Podcasting and iTunes: Questions, questions

During today’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, cleared his throat for the forthcoming Mac Goes Intel announcement by briefly showing off the podcasting features that will be built into the next version of iTunes. If you missed the keynote, here’s the gist:

iTunes 4.9 will offer free podcasts—amateur and commercial broadcasts that Jobs described as “TiVo for Radio,” “Wayne’s World for Radio,” and the “Hottest Thing Going in Radio”—from the iTunes Music Store. To reflect its Big Deal nature, podcasts will appear as an entry in iTunes’ Source list and will merit their own Store home page. Within this home page you can not only listen to podcasts, download them to your computer, and sync them to your iPod, but also subscribe to podcasts that you enjoy.

Not content to feature others’ podcasts, Apple will also offer its own podcast that includes clips from that week’s new releases. Within that podcast you’ll be able to navigate to each selection by choosing its album cover from a bookmark menu within the podcast window. If Jobs’ demos of Adam Curry and KCRW’s podcasts are any indication, podcasts available at The Store will be accompanied by artwork—a logo or the picture of the pod-jockey, for example.

Impressive as the demo was, it left a lot of questions unanswered. Among them:

What happens to the Audible.com material currently sold by Apple that’s also available as a podcast?

Will that material be transitioned to the podcast area and offered for free or will it continue to be a “pay for” item and excluded from iTunes’ podcasts?

How do podcasters earn the right to have their work featured on the iTunes Music Store? Will Apple charge podcasters a fee?

How “family friendly” must podcasts be to be offered by the iTunes Music Store?

If you’re listened to many podcasts you understand that many of them are fairly free-wheeling in content and language.

What does this mean for those who currently make the podcast aggregators—the utilities used to download podcasts and move them to iTunes?

Most of these answers will be revealed when iTunes 4.9 is released—something that, according to Steve Jobs, should happen in the next six weeks.

I have, however, gained some insight on what this means for those creating today’s aggregators. Following the keynote I ran into August Trometer, creator of iPodderX, the Mac’s preeminent podcasting client. Though Trometer admits to the wind going slightly out of his sails during Jobs’ demo, he was hardly surprised.

“It’s inevitable that [Apple] had to do this.”

Yet he’s not ready to close up shop. Though impressed by the integration of podcasts into the iTunes Music Store, he suggested that while it may be a good way for the casual user to obtain podcasts, it won’t be for everyone. Comparing it to the easy-does-it but basic RSS reader built into the latest version of Safari, Trometer guessed that “Many of the features that people want won’t be there.”

He makes this statement based on the idea that podcasting isn’t sitting still. Audio podcasts make a load of sense for the iTunes Music Store, which, in its current incarnation, focuses primarily on audio. But the current version of iPodderX goes beyond audio to also embrace video, images, and text documents. This, believes Trometer, is where podcasting is headed.

That said, Apple’s recent support for video in iTunes 4.8 hints that it’s got its eye on the future as well. However that future turns out, it’s a good bet that Apple’s promotion of podcasts will be a benefit to us all.

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