How iOS 14.5 broke Apple's Podcasts app [ux2]

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 3
Apple's Podcasts app in iOS 14.5 is missing episodes, lacks proper show notes, and falls well short of third-party podcast apps -- and so far, Apple seems disinterested in actively fixing the problems.



During Apple's "Spring Loaded" event they announced a Podcast Subscriptions platform that will be available to creators this month. Listeners will be able to pay for exclusive content right in the Apple Podcasts app making purchases quick and easy. But those subscriptions will only be available inside the official Apple Podcasts app, and it's currently very broken.

After the iOS 14.5 update went live on April 26, numerous users have experienced bugs with Apple's Podcasts app. The most critical issue being some podcast episodes not showing up in user's apps for days after they are released.

This poses a major issue for podcasts like ours since 70% of our subscribers use Apple's Podcasts app. A representative inside Apple sent us a private message saying, "...the team is working round the clock to resolve this issue."

Our latest episode, released Friday at 2:00AM Eastern, did not show for Apple Podcasts users until at the earliest Saturday evening or even with others telling us that it appeared on Sunday. Some users claim the episode is still unavailable -- while every other third-party podcast app delivered the episode Friday morning.

MacRumors collected numerous tweets from users reporting similar issues.


Podcast apps delivered our latest episode, except Apple Podcasts


Research performed by website Podnews describes how the iOS 14.5 update changes how the Apple Podcasts app and servers gather episode data from RSS feeds differently. Previously, when a user would pull-to-refresh in the Apple Podcasts app, Apple's service would gather new data from the user's subscribed podcast feeds. According to Podnews, since iOS 14.5 "the Apple Podcasts app on your listener's phone always uses Apple's database, even if they're subscribed. Your listener's phone never looks directly at your RSS feed."

This behavior is shared by other third-party podcast apps as well, such as Overcast and Pocket Casts, but it seems Apple's servers are checking much less frequently than other services. According to Podnews, an app like Overcast seems to crawl a podcast's RSS feeds "every 1 minute" as opposed to Apple's crawling service known as "iTMS" that crawled the same feed "every 2.1 hours."

Developer Marco Arment, maker of Overcast confirmed the behavior seems to have changed, saying that "prior to 14.5, Apple Podcasts always pulled the feed contents from each copy of the app directly from the publishers' feeds."

Arment went on to say that "it seems that Apple Podcasts may have switched to this model, but the issue appears to be that they may not be crawling RSS feeds frequently enough."

There is also no way to manually ask Apple's Podcasts app to check your subscribed shows for updates. Pulling to refresh in the iOS 14.5 version of the app only re-checks Apple's iTMS server and does not retrieve new data from a show's RSS feed.

Contrary to this behavior, Overcast says that it "also obeys pull-to-refresh on individual podcast pages in the app (triggering an instant update), and has a publicly documented Ping API that publishers can use for near-instant updates when they publish new episodes."

We also spoke to makers of third-party podcast app Castro on their behavior of a manual refresh.

"We changed it to also do a full refresh of the podcast feed," they said to us. "This means that if a feed is acting strangely and one user does a pull to refresh and finds a new episode, then all other subscribers benefit from that."

In addition to new episodes not appearing in Apple's Podcasts app, other issues have appeared since iOS 14.5. Users viewing an episode's show notes can no longer click on HTML links inside the app unless the full link is displayed:


HTML show links are broken in iOS 14.5


There are now multiple screens in the app that display the latest episodes, but they are inconsistent. Navigating to the Library tab inside the app and then clicking "Latest Episodes" shows the latest HomeKit Insider episode, while the "Listen Now" tab does not include the show.



Prior to iOS 14.5, users could scroll to the bottom of the "Now Playing" screen to find "Episode Notes." That option has been removed in the latest update and users must either navigate to the podcast show page and tap the episode, or learn that tapping the scrolling title of the episode will bring them to the Episode Notes.


Episode notes are missing from Now Playing


In addition to the Apple Podcasts app, creators trying to access the redesigned Apple Podcasts Connect dashboard have experienced issues since the "Spring Loaded" event. Podcasting platform Transistor has compiled a list of those issues and some of Apple's responses.

With Apple's Podcasts Subscriptions service set to launch soon, there is significant work to be done on the tools for podcast creators and inside the Apple Podcasts app itself. In the meantime, listeners of the AppleInsider podcast, HomeKit Insider and AppleInsider Daily may consider using a third-party app like Overcast to ensure they can listen to our episodes when they are released.

