If you’re a podcast fan who’s among the growing number of Apple Watch owners (Apple was estimated to have sold about 8 million watches last holiday season), you might have been frustrated with the smartwatch’s lack of meaningful support for podcast listening. Sure, the Apple Watch may keep you connected to Twitter during your morning “runs,” but if you wanted a steady dose of Night Vale flowing into your ears during those workouts, you were generally out of luck … until now!
During its WWDC developer conference this past week, Apple announced that its official Podcast app will finally be available on Apple Watch as part of its free WatchOS 5 update. The update is set to roll out later in the fall. The new smartwatch app will feature a host of tiny improvements that collectively amount to a better experience: It will automatically sync your podcast subscriptions with the ones on your iPhone, so you can manage the podcast listening experience without having to fiddle with your headphone remote or whipping out your mobile device mid-stride, and you can stream episodes over WiFi or cellular connection, which is something third-party apps that tried to plug the smartwatch podcast gap hadn’t been able to provide so far.
Apple also dropped a few other nifty data points to savor during its podcast-specific presentation, including the fact that Apple Podcasts now hosts more than 550,000 active shows — which complements its April disclosure that the platform has surpassed 50 billion all-time podcast streams and downloads — and that Stuff You Should Know, the flagship podcast of the Atlanta-based HowStuffWorks network, has become the first show to cross the 500 million all-time stream and download mark.
The smartwatch support announcement was perhaps the biggest podcast news coming out of this year’s conference. It might seem like small potatoes compared to last year’s bombshell disclosure that the tech giant was finally going to provide in-episode podcast analytics, thus granting publishers with more granular insight into how their shows are performing on what remains the most important distribution platform in the business. That was an answer to something many publishers have been asking for a while, and it is something whose industry-wide ramifications continue to be felt.
One way to read this development is to see it as part of a broader effort to build out a mobile computing experience that’s no longer principally tethered to the smartphone, further enforcing the idea that the way we connect to the internet now will certainly not be how to relate to it in the future. And as much as creators, publishers, and distributors of podcasts need to worry about the way they do business on the internet today, it probably behooves them to pay close attention to where business on the internet may go tomorrow.