Apple, Spotify roll out improved user experiences for podcast listeners
Two of the biggest names in the podcast distribution game have announced significant upgrades to their services. Apple and Spotify are offering some new features they’ll be rolling out to users in the near future. Some of them have already launched.
For Apple users, the change has been a long time coming. Apple’s mobile devices - iPhone/iPad/iPod/Apple Watch - have included a standalone Podcasts app since iOS8 was released back in 2014. In fact, the Apple Podcasts app has been credited with contributing to the boost in podcast listening in the fall of that year, helping draw attention to the launch of the hit podcast Serial.
But for Mac desktop users, podcasts have historically shared limited real estate with movies, TV shows, audio books and music in the desktop iTunes application. As Apple Music became a bigger player in the space, and Apple rolled out bigger investments in video, iTunes arguably became bloated and harder to use. There’s a risk that when a service is doing too many things for too many different types of users, it can threaten some of the unique design and functionality that can make or break a user experience.
This month, Apple finally announced that it’s splitting iTunes up into three pieces - Music, TV and Podcasts will each have their own app. The Podcasts app will be familiar to Apple mobile device users, but for those who aren’t familiar, the Mac site iMore has a very thorough “how to” article that walks you through the desktop app’s features and interface.
In addition, just as the Apple Podcasts app placed a podcast icon front and centre on every iPhone, Macs with the newest operating system will now have a podcast icon in their application dock in the bottom of the screen.
Aside from the new app, Apple released more exciting news for podcast listeners. Apple Podcasts will now use machine-learning technology to index speech in podcasts. That means you’ll be able to do a text search beyond just an episode title or description. The audio itself will now be searchable. Google announced something similar a few months back, but given that the majority of podcast listeners still use Apple products and apps, it’s an important step forward.
Spotify users who listen to podcasts are also in for a better experience. The company is experimenting with playlists that have a mix of music and spoken word content. Short-form news podcasts from publishers including NPR, PRI, and the Wall Street Journal will be interspersed with a user's favourite music tracks (and some new songs as well). This playlist, called Your Daily Drive, is clearly competing with morning and afternoon drive radio shows. It’s already launched in the US, so it will be interesting to see how well it’s received. There aren’t many companies out there in a position to offer this, so kudos to Spotify for giving it a spin.
Spotify is also rolling out a new design for its mobile app to a limited audience, with a much bigger focus on podcasts. It puts “Podcasts” at the top level of navigation in their library, alongside “Music”. This allows for more real estate to be dedicated to their podcasting interface, making the design more user-friendly for podcast listeners.
For podcast creators, Spotify also has a new service on offer. They’ve launched Soundtrap for Storytellers - a program designed to make it easy for podcasts to mix and master their shows. Spotify acquired Soundtrap a couple of years ago when it was a music-focused program, but launched it globally for podcasters last month.
Lastly, Spotify’s “ad studio” is now allowing some of their current large-scale advertisers the ability to target podcast listeners who listen to music playlists. Although not available to many brands at this time, it does allow some advertisers to reach podcast listeners who are not subscribers and do listen to music often on Spotify.
All this comes on the tail end of nearly half a billion US dollars of investment in podcasting by Spotify. They’re in it to win it!
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