Google gets in the game

I wrote to you last week about a rumour that Google were about to launch a podcasts app. They have now done just that. If you have an Android device or a Chromebook, you can download it here.

Despite the fact that I don’t do most of my podcast listening through my phone (more on that here), I was curious about what Google had come up with, so I’ve been testing the app for the past couple of days. If it works, this is potentially a big deal for the podcast world — it could break Apple’s stranglehold on distribution, and bring in lots more new podcast listeners who don’t currently have any contact with the medium.

My overall impression of the Google Podcasts app is that it is quite basic, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Listening to podcasts is already arguably too complicated, and a bit of simplicity doesn’t go amiss. Apart from a few recommendations on the home screen (this is a big part of Google’s offer, they say — their ability to use their algorithm to show you other podcasts you might like based on your other preferences), in this app you use the search bar to find the shows you want to subscribe to.

Once on a podcast’s page, it’s easy to stream or download an episode. You can speed up or slow down playback, but that’s the only additional feature I can find. There’s no play queue, or any of the other features you might expect if you’re used to a third-party app like PocketCasts or Podcast Addict. It’s a clean, smooth app to use, though, and as a first step, it’s not bad.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think this new attempt at doing podcasts by Google (anyone remember “Google Listen”? That didn’t really catch on, did it) is intended for existing, regular podcast listeners, who already have their systems worked out. This is for people who have heard of podcasts but haven’t ever tried to listen to one, and find the current tech situation a bit too much to bother with. Crucially, Google have also launched a “direct link” tool for their new app, meaning that an Android user can go straight from following a link on social media, say, to hearing the episode without having to do anything else.

I’m sure there are more bells and whistles to come. There have been suggestions that in the future Google will provide AI-powered transcripts of podcasts, both for accessibility reasons and so that listeners can skip ahead to sections that interest them (no word yet how this might work with mid roll advertising, though). There are a couple of other things on the horizon that I’m interested in too. From The Verge:

“Google also wants to expand the number of people making podcasts. The company’s research showed that only one-quarter of podcast hosts are female, and even fewer are people of color. In an effort to diversify the field, Google formed an independent advisory board that will consider ways to promote podcast production outside of the handful of major metropolitan areas in the United States that currently dominate the field.”

That sounds good, right? I would like lots more details and to see some concrete action before I become a Google stan, but as an opening statement of intent, I like it. I mean, it’s more than Apple have done in about ten years.

Google has also confirmed that they don’t have any plans at the moment to get into producing their own original shows, as Spotify and Audible are doing, but they are interested in assisting more podcasters to get into the game:

“Google will not pay any creators to make podcasts directly, the company said, but it will likely explore ways of giving podcasts from underrepresented creators extra promotion. It’s also examining ways to make recording equipment more accessible to people who can’t afford it.”

So, a cautious thumbs up from me. I do hope these are more than empty words on the diversity issues, though. I’ll be keeping a close on eye on it.

Thanks for reading, subscribers! I had a few positive responses to the 99% Invisible review I sent last Friday, so I’m going to stick with that single episode deep dive format for a while and see how it goes. If you have one you’d like me to write about, hit reply and let me know.