Apple’s terrible podcast app finally taught me a lesson about myself, and I don’t like it. If I was ever mad at the app before, I’m completely pissed about it now, because of all that unwanted introspection.
Before revealing the substance of what I reluctantly learned, let me recap the drama surrounding this baffling app.
Apple’s podcast player was never quite a fan favorite, but its reputation took a huge hit after a disastrous update last spring. Even if it worked fine, the redesign gave the impression that users were still trying to find their favorite podcasts on a stranger’s device, leaving entire queues scrambled or decimated, but on top of all that, a bug infestation made the app even less livable. It was so bad that I took a quick tour of all the other podcast apps on offer. . . without ever taking the plunge, of course.
So it wasn’t really a surprise the other day when I noticed that the app had become even worseDespite that strangely high rating in the App Store.
Few things are as boring to read in detail as the flaws of podcast apps, so I’ll keep this description brief. Sometimes lately the app stops working in the middle of a podcast, like it’s bored facilitating an episode of Bodybuilders that he is dead. The strip at the bottom of my phone screen that usually shows what’s playing suddenly reads Not Playing and drops the podcast art thumbnail for good measure. Whatever the last song I listened to — songs being separate from podcasts — comes back when I manually command my AirPods to resume playing.
Trying to return to the podcast landing page only takes me to an eternal loading screen, the podcast app equivalent to the MacBook spinning death beach ball. All I have to do at this point is restart my phone and hope the problem is fixed. . . and that the podcast I used to listen to isn’t one of the few that’s been taken off my phone sometimes lately, in completely mysterious circumstances.
It was a bit of a relief to type “apple podcast app” into Twitter’s search box and find several new app complaints from the same week. At least I wasn’t alone.
But why was I still there? What was keeping me within reach of this podcast app, after marveling at its ineptitude time and time again?
I did some involuntary soul-searching about it, and here’s what I came up with.
As I’ve written before, I’m absolutely addicted to seltzer water, aka jazz water, the crispy, fizzy nectar of the drink gods. I drink so many things, it’s almost a problem. When I drink it from cans or bottles with such voracity, it East a problem. In an effort to be more environmentally friendly, however, I purchased a SodaStream several years ago. It was an easy and affordable way to have all the seltzer I could manage, on hand, without buying cans in Preparers of the apocalypse in bulk at Costco.
I used the machine precisely once, then I gave it up forever.
It was not a conscious surrender. No decision has been made. I never officially gave up on the SodaStream because it required a few more steps than I would have preferred. Instead, I simply avoided it at every opportunity. There was a first time I wanted seltzer water but didn’t really want to make it, and then there was every time organic the same thing that happened, until whether the machine is entirely consumed by dust mites or thrown away by my wife. It wasn’t until last winter, however, when my wife bought the SodaStream Fizzi One-Touch Sparkling Water Maker – and I started using it all the time – that I realized what was going on. passed.
The value proposition of this earlier SodaStream failed to convert me into a power user. Apparently all it took, however, was to make carbonating so easy I only had to press a single button.
That’s also the appeal of Apple’s podcast app. Not that the app is so easy to use, but that it’s so easy that you don’t have to install and learn another app; so easy to keep my iPhone’s default podcast setting and the one named after its manufacturer; so easy to chain hits until I’m bloodied and bruised, then chain again.
The tyranny of technological convenience has me addicted to the path of least resistance. I now want and expect a frictionless experience at all times and in all situations. Whenever I encounter the slightest hint of resistance or redundancy in an app or device, I am not only turned off but stunned. How have they not optimized this yet? Let’s go!
Meanwhile, I can’t bring myself to optimize my own life by getting rid of the most baffling app I’ve ever used, just because it would require hitting more than one button once. The epic temporary friction of testing other podcast apps seems to outweigh the perpetual friction of continuing to use the one that is currently aggravating my life. There was just a first time when I wanted a better app, but didn’t really feel like doing anything about it, and then there was every time I did the exact same thing.
Does Apple know that about me, that I’ll never quit its cursed app? Is this data point something the company is actively trying to locate, using as bait an ever-declining app like Dorian Gray’s photo?
If all the bugs and questionable design choices are part of a stress test to find the lazy iPhone owner’s breaking point, I’ve now concluded: I don’t have one. They can add a bug that exclusively plays banned episodes of Joe Rogan and talk about car reruns, and I’ll hold a bowl of porridge to my ears and say, “More, please.” As long as every other device is breathtakingly convenient, I won’t stop using this app until Apple stops making it.
Or at least not until they add a button that finds and installs what it guesses from my data is the optimal podcast player for me, with just one press of that button.