For years, when someone asked me for a podcasting app recommendation, I would respond to Pocket Casts without hesitation. Pocket Casts is a great app for Android and iOS, works on the web, and offers the perfect mix of features for both new users and seasoned podcast pros who want more control over their listening.
But over the past year, Apple and Spotify have focused more on podcasts. Apple – the current leader in terms of number of listeners – has redesigned its app to make the interface a bit easier to navigate, brought new recommendations to the fore, and introduced subscriptions to give dedicated fans an easy way to pay for premium content.
Spotify’s app is just as smooth, and last year the service finally added the ABC catalog, bringing blockbuster shows. Coronacast, Conversations and China, if you listen to the platform. He also works on a subscription platform.
Neither application has “advanced user functionality”; there’s no smart speed, seen in Pocket Casts and Overcast, to play podcasts at 2x speed without the hosts sounding like chipmunks. You also set your “Forward” button to be exactly the length of a Squarespace commercial, or tell shows to start for a few seconds so that you skip pre-roll ads and intros.
But where Spotify excels is its cross-platform support. There is no smart speaker, console, phone, or connected toaster that cannot stream Spotify. When I pull up in my driveway, Spotify in my car asks me if it should continue streaming music to my home speakers. It’s the kind of seamless experience that only Apple could achieve, but Spotify works on anything.
Spotify uses its own network, Spotify Connect, to sync all of these devices; asking a speaker to play an episode will mark it as listened to on the app. It’s such a small thing, but it makes a big difference if you listen to daily shows.
Spotify’s Daily Drive is a fascinating daily playlist that mixes music and podcasts. I find the playlist a little frustrating – you can only choose from a selection of daily shows, not your own library – but it’s something new in podcasts. It turns out that combining music and pods in one app is a killer feature, as anyone who owned an iPod in 2007 might tell you.
This one is ironic. Apple has been under pressure for years to unblock and separate iTunes, but maybe music and podcasts should never have been separated.
As a podcast enthusiast, I worry about Spotify’s mission to become the dominant podcast platform. Spotify doesn’t offer any of its shows in any player but its own, which goes against the open history of podcasting. I don’t want the company to become the central portal for casting, like YouTube is for online videos.
But then, Apple has had the podcast market for a decade and only started innovating after Spotify presented a challenge. And right now, as a challenger, Spotify is trying harder.