James Cridland

Why the new Google Podcasts app is a big deal: and why there are no auto-downloads

Google have (finally) properly launched a podcasts app for Android phones. It’s called Google Podcasts; and I’d ordinarily tell you to go and download it, but you already have.

Google Podcasts is actually buried in the Google search app that almost every Android phone has on it: Google require manufacturers to install it if they are to release an Android phone with access to apps.

The “app” that has been launched is merely an app icon link to the existing podcast app which has been hiding on your phone for over two years.

Your listeners don’t need to install anything to listen to a podcast.

Try it yourself. Follow this link on an Android phone, and you’ll be listening to the very latest version of Podnews, my daily podcasting news, um, podcast. No downloads, nothing. Click and play. Done.

This is, already, a big deal for Android users. Until now, they’ve had to download an app, and navigate a complicated on-boarding process of logging in, being asked irritating questions about what podcasts they like to listen to, blah blah, until they can finally get to listening. This has been crazy. And it stops now.

Android’s much bigger than iOS

There’s another really obvious reason why this is a big deal for podcast publishers.

In spite of Apple devices being responsible for about 60% of podcast downloads, Apple has a less than 20% share of the global smartphone market. Android has well over 80%. And for the first time, Android devices have a proper in-built podcast experience. Even in the US, Android has 53.3% market share.

If podcasters grasp this opportunity correctly, it could at least double podcast downloads.

This relaxes Apple’s grip on podcasting

A dirty little secret? Apple might be responsible for about 60% of podcast downloads through its own apps: but it’s actually responsible for over 90% of podcast downloads.

Even if you use independent apps like Overcast, Pocket Casts, Leela or others, they’re all pulling their podcast data from the iTunes API, Apple’s database. Podcast apps are all monitoring Apple’s database for new podcasts to add.

Google’s producing this podcast app by searching the entire internet for podcasts. It’s not reliant on the iTunes API. (Neither are Spotify, TuneIn or Stitcher, incidentally; but they account for less than 10% of all podcast downloads).

Apple also produces the only podcast chart: a trending chart of podcasts that can be manipulated and are clearly being targeted by a number of ingenious schemes. With Google’s scale, alternative chart data is likely to be available at some point. This can only be good news for the podcast industry.

Apple takes twelve hours to earn as much money as the entire US podcast industry earnt last year. However, Apple earns nothing from podcasting. Google’s search-first strategy for podcasts should deliver the search giant more search traffic: which it effectively monetises. Unlike Apple, Google is earning from podcasting.

There are no auto-downloads: because it’s 2018, not 2005

Google Podcasts is a streaming app: press the play button, and your device will download and play the podcast for you. If you want, you can download individual episodes, perhaps for listening on the plane or the subway.

At the dawn of podcasting, in 2004/5, programs like iPodder were being used to download podcasts and transfer them to an iPod which had no internet connection. iPhones had yet to exist. The model of “download” was a model built by necessity.

Today, all media apps work by streaming. Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video and all similar apps operate by streaming media, not downloading it. All of these apps also, just like Google Podcasts, allow you to download specific episodes for listening later. Users are well accustomed to this model.

For most consumers in most countries, available space on their phone is the most limiting factor, not the amount of data they have access to.

My Pocket Casts downloads a bunch of podcasts every night that I never listen to. But for Google Podcasts, a play means an actual play, rather than a speculative download.

For noting, this will mean that consumption via Google Podcasts will appear smaller in comparison than other apps.

This isn’t your replacement for Pocket Casts

This is a first podcast app experience. It doesn’t have OPML import, SD card storage, silence removal or dynamic compression. This is not an attempt by Google to put your favourite podcast app out of business.

This is a podcast app designed for the 81% of people on Android and the over 50% of people who’ve never listened to a podcast to get into podcasting.

If they love podcasting: great. They can download Pocket Casts, Podcast Addict, RadioPublic or whatever they want. This is their on-ramp to podcasting. And it deserves support.

Podcasters — all of us — need to link to Google Podcasts.

If we make this work, it will

The myopia around Apple is maddening; and because many podcasters are looking for a direct replacement for Apple Podcasts on Android phones, there’s plenty of misunderstanding on what the Google Podcasts app is and how it works.

Whether you agree with me that it’s an important growth step for podcasters or not, our next steps are:

You could visit https://podnews.net and see how I’ve practiced what I preach already.

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PS: if you don’t have access to an Android phone, here’s a quick demo. I start by uninstalling the Google Podcasts app.