I have something to ask of you - tell me the first podcast app that comes to mind for you on Windows 11. Can you subscribe to your favorite shows as soon as you set up your new Windows PC? If you’re still struggling for an answer, that's exactly why Microsoft needs to introduce its own for Windows 12.
Apple has arguably been leading the charge with podcasts, ever since it introduced the category into iTunes 4.9 back in 2005. Since then, it’s expanded into its own app on all of its platforms, with the Podcasts app still receiving new features as recently as WWDC 2023 earlier this year, such as support for individual episode art and a redesigned Now Playing screen.
And that’s without even mentioning the plethora of third-party podcast apps that you can download - from Overcast to Pocket Casts, and even Spotify as it hosts its own exclusive shows by Louis Theroux and more to tempt you to subscribe.
But for Windows users, it’s not as straightforward – similar to how I think MSN Messenger should come back to be a rival to iMessage and WhatsApp, it’s time for Microsoft to look at something similar for podcasts as a dedicated app.
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If you go to the Microsoft Store in Windows 11 and type in ‘podcasts’, you’ll be greeted with a bunch of free and paid podcast apps that don’t quite fit the brief for Windows.
Some, like Grover Pro, offer a focused experience, reminiscent of Groove Music before it was remade back into Media Player in 2022, but its updates are few and far between, and its name and design harkens back to Windows 8 - something Microsoft likely doesn’t want to reference again.
Oddly, it turns out Microsoft has a bunch of its own podcasts, but not a dedicated app to showcase them all.
Right now, the only app that offers something close to an integrated experience for Windows users is Spotify - and that’s not good enough for a company as big as Microsoft.
While Media Player can play videos as well as music in Windows 11, it would be great to see a new, standalone app that only focuses on podcasts in Windows 12. We’ve seen before how an app, such as iTunes, can have too many features - making it feel bloated and slow.
My advice for Microsoft? Adapt some of the design tropes of Media Player, and simply call it ‘Windows Podcasts Player’ - it fits with the name of the existing music app, and it tells you exactly what the app does and who it’s designed by.
Using your Microsoft account could be useful here. As it keeps tabs on the media you’ve bought in the past, such as movies and games, it could also keep a record of the shows you’re subscribed to through this app. So if you download the app on an iPhone for example, you'd just have to sign in to your Microsoft account and it could download a record of the shows you’ve subscribed to alongside the latest one you’re currently listening to - just like other podcast apps, like Overcast.
This can also work well when you buy a new device or upgrade to Windows 12 for the first time. During the start-up screen when you’ve signed into your account, it could already fetch the podcasts you’ve been listening to, and have them ready before you’ve even reached the Desktop.
This is where it leads into Microsoft’s mantra, long held by CEO Satya Nadella, of why it should also be available on as many platforms as possible. But Nadella's also got a trump card.
Podcasting, the Microsoft way
Microsoft has a unique opportunity on its hands - it offers Xbox, its Surface tablet and desktop line, alongside its Android smartphone called Surface Duo. Nadella has consistently pushed the objective of Windows being a service, and a podcasts app can fulfill that brief, and more.
Having a dedicated podcasts app that can sync across all of these devices would be very appealing - more so if you can control the playback of shows as you’re playing Dead by Daylight: Nicolas Cage for example.
The majority of podcasts are hosted through what’s called an RSS Feed - this is essentially a ‘live’ link that will refresh when new content appears within it. This is how a podcast can upload new episodes to it, and apps that work with this, can display the episode and the artwork, and show notes to links for it.
But some apps, like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, can allow creators to offer ‘premium’ feeds, where there could be episodes with no ads included, or it could have exclusive content that you pay a monthly fee for it.
Microsoft’s Podcast Player could also take advantage of this while taking a small cut of the proceeds. It’s a win-win scenario for the company and these hosts, especially if the rates for these creators are better than what Spotify and Apple offer on both their own platforms.
Another easy win for Microsoft - if it decides to
It’s still amazing that in 2023, it’s a category that Microsoft simply hasn’t shown any interest in making easier for its users. Podcasts are everywhere, and if you’re on Android or iOS, it’s easily accessible in a few taps.
But you’re currently stuck with third-party options, and that’s if they work without issues on your Windows 11 machine. Then you have to manage another app on another device. It’s a headache no one wants, and it’s not needed in an age of the cloud.
For Windows 12, using a ‘Windows Podcast Player’ could be another resolved pain point that would appeal to plenty of users who listen to shows daily, all within the Windows ecosystem, which could be synced across all your Microsoft devices.
It gives the company a lot of opportunity here, and it goes back to the mantra of having Windows as a service on as many devices as possible - so let’s see the same for an open podcast platform in Windows 12, and see it succeed as well as iTunes did with the category back in 2005.
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Daryl had been freelancing for 3 years before joining TechRadar, now reporting on everything software-related. In his spare time he's written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', alongside podcasting and usually found playing games old and new on his PC and MacBook Pro. If you have a story about an updated app, one that's about to launch, or just anything Software-related, drop him a line.