Hey Apple, iOS 5 Needs Newsstand for Podcasts!

Posted on 12 October 2011 By Ben Lang


ios 5 podcastiOS 5 was introduced in June, and shortly thereafter, we noted that Apple completely ignored making the much-needed upgrades to their podcast support.

iOS 5 was announced 5 months ago and went through 8 beta releases, and yet podcast support has remained completely untouched. Sure, podcasts are free (which is probably why Apple isn’t paying attention to them), but come on, Apple! You’ve build a perfect model of how podcasts should work, but you did it with digital periodicals instead!

Apple’s new Newsstand application, which is part of iOS 5, allows users to purchase periodicals through the App Store, which will then go to the Newsstand (which is like a little folder on your home screen to hold those purchases). By purchasing such periodicals, you are purchasing a subscription. The function of Newsstand is to automatically download the latest version of your subscriptions, in the background, and without your intervention. This is exactly what podcasts are lacking!

Not only has podcast support not been strengthened in iOS 5, it’s actually been reduced in a way. Previously, you could subscribe to podcasts through iTunes on your computer, and the latest episode would be put on your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch when you performed a sync. Now that Apple has “cut the cord” with iOS 5, allowing devices to be configured and used sans a computer, there is no longer any native option to subscribe to podcasts for devices configured this way!

Many of you might say “well, just go find an app”, but unfortunately that isn’t an option. As with other apps, Apple sometimes cheats with their own applications — any normal third-party application cannot download such files in the background, or make background checks for new subscriptions. This means that if we are to get reasonable podcast support in iOS 5 or beyond, it is up to Apple to provide the functionality.

While you can see and listen to any podcast available on iTunes through the iTunes app on any iOS 5 or prior version of the software, there is absolutely no way to subscribe or have new episodes downloaded for you (aside from the half-baked sync method which requires a computer and manual syncing). It’s up to to the user to go into the iTunes app, search for their favorite podcast, then check the dates to see if a new episode has arrived.

I find it hard to believe that it would be that difficult for Apple to employ a podcast subscription solution similar to what they’ve done with digital periodicals with Newsstand. Hell, they might even be able to find an extra revenue stream by allowing podcast authors to charge for subcriptions to their shows, or to include iAds in podcasts.

As I said in my prior article on podcasts and iOS 5, “for a company that invented the product that is the namesake of the term, Apple has done a paltry job of handling podcasting on iOS devices.”

27 Responses to “Hey Apple, iOS 5 Needs Newsstand for Podcasts!”

  1. Alan Hart says:

    I think this is pathetic too, but it would appear that apps now can download in the background – no?

    Podcaster, Pocket Casts, Downcast, iCatcher, InstaCast… certainly several of these claim to support it on the right devices.

  2. The answer is easy: Apple does not make any money on podcasts. And that is because podcasts are files outside of the iTunes store that everybody can download as he sees fit. If there were a system for Apple to sell paid subscriptions to podcasts, then we would see the Pod-Stand fairly quickly.

    We should file a Radar with this request.

  3. Ben Lang says:

    Any background downloading from third-party apps has to be initiated by the user. So these apps work by allowing you to subscribe to podcasts, send you a notification when a new episode comes in, then you have to launch the app, initiate the download (or the app could do it automatically once launched), then (on devices that support backgrounding), the podcasts may download in the background while you do other stuff on your device.

    This is far from the dream of subscribe -> notification that says “The latest episode of podcast X is ready for you!”

  4. Ben Lang says:

    Apple could create a podcast marketplace if they wanted to. I’m actually surprised they haven’t, given the lucrativeness that they’ve found with the app store. But yes, I agree that it isn’t a priority for them because it doesn’t currently make them any money.

  5. Jon says:

    I fully agree. With all the cord cutting talk at the iOS 5 announcement, I was sure Apple would include auto-downloading of podcasts.

    Fortunately, I have an always-on Mac on which auto-downloads podcasts in iTunes. I setup my iPod with wireless sync and this takes care of the problem. While it’s not the solution for everyone, it’s a workaround for some.

    One last thing, the Apple TV supports podcasts, and automatically links to the most recent episode for streaming. In this sense, it seems to go one step beyond what the iPhone, iPod, and iPad do.

