If you haven’t kept up with the news, or have been ignoring the incessant iOS update reminders, iOS 11 is now available to all iPhone and iPad users. It’s up to you (and how new your phone is) if you want to upgrade, but like most iOS updates it comes with some new UI changes, minor tweaks only diehards would notice without being prompted. One large area of change, however, is with the native Podcasts app.
The native Podcasts app — the one that comes standard with every iPhone with the purple icon — has long been ignored. This oversight has opened the doors and allowed third-party podcast streaming apps like Overcast, Castro, and Pocket Casts to gain a substantial footing with Apple owners. This change addresses some of the more popular features from other podcast apps and seems to have finally listened to user feedback.
The Podcasts change with iOS 11 shouldn’t come as a surprise, the changes were highlighted at Apple’s annual WWDC event. At WWDC, notoriously-guarded Apple also uncharacteristically unveiled some consumption numbers relating to podcasts:
- 400,000 podcasts
- 14,000,000 episodes
- 155 countries
- 10 million episode downloads
However, seeing the changes in a demo and working with them hands-on are completely different. Change is typically met with some resistance, but overall I think the majority of the changes are for the better. Here are the key changes and my reactions.
The bottom navigation is slightly tweaked with four tabs: Listen Now, Library, Browse, and Search.
Listen Now — the latest episodes (or resume play) for podcasts you’re subscribed to
Library — repository of the channels you’re subscribed to, default sorted by recently updated
Browse — discover new podcasts, curated lists, top charts
Search — search all podcasts or your library
What I Like
The Listen Now is a much-needed feature and a large upgrade over the existing Unplayed tab. Exiting or restarting the app will make it much easier to resume already-played podcasts or simply check out what’s new.
If you’ve read this site before, you know my biggest issue with the current podcast landscape is the issue around discoverability. In the podcast world, the rich get richer. Listen Now helps address this by displaying (I’m assuming) algorithmic recommendations by shows with a new feature they call Listeners Also Like. Though I’ve seen this feature on other people’s phones, mine is mysteriously missing. Unsure if it’s a bug or a setting I’m missing, but I’m eager to get it.
The tiles used in Listen Now and Library are more aesthetically pleasing than the listed UI (yes, I know you could previously toggle it).
Browse looks similar to the UI of the existing iTunes Podcasts section, albeit with a helpful facelift. I still believe this is the area where if Apple put more effort and resources could be the most helpful to all podcast listeners by presenting helpful curated podcasts based on personal recommendations (Spotify already does it).
What Should Change
Admittedly, this could simply be a result of how I organize and listen to my podcasts, however, I like to prioritize my podcast channels and then be notified if any of those channels have new episodes. So the user experience hierarchy would be by podcast channel (Apple calls these Shows), and then new episodes. In Listen Now your only option is by episode rather than show. Though this might be preferred to some, I’d like the option to sort by either. This sorting method will undoubtedly help podcasts who produce more frequently, like The Daily, and hurt those producing fewer episodes like Hardcore History.
If you organize like me, the best workaround I discovered is through the Library and then you can sort by Shows, Downloaded Episodes, or Episodes. For me, sorting by Show and then manually adjusting the order is how I prefer to view my podcasts and prioritize my listening schedule. But, whatever works for you.
After doing some brief testing with Search, I don’t think it’s powerful enough to be a true discovery mechanism to find a new podcast. Obviously you can search by the podcast title, and even by genre, but I think it’s still crawling the podcast show name, podcast episode title, and episode description to surface the results.
Possibly the biggest change to the Podcasts app with iOS 11 is for podcasters themselves. The much-anticipated increased analytics and user behavior data that everyone’s (read: advertisers) been chomping at the bit to get. Haven’t had a chance to see this in person yet, but stay tuned.
If you’re looking for a more detailed walkthrough of the new app, The MacObserver goes through the ins and outs of the entire app.