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Posts tagged with "podcasts"

Apple Launches Oprah’s Book Club Podcast Featuring 8-Part Series on Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

Last month, Oprah Winfrey declared Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson one of her most important Book Club selections ever and announced several related tie-ins with Apple services, including Apple News, Books, Music, and Podcasts. In the announcement, Winfrey commented that:

“This might be the most important book I’ve ever chosen for my book club,” said Oprah Winfrey. “‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ provides a new way of seeing racial inequality, giving rise to countless aha moments and helping us truly understand America as it is now and how we hope it will be.”

Today, Apple and Winfrey extended coverage of Caste even further with an eight-episode podcast series hosted by Winfrey and Wilkerson that will “take listeners through the 8 Pillars of Caste.” A trailer and the first episode are available now. Episode one covers “what called [Wilkerson] to write Caste, how society needs a new way to talk about racism and why Oprah says Caste is one of the most profound books she’s ever read.”

Apple’s relationship with Winfrey dates back to June 2018 when she and the company announced a multi-year partnership to create original programming for Apple’s platforms. Oprah’s Book Club was launched in 2019 as a cross-over project that integrates Apple Books and TV+. With Caste, Apple and Winfrey are flexing their ability to leverage several services at once like never before, providing customers with a wide variety of ways to learn more about the book and its important subject matter, which is something I expect we’ll see more of in the future from Apple.

The Oprah’s Book Club podcast is available as a free download in the Apple Podcasts app and other podcast players.


Podcasting on iPad Pro and Mac: A Streamlined Approach with the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II

Anyone new to a job has probably thought or even asked:

“Why do you do it that way?”

and gotten the age-old answer:

“Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

It’s human nature to stick with a solution that works and is familiar. When a workflow is so ingrained that it’s a habit, that’s good because it allows the task to become less about the tools and more about what you’re creating.

Paradoxically, though, familiarity can also lead to inflexibility, a resistance to change that undermines the very productivity that the solution enabled in the first place. It’s an inertial force that’s hard to resist, but I think it’s important to push back against it. Not solely for the sake of efficiency, but also to improve the results of your efforts.

The trick is knowing when experimentation with new workflows is unproductive fiddling and when it’s meaningful exploration. I’ve seen too many people fall into the trap where improving the process becomes the goal itself.

Early last year, I decided I was finished with letting tasks dictate how I work. I work across the Mac, an iPad Pro, and an iPhone all day long. Some jobs are more suited to one device than another, and some I just prefer to do on a particular device. The point is, though, that it’s something I want to be my choice, instead of something foisted on me by the nature of the work itself.

I’m fortunate that most of what I do migrates effortlessly from one device to another. Still, I’ve historically had two weekly responsibilities where I’ve felt tied to a Mac.

The first was producing the Club MacStories newsletters using Mailchimp’s web app. As I wrote last January, Safari’s updates in iOS and iPadOS 13, which made web apps work roughly the same on my iPad Pro as on my Mac, solved that problem for me.

The second Mac-bound task was podcast recording and production. I recognize that there have been ways to accomplish podcasting on an iPad for a while. However, when it comes to recording in particular, I didn’t want to change the way I record episodes to work around the iPad’s limitations for the same reasons Federico articulated in Beyond the Tablet.

What made these two tasks frustrating is that they’re both tied to schedules that have limited flexibility. When I was traveling more, that left me with little choice but to take a Mac. I prefer to travel with my iPad Pro, but regardless, I’d rather pick how I work myself, even when I’m at home.

I’m not doing as much traveling now, but a recent road trip to Michigan led me to start thinking about my podcasting setup again. As with many trips in the past, I wound up taking my MacBook Pro along, in this case so I could record interviews for an episode of AppStories. The setup was perfectly fine, but it felt like too much equipment for recording a few short interviews. Plus, I took my iPad Pro because I prefer it for writing and wanted to stay connected to mobile data as I wrote a story in the car.

Ever since Jason Snell wrote about his iPad Pro podcasting setup on Six Colors early last year, and Federico adapted it for his setup when he can’t use his Mac mini, I’ve wanted to try something similar. What held me back, though, was a combination of the complexity, cost, and infrequency with which I assumed I’d use the setup.

