Apple's new Podcast app, feeds, and analytics: What you need to know

Apple ended WWDC with a sneak preview of what's coming next for podcasters, and it was a good one. There's not only a new Podcast app on the way as part of iOS 11, but new options for episodes and seasons (!) for podcast feeds, and all-new analytics for podcasters.

What's new in the Podcasts app?

Apple's Podcast app, built into iOS for the last couple of years, is how most mainstream users browse, find, download, and listen to shows. It's getting a new design for iOS 11 and one that looks to be the biggest ever. It starts out with the new design language from iOS 11, but doesn't stop there.

All the tabs have changed, haven't they?

They have! But for the better! There's Listen Now, which is your new home base for anything you've started streaming, downloaded for later, or subscribed to regularly.

Podcasts seems to understand that you might be doing any one of those things, and sometimes juggling between them, at any given time. So, along with big episode titles and cover art, there's a prominent progress bar and time remaining indicator. That makes it super easy to resume any show you've already started.

The Music-style now playing bar, which pops up to the now playing card, also makes it easy to see what's current cued up.

Can you still see your own library of shows, old school style?

Sure can. There's a Library tab that lets you quickly get to Shows, Episodes, Downloaded, and any stations you've created, like Drive Time. You can also see Recently Updated shows.

How do you find new shows to listen to?

There's a Browse tab for that. In it, you can find all the usual featured and recommended shows as well as the top charts if that's your thing.

A Search tab is also there, if you know what you're looking for and just want to find it. You can choose to search for all shows in the Apple Podcasts library or just the shows you've downloaded or subscribed to.

What about machine learning? And seeing what your friends are listening too?

Apple Music got a bunch of updates in iOS 11 geared towards providing you with better recommendations based on machine learning, but also what your friends are listening to. Apple Podcasts doesn't seem to have those feature sets but, since Podcasts has historically followed Music's lead, it's hard to imagine them not coming at some point down the road.

Any sign of a Podcasts app for Mac?

I wish! Apple Podcasts is still part of iTunes for Mac.

What's new in the Apple Podcast feed specification?

Apple's podcasts update this year isn't just client-side deep. The company is adding features at the feed level as well. Better still, Apple is also making these new features open so that other podcast apps can also add them and benefit from them. Hopefully, that'll increase adoption, even beyond the Apple ecosystem.

What are the major changes to Apple's podcast feed spec?

Seasons. Most podcasts started off being entirely episodic, much like blogs. They were based on news and current events and so, when you subscribed to them, it was only logical they'd give you the latest episode first.

Podcasts have grown a lot over the years, though, and now many also come to resemble TV shows with seasons, meant to be listened to from the beginning.

So, Apple is introducing a few new tags to the podcast spec to make those easier to handle.

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What can you do for seasonal shows in the Apple podcast spec?

You can now tag shows as either episodic or seasonal, and declare whether they should be downloaded in traditional reverse-chronological order or in season-respecting chronological order.

So, where you'd previously subscribe and get the latest episode, now you'll be able to subscribe and get the first episode of the current season, for example.

Podcasts can also have both episode and season number tagged. That way, clients like Apple Podcasts will also be able to offer full season downloads, if that's what you want.

Are there new episode types as well?

There are! Podcasts have also evolved to contain a wider variety of content. Sometimes new shows, or new seasons of existing shows, will upload a brief teaser about what's coming and what you can expect. Some shows also upload extras, like after dark or extended content.

Now, when you upload, you can tag not just regular episodes but trailers and bonus episodes as well.

That should let clients better sort and present content, so you can better tell what you're downloading or what you're about to play.

What's Apple Podcasts Analytics?

The biggest surprise at the Apple Podcasts session was the announcement of Podcast Analytics. Similar to App Store analytics, this will let anyone with an Apple Podcasts login see how their shows are doing — and a surprisingly deep level.

How much does Apple Podcasts Analytics cover?

Since it was just a sneak preview, there's still a ton of stuff we don't know about podcast analytics. Obviously, though, is that it can only source data from people who listen to podcasts through the built-in on iOS, and iTunes on Mac and Windows.

So, if your audience primarily listens through Overcast, Pocket Casts, Castro, or another App Store app, they'll be invisible to Apple Podcasts Analytics.

What can Apple Podcasts Analytics show you?

Some pretty cool stuff. In addition to the usual metrics, you can see precisely when listeners drop off during any particular episode. For example, when they skip an add or when they just stop because of a subject or presenter they don't like.

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Wait, does that mean you'll be able to see which hosts should renegotiate their deals?!

Maybe! Data is one thing. Analyzing it is something else entirely.

If advertisers can see ads being skipped, will that jeopardize sponsorships?

Hopefully not. Smart advertisers and the ones playing the long game focus on brand awareness. They know the likelihood of someone needing their product or service at the exact moment they hear an ad for it is purely coincidental. Much more likely is needing something and then remembering that you heard about it in a podcast. Repeatedly.

If anything, fingers crossed it helps increase brand advertising in podcasts.

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What about privacy? Is Apple really tracking my podcasts?

No. Apple's gotten really good at anonymizing user data over the years. Your Apple ID is never associated with Podcasts Analytics and you can reset the data at any time.

When will Apple launch Podcasts Analytics?

Later this year. Apple is in feedback mode right now so, if you're a podcaster, let the company know what you think!

Where can you get more information?

WWDC 2017 featured a session on Apple Podcasts. You can watch it to see many of the changes coming to, the Apple Podcasts spec, and get a sneak peak at Podcast analytics.

Apple Podcasts session at WWDC 2017

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.