During as session about podcasts at WWDC in June, Apple announced that it would introduce podcast analytics later in the year. Today, the feature was rolled out as a beta service as part of iTunes Connect, Apple’s content creator portal. At release, the data available to podcast producers includes unique device downloads as well as playback metrics.
Historically, podcast analytics have been rudimentary. Producers could track downloads, but there was no way to tell how many users were behind those downloads or how long they listened. Those sorts of features are something that some podcast producers, especially those coming from the radio industry, have wanted Apple to add for a while.
With the beta introduced today, producers can track the number of unique device downloads and view graphs of how long listeners lasted before giving up on a show. The data is aggregated to protect user privacy, but it’s nonetheless substantially more information than podcasters have had in the past.
The data is limited to users using the Apple Podcasts app on iOS 11 and later or listening via iTunes 12.7 or later on macOS, which limits its utility for some show producers. For example, Apple Podcasts listeners account for barely over 5% of listeners of our podcast, AppStories, a number which counts users of the app on all versions of iOS.
One of the big proponents of these sort of analytics has been big brand advertisers who want to more closely measure the performance of podcast advertising. As podcasts have boomed in recent years and producers have looked to bring larger advertisers along for the ride, pressure has mounted for the kind of analytics that are employed on the web. It remains to be seen whether podcast analytics do to podcasts advertising rates what click-through and other metrics have done to other online media outlets’ advertising revenue.
The beta is available at podcastsconnect.apple.com/analytics.
Marco Arment, the creator of the Overcast podcast player, has released a public beta of a tool for podcast producers called Forecast. The macOS utility handles encoding of podcasts as MP3 audio files and embedding of chapter markers and other metadata.
The final steps of putting together a podcast episode are tedious. Encoding can take a long time for longer shows and then, artwork, a title, description, and chapter markers have to be embedded. There are other little annoyances like manually entering an episode’s duration and file size into a show’s CMS too.
To speed the process up, Forecast uses a custom integration of the LAME MP3 encoder that spreads the encoding work across all of a Mac’s CPU cores, reducing encoding times substantially. Chapter markers are automatically generated in Forecast if created as markers in an audio editing app like Logic and exported as a WAV file. Forecast will even autofill artwork and other information if audio files are named consistently. There are also quick-copy shortcuts for grabbing an episode’s duration and file size.
Forecast is a beta, which comes with the usual caveats, but there is comfort in knowing that it has already been used in production by Arment and other podcasters for two years. I began using Forecast about a month ago as part of the AppStories production workflow, and it’s been stable and a big time saver.
Perhaps best of all, Forecast is free. Arment only requests that users that find Forecast useful consider mentioning Overcast on their podcasts or buying an ad for their podcast.
The Forecast public beta is available on Overcast.fm.
The combination of iOS 11 and iPhone X is pushing developers to reconsider many of their interaction paradigms and interface affordances that predated the Super Retina display and drag and drop. In a span of two months, iOS 11 made custom implementations of multiple item selection and reordering effectively obsolete, while the iPhone X now requires apps to embrace its display and novel status bar design.
Overcast 4.0 is a good example of how Apple's biggest releases of the year impacted apps that needed a lot of work to be updated for the iPhone X and iOS 11. Released today on the App Store, Overcast 4.0 bears no groundbreaking additions to the experience; instead, developer Marco Arment focused on design refinements and simplifying the app's navigation, modernizing Overcast's appearance and flow while bringing smaller enhancements to the listening and browsing experience.
There are some notable changes in this version – drag and drop is present, albeit in a limited fashion – but Overcast 4.0 is primarily aimed at foundational improvements and laying the groundwork for the future. Despite this "Snow Leopard approach", however, heavy Overcast users should still find the many optimizations as well as the "by popular demand" tweaks more than welcome.
With watchOS 4 and the Series 3 Apple Watch, Apple has made several improvements to how the Watch handles music, untethering listeners from their iPhones. Apple Music subscribers can sync their My Favorites Mix, My Chill Mix, My New Music Mix and the Heavy Rotation section of Music to their watches, for example. In October, Apple will expand users' options on the Watch by adding Apple Music streaming for subscribers. However, there’s a glaring omission in Apple’s iPhone-free audio strategy: podcasts.
There is no good way to listen to podcasts on an Apple Watch without bringing along an iPhone. As Marco Arment, the maker of Overcast, details on Marco.org,
The Apple Watch desperately needs standalone podcast playback, especially with the LTE-equipped Series 3, which was designed specifically for exercising without an iPhone.
Believe me, I’ve tried. But limitations in watchOS 4 make it impossible to deliver standalone podcast playback with the basic functionality and quality that people expect.
Arment’s article walks through each of several technical challenges in detail, the biggest being syncing progress between a Watch and an iPhone. The post outlines the minimum changes to the watchOS APIs that Arment believes are necessary to build a viable standalone podcast player for the Watch as well as detailing more ambitious changes to Apple’s APIs that would be nice to have.
During the watchOS 4 beta period, I began running without my iPhone. I enjoyed listening to the music synced overnight to my Watch, but it was a taste of untethered freedom that only made me want a standalone podcast player more. Audio playback and syncing undoubtedly pose battery life issues and other challenges, but with the advancements in the Series 3 hardware, I hope we see corresponding API changes that will allow Arment and others to build iPhone-free podcast players.
In 2015, Mark Bramhill, burst onto the Apple podcast scene seemingly out of nowhere with a new tightly-edited podcast called Welcome to Macintosh. Besides the high production values that Bramhill brought to that first season, the show succeeded by offering concise, compelling storytelling about interesting and sometimes obscure moments in Apple’s history.