I also held out hope that iPadOS 13 or 14 would include improved audio routing that would make it possible to talk on Skype and record a local audio track. That hasn’t happened. Although I expect Apple will add that functionality eventually, it’s been 18 months since Safari solved my Mailchimp problem. With only podcasting standing in the way of my goal of device independence, and no software solution from Apple in the early iPadOS 14 betas, I figured it was time to revisit my hardware options.

I wanted a solution that worked equally well when I’m sitting at my Mac or iPad, allowing me to talk over Skype and record myself locally. What I discovered was an incredibly versatile solution that accomplishes in a single device what Snell and Federico cleverly constructed from a field recorder and USB audio interface: the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II.

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Connected Trio Host Interview with Members of Apple’s iPad Team

Federico, Stephen, and Myke had a special surprise on this week’s episode of Connected, their podcast about Apple, technology, and general shenanigans. Episode 301, titled We Should Be Developers, features an interview with Apple’s Jenny Chen, who works on the Apple Pencil team, and Stephen Tonna, who works in iPad product marketing.

The interview covers the new Scribble feature in iPadOS 14 and other Apple Pencil enhancements, the philosophy behind iPad app design, including the new sidebars and dropdown menus of iPadOS 14, and also how the iPad’s versatility of input methods needs to be kept in mind by app developers.

There are a ton of great insights into how Apple’s team thinks about the iPad and approaches its evolution. If you’re an iPad user, you won’t want to miss it.

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Castro Debuts Extensive Siri and Shortcuts Podcast Controls

One of my favorite podcast clients, Castro, debuted a big update today that adds a host of Siri commands and strong Shortcuts support.

There are now 30 requests you can make of Castro through Siri, which can access all the world’s open podcasts. We know it can be hard to remember them all, so we made a handy reference guide in Settings → Siri where you can find what you’re looking for to make your day a little easier.

Besides the wide extent of possible commands in Castro, what’s especially impressive is the guide referenced above: Castro’s team has built an excellent Siri Guide and a related in-app Shortcuts Gallery, both of which are accessible via settings and highlight simply and beautifully what all is possible with Siri and Shortcuts.

Castro’s Siri Guide and Shortcuts Gallery.

Castro’s Siri Guide and Shortcuts Gallery.

Discovery is one of the biggest challenges I’ve found with apps that support Siri and Shortcuts, as apps seldom make a list available of all supported voice commands and actions. With both Siri and Shortcuts, I’ve struggled in the past to find great podcast-related uses for these features, but Castro solved that problem for me.

On the Siri front, skipping chapters and managing my queue via voice works great. With Shortcuts, Castro offers some great pre-built shortcuts that do things like import your full Apple Podcasts library, clear all your queued episodes, subscribe to a new show even when you don’t have a proper Castro link, and more. While it’s always nice having the tools to build something custom, as someone who isn’t a heavy Shortcuts tinkerer I appreciate the work put in by Castro’s team to offer users extra functionality with minimal effort.


Sofa Debuts Modern iPad App, Rich Themes Experience, and More

I suspect I’m not alone in saying that 2020 has been a big year for personal media consumption. The absence of normal social events has meant more time for reading, watching shows and movies, and other forms of relaxation.

At the end of last year I wrote about how I was using Sofa, a media list app, to track the TV and films I’d watched in 2019. I’ve used the same approach throughout 2020, and it continues to work well for me. The only change is that I’ve been testing a big update to Sofa for the last few weeks that’s available now. Previously exclusive to the iPhone, Sofa now offers a rich iPad experience complete with Split View, Slide Over, and multiwindowing, keyboard shortcuts, and mouse and trackpad support. Additionally, today’s update adds a robust theming system to the app and seamless iCloud syncing. It’s a strong step forward for the app, making it more versatile than ever before.

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Apple Podcasts Adds Curated Collections to Help Listeners Stay Informed, Calm, and Entertained During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads worldwide, there’s a lot of information coming at everyone all day long. It’s a stressful time, and it doesn’t help that people are stuck at home with more time than usual on their hands, and often, kids to entertain.

