Categories
Apple

Why hasn’t Apple prioritized podcasts on the Apple Watch?

Nearly two months after my Apple Watch Series 3 review, my main complaint still stands: it remains prohibitively difficult to play back podcasts from the device.

The native iOS Podcasts app has no equivalent on the Watch, and the “big player” third-party clients don’t support transferring podcast episodes to the wearable device. Overcast removed this feature in the run-up to watchOS 4, citing critical APIs that Apple had removed.

There are several smaller podcast clients that try to work around WatchKit’s hamstrung audio APIs. I’ve tried both Watchcast and Watch Player. The latter app has made some strides recently by allowing direct podcast browsing and downloading on the Watch itself, but the entire process is very clunky. It’s a bad sign when an app’s first-launch experience includes a twelve-page tutorial packed with caveats and disclaimers. During a recent test, I was able to successfully download an episode, but actually listening to the show proved impossible; I would tap the play button, but nothing would happen.

Users shouldn’t blame third-party developers for the Watch’s podcast unfriendliness. The real question here? In the two-and-a-half years since the Watch first launched, why hasn’t Apple prioritized podcasts? Here are some possible explanations:

  • The Apple Watch is too resource-constrained to support podcast playback. It’s true; the original, “Series 0” Apple Watch was severely limited in both speed and battery life. But that’s no longer the case with the Series 3. In six weeks of daily Watch use, including frequent workouts, my battery hasn’t dipped below 50%—let alone dwindled anywhere near a complete discharge. And given how snappily the new model launches apps, it seems unlikely that CPU speed remains a concern.
  • Podcasts aren’t popular enough. Once upon a time, podcasts were a niche medium, beloved by nerds but foreign to everyday users. That’s not the case now. Podcast audiences continue to grow, and runaway hits like Serial prove the format’s broad appeal.
  • A related guess: Apple is simply engineering-constrained, and podcasts were low on the punch list. We’ve heard rumors that Apple shuffles engineers between projects to hit its deadlines. And many projects’ engineering teams are surprisingly small. Given these limited skilled resources, it seems possible (even likely?) that Apple simply hasn’t gotten around to building a legit podcast app (and/or serviceable public APIs) yet.

Whatever Apple’s reasoning, I hope the Watch’s podcast situation gets remedied soon. I’m tired of strapping on an iPhone fanny pack every time I go running. ■

Categories
Internet

Only monsters speed up podcasts

Most modern podcast clients let listeners speed up playback, and the resulting audio is surprisingly decent. The pitch doesn’t shift (remember the “Chipmunks effect”?), and the average podcaster is still intelligible.

Faster playback gives listeners time for more podcasts—a welcome perk, since the library of available shows continues to grow exponentially. As the market explodes, faster playback seems like a no-brainer: more great conversations, no additional time commitment. What’s not to like?

My advice? Don’t do it. Keep that playback speed locked at 1x. While you’re at it, turn off clever features like Overcast’s “Smart Speed”, which saves time by cropping out silence.

Yes, enabling these options saves you time, but they have nasty side effects better left avoided. Consider:

  • Fast playback discourages thoughtful listening. Artful speakers use long pauses and measured cadences very intentionally. By slowing down, they give the audience time to sit with an intriguing idea, to chew on a tough concept, or to ask introspective questions. You lose all that by artificially rushing past the quiet.
  • Fast playback makes you a worse speaker. Because we spend so much time with them, podcasters have become our models for normal human speech. If your favorite podcast’s hosts are chattering away at 2x, your own speaking cadence will likely speed up, too. You might not notice the difference, but others will. “Why is Matt talking like a crazy person?”
  • Fast playback accommodates overconsumption and busyness. Podcast accleration treats the symptom without addressing the underlying cause. Solve the real problem: you’re too busy. If you can’t get through your podcast queue at 1x, consider paring down your list instead of rushing through it.

Of course, as a podcaster, I’m conflicted here. On the one hand, I want my listeners to hear my normal speaking cadence. On the other, if fast playback gives them time to catch today’s episode of Careful Tech? Who am I to judge? Accelerate away. ■


  1. Bunny and headphones artwork courtesy of Vecteezy.