Apple Annouces iTunes Podcasting Support

Official Apple support for podcasting by way of iTunes is a much needed shot in the arm for widespread adoption. Simplifying the subscription process will take podcasting from being a thing for geeks willing to fiddle with several apps to get audio files transferred to something easily accessible by computer users of all skill levels. Until we see screenshots of the podcasting support in iTunes 4.9, I’m sure plenty of widespread speculation about how it works will circulate popular podcasting discussion forums and news outlets. This is a much needed change in the status quo. While I applaud all the developers who made podcasting integrate with iTunes up to this point, the experience is far from elegant when compared against the sync process for transferring music content automatically in either Windows Media Player or iTunes.

No word yet from Microsoft’s Windows Media Division on how they will respond to Apple’s plan. They could readily support podcasting with existing tools built into Windows Media Player 10 with some very minor tweaks to support RSS via a plug-in or update to the Player. It’s obvious Microsoft sees the significance of podcasting, as they are a sponsor of The Chris Pirillo Show (which I am a part of) and Bill Gates did a video at MEDC 2005 which he labeled a podcast. Now the question becomes, what will they do next? It’s obvious the company doesn’t like Apple’s leading position in the portable music player space or their commanding lead of the music download market. Here’s a chance to keep one portion of the playing field level.

Specifically, Microsoft needs to support the following 5 components to improve podcasting support for Windows Media Player:

  1. Support for subscribing to podcasts in Windows Media Player. And to counter subscription, a way to unsubscribe. This one is obvious, but necessary for the rest to work.
  2. A living directory of podcasts, possibly based on the structure at iPodder initially, although tying it back to MSN in some way would make it more interesting for the shareholders. This directory would work similar to the radio stations inside WMP, making it easy for anyone with WMP10 installed to browse through the growing list of available podcasts, sorted by genre. If someone finds something they like, a means of adding the podcast to their subscriptions list would be the ideal complement to a directory of podcasts inside the player.
  3. Support for subscription with audio downloads optional. For instance, I may want to know someone published a new show in their podcast feed, but I may not want it downloaded to my hard drive because I’m already behind on listening to shows. With downloading optional on a per show basis, I can easily choose which show I want to monitor and which shows I want to always download to my hard drive.
  4. An Auto Playlist for podcasts. By adding a specific podcast to my Podcast Auto Playlist, Windows Media Player should automatically sync the list with my portable player.
  5. Tracking of which shows I’ve listened to already. Windows Media Player currently supports play count tracking so this should be easy enough. I should be able to see a list of podcasts I haven’t listened to yet, at-a-glance in the Media Library. That way I don’t need to rig an Auto Playlist to only show me things downloaded since date = X, I can know which shows were listened to automatically.

I suggested most of this to Microsoft back in November 2004 at a meeting with some members of the player team and Microsoft Studios while visiting the Redmond campus for another event. I have no idea whether any action is being taken, but it looks like they are falling behind. Time to turn the battleship.

Chris drives this home with a warning message for Windows Media and Windows Mobile. Ignore the market at your own peril, Microsoft.

While Steve Jobs also announced availability of podcasts inside the iTunes Music Store, I don’t find this to be nearly as compelling as basic subscription options. The market will ultimately sort this one out and podcasters need to realize that just like indie musicians, they will be marginalized inside any big store because they don’t have marketing dollars behind them to on the front page like a Gwen Stefani or U2.