Google is finally taking podcasts seriously with a dedicated app
If you go to the Google Play store and look for podcasting apps, you’re hardly short of options. But there’s been a Google-shaped hole in the mix of free and paid-for podcasts, ever since the company shut down Google Listen in 2012.
Six years later, Google is finally ready to jump back on the podcasts bandwagon with a streamlined app that has the power to become every Android user’s default choice with a combination of simplicity and a handful of innovative features which could become essential.
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Design-wise, it’s pretty much business as usual. You can search and subscribe to podcasts in the usual manner, with each one appearing in your library. Power users may be frustrated by its lack of fine-tuning options, but others will find the simplicity of it a breath of fresh air.
There are two ways in which it improves upon its rivals: one obvious, and one behind the scenes.
The first is that it is fully tied in with Google Assistant. That means you can be listening to a podcast on your phone, get home and ask your Google Home speaker to pick up where you left off. That may sound like a small thing, but anyone who has tried using the Amazon Echo to listen to podcasts will know it’s useless for getting anything but the most recent episode – if it even knows what you’re asking for at all.
But the really clever stuff is going on behind the scenes, with an AI recommendation engine studying your listening habits and recommending new shows based on what’s going into your ears. We’ll need to test it to see how well it works, but it’s a nice idea, and this is just the beginning of Google’s plans for AI in podcasting moving forward. The company has suggested a handful of upcoming features like automatic subtitling, where AI can display the speech as text on the app to ensure you don’t miss anything during loud moments. Even better, the power of Google Translate means that these captions don’t necessarily have to be in the original language of the podcast host or its guests.
These features may not be ready for showtime yet (anybody who has ever tried to use speech-to-text software for transcription will know that it’s far from 100%, and Translate throws up oddities from time to time) but as things improve, we may very well come to see these experimental features as game changers for podcasters. And if nothing else, six years after Google Listen closed, it shows that Google is finally taking podcasting as a medium seriously again.