To help people cope, the Apple Podcasts editorial team has put together curated collections of podcasts. The ‘Coronavirus: Stay Informed’ collection draws on shows from respected, reputable news sources like CNN, NPR, the BBC, and ABC News. The shows spotlighted are excellent resources staying on top of the latest news.

However, because dealing with stressful times extends beyond keeping up-to-date with the developments, Apple Podcasts has three other collections too:

  • ‘Cultivating Calm,’ which is designed to help listens cope with current events and includes shows like Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Conversations and On Being with Krista Tippett
  • ‘Boredom Busters,’ which features absorbing shows like This American Life and Jungle Prince from The New York Times
  • Shows for Kids,’ which has shows to help kids explore and cultivate their natural curiosity and includes NPR’s Wow in the World, Ologies with Alie Ward, and many others

Each collection is available in the Browse tab of the Apple Podcasts app on all of the company’s platforms.

I’ve had most of my whole family at home all week, and it’s been an adjustment for everyone. My work life hasn’t changed much, but it has been a new experience for my wife and two of our kids who are working and going to school alongside me every day now. Despite those obligations, staying at home has meant that everyone has more time on their hands, which is why it’s terrific to see Apple promoting a wide range of podcasts to help people stay informed, calm, and entertained through these difficult times.


Jason Snell on Editing Podcasts with Ferrite on an iPad with the Apple Pencil

Jason Snell has edited a lot of podcasts. In fact, The Incomparable, the flagship show of his media and pop culture podcast network of the same name, just reached episode 500.

Since last summer, Snell has been using Ferrite by Wooji Juice to edit nearly every episode of The Incomparable on his iPad with the Apple Pencil. I’ve heard him describe his iPad and Apple Pencil workflow on podcasts before, but there’s nothing like seeing it in action, which you can now do on the Six Colors YouTube channel.

What struck me most about Snell’s video is how natural direct manipulation of multiple audio tracks looks. I’ve always done all of my podcast editing on a Mac with Logic Pro X, but after watching Snell edit an episode with multiple guests, I look forward to trying this myself.

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Overcast Refines Podcast Listening with AirPlay 2 Support and a New Version of Voice Boost

Overcast, Marco Arment’s iOS podcast player, received its first update of 2020 today, which enhances the listening experience with improvements focused on playback and audio quality.

Today’s update adds support for AirPlay 2, which means much faster switching between devices like an iPhone or iPad and a HomePod or another AirPlay 2 speaker or device. AirPlay 2 also buffers more audio than Apple’s original AirPlay technology. As a result, Overcast can continue playing a podcast episode even if you are temporarily out of range of the AirPlay 2 receiver.

I’m delighted that Overcast supports AirPlay 2 now. I often listen to podcasts as I’m doing things around my house. When I move to a room with one of my HomePods, the process of switching to the HomePod from my iPhone’s built-in speaker is much faster and smoother now, whether I use Control Center or tap my phone on the top of the HomePod. The delay with the original version of AirPlay wasn’t a deal-breaker, but it was a constant small annoyance that kept me from using AirPlay with Overcast most of the time. With AirPlay 2 baked into the app, I’m using my HomePods to listen to podcasts far more than ever before.

There's a lot going on under the hood with Voice Boost 2, but you don't need to understand the details to enjoy it.

There’s a lot going on under the hood with Voice Boost 2, but you don’t need to understand the details to enjoy it.

The latest version of Overcast also adds Voice Boost 2. The feature has been rebuilt from the ground up, and the results are subtle but noticeable. The first time I played a podcast using Voice Boost 2 over my iPhone’s speaker in a noisy environment, I immediately sensed the difference. Where in the past, I would have to turn the volume up all the way to hear a podcast over constant, loud background noise like running water, now I can turn the volume down and still listen to what was said and with less distortion.

Over the weeks I’ve been testing the update to Overcast, Voice Boost 2’s volume and clarity improvements have become the ‘new normal,’ making the difference feel less pronounced than they were at first. However, that’s also why the update to the feature is so good. The change is so natural that you don’t notice it except side-by-side with the old version of the feature or another podcast player.