Today, Bramhill announced Season 3 of Welcome to Macintosh, which will be published every other Friday beginning August 18th. Season 3 is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $17,000 to cover travel and other production costs. Backers of the project will receive behind-the-scenes videos and a special podcast feed available alongside the new Season 3 episodes, all of which are accessible from a special Members page on Macintosh.fm.
Season 3 features 10 all-new episodes and kicks off with a multi-episode series on how emoji are created and Bramhill’s efforts to convince the Unicode Consortium to approve a new emoji he created himself. I won’t spoil the episodes, but I had the opportunity to listen to two of them, including the first called ‘Will You Be My Emoji?,’ and they didn’t disappoint. As with earlier seasons, Bramhill’s skillful storytelling left me eager for more.
In connection with today’s announcement, Bramhill released a short promotional teaser episode. ‘Will You Be My Emoji?’ will be released on August 18th and subsequent episodes every other Friday thereafter.
You can listen to Season 3 on Macintosh.fm or subscribe to Welcome to Macintosh from iTunes, Apple’s Podcasts app, or any other podcast player using the show’s RSS feed.
Anchor, the service that aims to bring audio creation to the masses, introduced a new feature today in its iOS app that offers a better way to share audio clips on social media: Anchor Video.
Put simply, an Anchor Video takes your recorded audio, transcribes it, then creates a video out of the content. The finished product includes your original audio complemented by a running stream of the clip’s spoken words in written form; transcribed words animate across the screen as the clip plays, providing an elegant visual way of sharing your content on social media. If a follower comes across your video and doesn’t want to or can’t listen to audio in a given situation, they can simply watch the transcription fly by; and even if they do want only audio, presenting that audio as an Anchor Video will make it stand out more in a social media feed.
The creation of an Anchor Video is smooth and easy. It starts with selecting a recorded clip on your Station and tapping the video button to the left of the share icon. Anchor will then work to transcribe the clip, which for longer clips may take a while, so there’s a feature to get notified when it’s done – a nice touch. After the transcription is complete, you can check to make sure it got everything correct and make any edits as necessary, including adding, removing, or editing words. When it all looks good, the video will generate – again, there’s the option to get notified when it’s finished if you don’t want to wait – and you can then share it in one of three formats: Square (1:1), Wide (16:9), and Stories (9:16). You don’t pick the format until after the video’s generated, so it’s easy after the fact to export in different formats for different services.
Anchor Video is a well-polished solution to the problem of sharing audio across social media. It makes the task simple for users, takes into account how different services are optimized for different aspect ratios, and creates a finished product that looks good enough to share.
Alongside the introduction of a revamped Podcasts app in iOS 11, Apple is making a few tweaks at the podcast feed level that will improve the way shows can be organized and displayed inside podcasting apps. Jason Snell shares the details on Six Colors:
New extensions to Apple’s podcast feed specification will allow podcasts to define individual seasons and explain whether an episode is a teaser, a full episode, or bonus content. These extensions will be read by the Podcast app and used to present a podcast in a richer way than the current, more linear, approach. (Since podcast feeds are just text, other podcast apps will be free to follow Apple’s lead and also alter how they display podcasts based on these tags.)
Users will be able to download full seasons, and the Podcasts app will know if a podcast is intended to be listened to in chronological order—“start at the first episode!”—or if it’s more timely, where the most recent episode is the most important.
As the world of podcasting has grown, there is now a more diverse selection of shows than ever before, leading to the need for more nuanced formatting of those shows. I appreciate how Apple is implementing these changes at a feed level so that third-party apps can take advantage of them as well.
The full array of podcasting changes, including a brief walkthrough of the redesigned Podcasts app in iOS 11, were first covered in a session from WWDC.
Today the team at Supertop announced the release of Castro 2.3, which introduces rich notification support for the podcast app.
Castro 2 launched last August with a new interface for managing podcast episodes that centers around an inbox and queue. With an increasing number of great podcasts available, the traditional model of subscribing to a show and adding all of its episodes to your feed can get overwhelming. In Castro 2 the solution to this problem is to have new episodes land in an inbox. The inbox allows users to decide which episodes make it to their queue for listening, and which don't.
Previously, when notifications for a new episode came in, you were presented the options to play, queue, or archive the episode. But unfortunately, while the episode's title would display in the notification, with many podcasts a title isn't enough information to properly decide whether the show's content is something you'd be interested in. As such, taking action on a notification often couldn't happen in an informed way without opening the full app anyways. That changes with today's update. Thanks to its implementation of iOS 10's rich notification framework, a notification from Castro will now display a show's artwork and a portion of the episode description along with the aforementioned action buttons. So now when a show's episode title is San Frosé, you can be well informed about what the subject matter actually is.
Besides using rich notifications as a triage method, Supertop has one other interesting implementation of the feature. If you pause an episode when there are less than three minutes remaining, Castro will immediately send a silent notification that presents you with the option to archive the show and, optionally, play the next show in your queue. So if a show has a couple minutes worth of outro that you prefer to skip, rather than hitting the skip button several times you can now simply hit pause, then interact with the notification that appears in order to either move to the next show or end playback altogether.
The full list of changes in Castro 2.3 is available on Supertop's blog. Castro can be downloaded from the App Store.
Overcast, Marco Arment's popular podcast app for iOS, is defined by an interesting dualism: its essence has remained remarkably consistent with the original version released three years ago; at the same time, Arment has periodically revisited Overcast's design, features, and business model to build a superior listening environment for a larger audience.
The same judicious iteration permeates Overcast 3.0, launching today on the App Store. With improvements to episode management, visual changes aimed at modernizing the interface, and an evolution of the existing subscription-based model, Overcast 3.0 is another thoughtful combination of new ideas and old tropes, which converge in a refreshed yet instinctively familiar listening experience.