Podcast listeners are a relatively small, yet loyal group. While others spend their daily commute or house-cleaning time listening to music, podcast fans listen to people talk, constantly filling their heads with both valuable knowledge and worthless inanities. These fans have always been well-equipped if they use Android phones. The Google Listen app allows users to subscribe to their favorite feeds, and have them update automatically via a data connection or Wi-Fi.
Podcast listeners on iOS, though, have been stuck syncing their phones to iTunes, sorting out their podcasts among the rest of the audio on their device. Either that, or turning to one of the few unofficial podcast listening apps in the App Store. It's been a shame, really, since iTunes was the platform that allowed podcasting to decisively take off as a medium. Finally, though, rumors began circulating earlier this week that a podcast app would be coming with the launch of iOS 6.
Today Apple surprised everyone by releasing a dedicated Podcast app for iOS. The app is simply called "Podcasts," and allows users to search and subscribe to thousands of podcasts. Most of the features of the Podcast section of iTunes have made it into the app. Apple will promote "Top Stations" in a variety of categories including comedy, news, and sports. Top charts will be displayed in the Podcasts app, and episodes can be streamed or downloaded for later listening, over data or Wi-Fi. Apple has also thrown some minimal social support into the app, allowing users to Tweet, message, or email podcast episodes. iTunes sync is a feature of the Podcasts app, though in this case it syncs playback of episodes, meaning seamless transition between Apple devices such as iPods and iPads.
An official podcast app from Apple should be worrying to 3rd-party podcast apps such as Stitcher. The functionality of the new Podcasts app looks to encompass everything users were looking for in those 3rd-party solutions, along with built-in iTunes integration. The new app is available for free in iTunes and the Apple App Store. It requires iOS 5.1 or later, and the iTunes syncing feature requires iTunes 10.6.3 or later.