take 10 to 20 seconds or more to register. Other users are reporting problems with crashes and subscription syncing, and the app is drawing a large number of 1-star reviews in the iTunes App Store. Until Apple can make the app more responsive, I’m unable to recommend it. Readers may be better off for now using an app like Downcast or Sketcher or downloading podcasts one at a time from iTunes.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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