  6. Apple stock price goes up only as long as they keep on dripping features on us that we really need. (sort of like Adobe products)

    If they release all the really obvious updates at once, the sales stagnate after the over-release and the stock price goes down.

    Don’t expect to get everything that makes sense, all at once. They’re smarter than that, and we….uh….aren’t….lol

  7. Mike says:

    Also cannot cut the cord when it comes to loading files into apps, how am I supposed to get my documents into an app if I’ve “cut the cord”? We used to do it through the app tab in iTunes, but I don’t have iTunes or a computer anymore right?

  8. John Orton says:

    “I setup my iPod with wireless sync and this takes care of the problem. ”
    How do you do this? Seems to contradict the original question. Before i go to work I want to able to wirelessly sync podcasts I download on my laptop without having to physically connect to it.
    Thanks.

  9. John Orton says:

    Ahhhh! Found out!
    Wheeee!

  10. georg says:

    This annoyed me so much I switched to a Samsung Focus with MS Mango. Podcasts are a native solution and downloaded automatically. Used the iPhone since 3 years. Well, still use my iPad. But you are right, it’s pathetic what Apple is doing in this regard

  11. Ken says:

    Glad to hear there are others frustrated by this. Just got my 4GS setup and was hoping for auto podcast updates without having to enter iTunes. Alas, as we all know, that is not the case. At least I can now wirelessly sync, but still have to update in iTunes. This is very frustrating. I have dozens of podcasts that I listen to each week and certainly will not manually check each one, from the iPhone, as to whether there is a new podcast. It’s very unfortunate to STILL have to go into iTunes to get the updated podcasts.

  12. Alex says:

    Ben, are you sure about that? Have you looked at an app called Downcast? Based on everything I’m hearing and reading about it, it does download podcasts in the background. (without user initiation) Now, being that I haven’t actually tried it I could be dead wrong – but it *appears* to be doing it.

  13. mel says:

    I haven’t upgraded to iOS 5 yet… but one thing is certain. If podcasts go to paid subscriptions, I’m dropping all that go from free to a paid model. That is not good. To me it is a good thing that Apple is not including podcasts into Newsstand. That keeps podcasts for now FREE through iTunes.

    I don’t like apps or anything that levies another monthly $ubscription on me. I long ago stopped subscribing to paper magazines. Why would I want to start subscribing to electronic versions???? No to paid e-mags or paid podcasts.

    Life is too expensive as is already.

  14. Mattand says:

    Hey, Ben:

    Thanks for writing this. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but it looks like iOS 5 broke the bookmarking for podcasts.

    My default podcast mode is to listen to them on my iMac, and finish them up on my iPod when I’m out-and-about. For example, I’m listening to MacBreak Weekly on my iMac and I’m 35 minutes in. I sync my iPod and then finish it while I’m walking the dog.

    Since I upgrade to iOS 5, the iPod ignores the podcast’s bookmark on the iMac. I litterally have to remember what time I stopped listening and adjust on the iPod.

    If I’m reading this article correctly, I have to manually update them from now on. This stinks. Royally. I remember Jobs being incredibly dismissive of podcasts early on; I wonder if this attitude is finally taking root in iOS 5

    Any help is appreciated. Thanks again for the article.

  15. sharpcolorado says:

    I use iOS5 on my iPhone 4S, and have a few free and paid daily Podcast subscriptions.

    Stitcher Radio works for me – the audio plays immediately in a streaming mode, rather than downloading. No intervention is required. If the Podcast exists, it plays.

  16. John Orton says:

    @Alex
    Thanks for the lead on Downcast – it has transformed my life! Not sure if it’s for other posters but for me it’s leagues ahead of iTunes / iOS5 in usability.
    I don’t care there’s no Newstand!

  17. LAura says:

    Totally agree with you, I’m a podcast addict and the lack of these services into the new itunes ios 5 really sucks, hope Apple fix this soon and also that returns the “return 30 secs” option.

