Apple Podcast Subscriptions

Even before Apple podcast subscriptions, I think the Podcast app has been on decline for a while. I won’t go into great detail about what I think is wrong with it but I will say it’s by far the worst Apple app for syncing between devices. It used to work so well so I’m not sure how it went so wrong.

But I want to focus on the new subscription feature. I like the idea as it is a nice and convenient way to support podcasts I enjoy. The only one I’m subscribed to at the moment is Fresh Air. While I do enjoy Fresh Air and want to support it; the reason I do not subscribe to others is due to my experience with subscriptions so far.

When I subscribed and transitioned from free to subscription (on iOS 14), the app seemed confused and it appeared to take some time to play content without ads. That or NPR got it wrong. In the grand scheme of things, it’s hardly an issue.

The worst issue, which only affected Fresh Air (so I assume only subscriptions) is it appeared to be harder to make played episodes go away even when marked as played and even worse yet scrubbing to rewind / fast forward did not work. Nor did the “jump by 30 seconds” buttons. Again, this only happens to the subscriptions.

So I’m ending up paying for a degraded experience. This has carried on into iOS 15 and thankfully, I can report that it seems upgrading to iOS 15.1 so far seems to have fixed it. I’ll see, it did work before so it make be intermittent.

The issue I have with subscriptions is I’m not sure how I feel about the freemium offerings. At least, I suspect that is what I am seeing in the App Stories podcast.

The other issue I have with subscriptions is the blending of free and paid content. I’m subscribed to App Stories podcast and for the most part everything seems okay. It still just plays my free, ad supported podcasts. However, part of App Stories+ is content gets released early on a Sunday and this causes the podcast app to pop up a notification about the new episode which does not show up under the “Listen now” section.

Arguably the ad is a passive advertisement for Apple subscriptions while providing a poor experience for people who are unclear about what is going on. I suspect most people who would listen to App Stories will know what the score is but like the Music app, this concept of blending subscription services into app hasn’t been a huge disaster but it does make the experience worse.

A single podcast app and a single music app is fine, but I wish Apple would better partition the subscription content. Think about what the average user will think when hit with these scenarios and don’t just bank it increasing frustration and hopefully leading to them just subscribing.