iTunes and Podcasts

Apple’s Podcasting Stroke of Genius | Cult of Mac:

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

Interesting idea, but I think it’s wrong. My guess is the reason for this is a lot simpler.

Back in the day, I had a conversation with one of the people who put podcasts in the iTunes store. At the time, nobody had a clue whether podcasts would be huge or not; it definitely wasn’t about driving revenue — but they knew they could help drive awareness of podcasts this way, and if podcasts did turn into something big, they didn’t want to risk having iTunes aced out of the discussion.

I think it’s fair to say podcasts have become a moderate success but not a world changer, and that iTunes helped drive their acceptance some, but I wouldn’t give it primary credit. I also think this whole space is still growing into maturity — if you look at what 5×5 and Geek and Sundry and what Adam Savage and the folks on Tested are starting to do, there’s a lot of innovation happening, in part driven by improved inexpensive video tools and in part by the growth of broadband making video more practical. So maybe podcasting has made it to teenaged status; it’s definitely still growing up.

But to be honest, I’d be stunned if Apple chose now to try to brand or trademark this stuff, or try to make this a big deal or a serious promotion. If there was interest in doing that, it would have happened long ago.

I think the real answer is a lot simpler than that: it’s iCloud.

We are continuing to see tighter integration of iCloud and IOS and MacOS. Starting with iTunes Match, Apple began a migration where your content lives there instead of on your hard drive, and I see that continuing and expanding to all kinds of consumable media.

I think Apple’s ultimate goal is simple: if it lives in iTunes, it lives on iCloud.

Is Apple going to offer that status to podcasts? My bet is no. And since they won’t, podcasts are exiting iTunes for their own app. That app will store and sync settings to iCloud, but not the actual podcast content.

Some content — your music, your videos, your eBooks — is going to be hosted by Apple using iCloud, and that content will be managed by iTunes (or whatever replaces it in its next generation).

Other content — podcasts, for instance — is going to be hosted by others, and apple will reference and coordinate access, but not actually manage its storage directly. As long as podcasts aren’t a licensed content the way music and videos are, I expect podcasts to be treated like this.

And since Apple doesn’t license the podcasts for redistribution (and I see no reason why they might consider doing that), they won’t host it on iCloud. And if it’s not in iCloud, it won’t be in iTunes.

And that’s why I think you’ll see a Podcast app in IOS 6. It’s a way to make this transition without abandoning podcasts, and also without kicking the existing podcast app developers in the knee too hard.

Not as much fun to speculate on, but I think it’s a lot more likely, given how Apple thinks about these things…