  18. Joe says:

    Just a quick note on background downloading and podcast apps (i made iCatcher!). Basically when an app goes to the background in iOS it is given a limited amount of time to complete any background task. Once that time is up, if the app is not playing a podcast it is suspended by the OS. That means it can’t refresh podcasts or download during that time. That’s why you have to launch the app to get it to refresh again and start the downloads.

    If you have the app(s) open, but the screen is off/locked it can still refresh and download podcasts because it is still running.

  19. Ben Lang says:

    Hey Joe, thanks for the info. How long is the background window? Also, as far as I’m aware, only specific tasks can happen in the background. Is that correct?

  20. Joe says:

    The window for tasks has been about 600 seconds so 10 minutes. That amount depends on system resources. Pretty much any task can be executing during that short timeframe. Outside of that your app can run in the background if it is playing audio,performing VOIP or GPS related things

  21. Ken says:

    Thanks for your useful articles on iOS 5 podcasts, Ben. I’ve linked to two of them from my blog (hopefully including my URL in this comment will not set off an Internet infinite loop…), where I continue to update my own comments on differences between over-the-air “subscribing” to and using podcasts in iOS 4 vs iOS 5 here:

    http://kenamored.blogspot.com/2011/10/ios-4-vs-ios-5-podcasts.html

    Isn’t this Apple, the company with user experience sensibility? Virtually every change I have noticed has been for the worse.

  22. Ben says:

    Care to share, John?

  23. Ben Lang says:

    Hey Ken, thanks for your link here. I don’t use podcast regularly, specifically because the poor support on iOS devices, so I didn’t know of the specific changes (for the worse) that Apple made from prior versions of iOS to iOS 5! This is even worse than I initially expected!

    It’s a real shame that this rich media isn’t being given the same treatment as written digital publications. I think 95% of the reason Apple isn’t paying attention is because they don’t stand to profit directly from the improvement of podcast support.

  24. Sin Jeong-hun says:

    This behaviour is maybe intended to earn money.

    I had been using iPod Touch since earily 2009 to this summer (2011). I have used iOS 2.3 to 4.3. And exactly, this had been the most annoying thing. iPod Touch has no 3G connection, so I must download podcasts before leaving home. I wrote about this in the Apple’s discussion site, but no luck. There was no third-party app that could update the podcasts (except one app that keeps a separate podcast system aside from the built-in system).

    I had to turn on and start iTunes everyday just to update podcasts. While the podcasts were being downloaded, naturally I spent some time browsing the iTunes store, for new apps.

    Automatic updating of podcasts are technically very easy. I think Apple engineers implement it less than a week. But I think Apple want people to start iTunes and spend their time browsing the iTunes store. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they implement such an easy feature?

  25. Michael says:

    “Sure, podcasts are free”

    Not all of them. I subscribe to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast, only the first hour of which is free.

    The full 3-hour show requires a special subscription URL from their paid website, mytmmo.com

    Never have been able to figure out how I’d get those podcasts if I “cut the cord” from my iPhone to my computer.

  26. Ken says:

    Whoops, it appears I came to the wrong conclusion comparing an iOS 4 iPod to an iOS 5 iPad (“Apples to…Apples”?). I haven’t upgraded my own iPod to iOS 5, but a friend showed me that the functionality I value is *still there* on an iPod so upgraded. I updated my blog entry accordingly.

    I no longer remember the details of iOS 4 iPod app functionality before it was split into the Music app and the Videos app in iOS 5. The nature of my podcast use on the iPod versus the iPad differed, so on the latter I never had a need to view the text of the podcast within the iPod app, if indeed that was ever visible there in iOS 4.

    It is odd that under iOS 5 there is *less* functionality in the iPad Music app than in the iPod Music app, but maybe that was the case even in iOS 4 (when it was the iPod app [Music + Videos together] on the iPad).

    The upshot is that on iOS 5, the Music app functions differently on the iPad than it does on the iPod, and the latter has more functionality.

  27. Ken says:

    I just discovered:

    http://www.tuaw.com/2011/10/12/ios-5-features-changes-in-music-app-for-ipad/

    whose article and comments reveal greater detail than I had previously known about how Apple changed the iPad’s iOS 5 Music app from its more user-friendly previous incarnation as the iPod app in iOS 4. Many people report newfound pain.