Under the hood, Voice Boost 2 has been entirely re-written and draws on Arment’s experience editing hundreds of podcast episodes. As he describes it in a post on Marco.org:

Voice Boost 2 is a mastering-quality audio-processing pipeline that applies broadcast-standard loudness normalization, light compression and EQ, and a true-peak lookahead limiter to your podcasts, in real time, without sacrificing quality or battery life.

You don’t need to understand what that means to appreciate Voice Boost 2, but Overcast is applying sophisticated, professional-grade audio processing techniques on the fly to generate audio that sounds more natural and is less jarring in contrast to system audio like Siri. Moreover, Overcast accomplishes this while using hardly any CPU resources (1% on an iPhone SE according to Arment), which means you get the benefits of Voice Boost 2 without paying a high price in battery drain. Voice Boost 2 is a remarkable technical accomplishment with practical, real-world benefits that make listening to podcasts more enjoyable.

According to Arment, Smart Speed has been updated to handle background noise better, too. The feature works the same way as it always has, but now it relies on dynamically changing based on Voice Boost’s loudness analysis. I haven’t noticed a difference here, but shows I listen to regularly don’t have a lot of background noise.

Overcast has added the ability to skip a show's intro and outro from its settings.

Overcast has added the ability to skip a show’s intro and outro from its settings.

Overcast also includes a couple of other smaller features in this release too. First, you can set a number of seconds to skip at the beginning and end of an episode on a per-podcast basis, which allows you to skip a show’s intro and outro. The period can be set in five-second increments and is a nice addition for shows with long intros and outros that you’ve heard over and over and would prefer to skip, though it’s not a feature I expect to use personally.

Second, clip sharing and starring episodes are now available for private podcast feeds. I haven’t tried this feature because I don’t subscribe to any private feeds, but it’s good to see those features added to private feeds too.

The most significant changes to Overcast in this update are completely invisible to the user but have a considerable impact on how podcasts are enjoyed. With Voice Boost 2 and AirPlay 2 support, Overcast makes your favorite shows sound better, and they are easier to enjoy on more devices, which is a significant improvement for anyone who listens to podcasts in a lot of different environments and contexts.

Overcast 2020.1 is available on the App Store as a free update.


Apple Podcasts Now Available on Amazon Alexa Devices

Amazon today has announced a new partnership with Apple that brings the full Apple Podcasts catalog to all Alexa-enabled devices in the U.S.:

Beginning today, Alexa customers in the U.S. will be able to listen to more than 800,000 podcasts available through Apple Podcasts on their Alexa-enabled device.

Whether you’re listening at home or on the go, you don’t need to worry about losing your spot. Link your account in the Alexa app using your Apple ID, and you can seamlessly pick up where you left off listening on the Apple Podcasts App or your Alexa device. Pause the subscribed episode you’re listening to in the Apple Podcasts app on your commute, and continue listening with your Alexa device at home by asking Alexa to resume the podcast.

When you first start using Apple Podcasts on an Alexa device, you’ll need to specify “on Apple Podcasts” in your command; for example, “Alexa, play The Daily from yesterday on Apple Podcasts.” However, you can remove that requirement by setting Apple as your default podcast provider.

If you’d like to make Apple Podcasts your preferred podcast provider with Alexa, you can set Apple Podcasts as your default podcast provider in the Alexa app. To do so, open the Alexa app, go to Settings, select Music & Podcasts, and link/manage new services. Then, each time you request a podcast, we’ll prioritize playing it from Apple Podcasts if it’s available.

This announcement marks a major expansion of Apple Podcasts and the latest evidence of Apple’s multi-platform services strategy. Just last year, Apple Music arrived on Alexa devices, and earlier this fall the Apple TV app debuted on Amazon Fire TV. Those two moves were in some ways less surprising than this one though, since they both involved granting access to Apple’s paid services, Music and TV+. Apple Podcasts, on the other hand, is entirely free, at least at the moment. Rumors have indicated Apple may be funding some exclusive new podcast content, but it’s unknown whether that will be part of a forthcoming paid subscription service, or simply an added perk of using Apple Podcasts.

Spotify this past year has made significant moves in the podcasting space, and it’s likely that their efforts, which have developed real momentum in the market, are propelling Apple to invest more heavily in its own podcast ecosystem – great news for users.