iPod is dead, but podcasts keep on running

iPod is dead, but podcasts keep on running

Pour one out for the iPod, the cute little gadget of my teenage dreams. While Apple discontinued the last iPod model this week, the “pod” lives on in the digital audio medium we all love and cherish.

iPod was never really the format where podcasts flourished (that would be smartphones), but at the time podcasts were starting out, the iPod was pretty much the only sport in town. In 2004, the iPod controlled 60 percent of the total MP3 player market. This was the default option for listening to audio shows on the go, if not an elegant one.

“It was a terrifying experience,” says Leo Laporte, founder of early digital audio outlet This Week in Tech (TwiT) and host of the radio show The Tech Guy. “You had to download it to your computer, connect your computer to your iPod via iTunes, copy it to your iPod, and then you could listen to it.”

But with gadgets becoming ubiquitous, the name “podcast” seemed like a natural fit for those bad online audio shows that were beginning to emerge. So natural that the two people claim to mix different “iPod” and “broadcast” together. The first recorded example is in a 2004 Guardian article by journalist and technologist Ben Hammersley, where he threw out possible names for the medium (“guerrillamedia” didn’t catch on). That same year, digital audio pioneer Danny Gregoire named one of his software programs “Podcaster” and registered domain names featuring the word “podcast”, then popularized it with the help of former MTV VJ and early podcast host Adam Curry. Gregoire says that he was not aware of Hammersley’s article before coming up with the name. “It’s a clear word for technology to come up with,” he said. Hammersley did not respond to a request for comment.

Somehow, it caught on. Not only did Apple keep the word alive despite potential trademark infringement, but it wholeheartedly embraced the medium by creating a podcast directory in iTunes in 2005. That same year, George W. Bush began releasing his presidential radio addresses in podcast form. The New Oxford American Dictionary took note of all the flurry and made “podcast” its 2005 word of the year.

Not everyone was thrilled. For years, Laporte fought to rebrand “podcasting” as “net casting” — and lost — arguing that the term is too closely tied to Apple. Time has proved him right and wrong. Yes, the iPod was a fleeting stage in the podcasting race. But the term bolsters its name to the point where Apple is just one part of the podcasting ecosystem and not even a staple. Spotify has taken its crown as the most used platform for podcasting, and Apple’s podcast programming is minimal, at best.

Still, the word is indispensable. A few years ago, Laporte relented and eventually transformed the TWiT Netcast Network into the TWiT Podcast Network. “That’s the language,” he said. “You can’t fight this.”

Sneha Mali

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