Apple in an update to its system status webpage on Monday said it is investigating the issue.

Update: Apple said it resolved the issue Monday afternoon.

Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, "Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider," and you'll get latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for "AppleInsider Daily" instead and you'll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you're interested in Apple-centric home automation, say "Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider," and you'll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    Another broken feature is the way the list of subscribed shows appears (or doesn't) at launch. In 14.4, when I tapped the "Library" icon at the bottom of the screen, I'd see a list of all my subscriptions, sorted by most recently updated. Now it defaults to "Recently Followed" - in other words, most recently subscribed to, which is completely useless to me since that has no connection to how recently episodes have posted. I now have to make a second tap on "Shows," at the top of the screen - and the default sorting order was, again, not useful to me; I had to tap on "Edit" and change that (something I was left to figure out for myself).
    sdw2001minicoffeelolliver
  • Reply 2 of 15
    MustSeeUHDTVMustSeeUHDTV Posts: 194member
    Here is another bug I saw which I'm going to sent to Apple. I was in iMessages, writing a message and I got a FaceTime Call. After the called ended, the Messages screen was crashed (only white screen). Any app I opened like Safari, Settings, etc. would also be the blank white screen. I had to reboot to get my iPhone 12 to work again.
  • Reply 3 of 15
    WTimbermanWTimberman Posts: 43member
    I prefer the aesthetics of Apple’s podcast player, but functionally speaking, Overcast is an order of magnitude better in almost all respects. Marco Arment, the developer of Overcast, seems acutely conscious of what it takes to design and test a truly intuitive and complete user interface, and as a result his app is an absolute joy to use. Years ago,  when I first encountered Instapaper — also his invention —  I remember thinking “whoever came up with this is a genius.” All these years later, I’m still of the same opinion. Apple is huge and as a result, often appears to be content with the basics in anything they view as non-critical consumer-facing software. Bug fixes, improvements, etc., are often abysmally slow to arrive, if indeed they ever do…. The apps Apple provides as defaults are serviceable, but indie developers, who are just as competent as Apple engineers, often take a far more granular approach to customer satisfaction. So, yeah, Overcast. Absolutely. God bless the independents, who really were and are crucial to making Apple what it is today! (If only Apple would treat them a little nicer, but I’m not holding my breath….)
    minicoffeecgWerks
  • Reply 4 of 15
    djames4242djames4242 Posts: 615member
    Apple has a Podcast app???? ;-)
    I haven’t used it since it had a reel-to-reel interface. Downcast is much better…
    edited May 3 minicoffeecgWerks
  • Reply 5 of 15
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,065member
    Apple went from inventing the podcast to having a monopoly on podcasts to saying “fu** you” to podcast users.

    Podcasts are exploding recently, I remember being one of the only people to use them in my social circle and I though *I* WAS LATE to the game back in 2011. Nowadays everyone knows what they are. This is the perfect time for Apple to take them more seriously and add to the ecosystem stickiness with their massive library.

    What a shame.
    Oferminicoffeelolliver
  • Reply 6 of 15
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,421member
    About time the community starts being vocal about this.  Apple's podcast app was a mess before, and 14.5 made it far worse.  I've always had issues with podcasts updating, missing episodes, etc.  It had gotten better with iOS 14, but 14.5 is almost unusable.  

    In addition to the nonsensical  UI changes, I ran into an issue that I thought was a bug or issue, but I'm about 90% sure is censorship.  There is a daily podcast I listen to where the the host interviewed The Orange Man for like 20-30 minutes.  Without explanation, that episode of the show (which is an hour long) just didn't appear in the app.  I thought it was an updating issue until I realized that all my other podcasts were up to date.  Given that interview was censored by YouTube and Facebook as well, I find it hard to believe it's a bug or mistake. 
  • Reply 7 of 15
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,072member
    I have no idea if this is related, but sometime recently my HomePods stopped playing BBC news saying "Sorry, there are no unplayed episodes of BBC news." Since it actually plays the BBC news podcast, I wonder if they broke it somehow. It's been like it for probably 3 or 4 months now. Though general Siri crappiness is just as likely.
  • Reply 8 of 15
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,072member
    Beats said:
    Apple went from inventing the podcast to having a monopoly on podcasts to saying “fu** you” to podcast users.

    Podcasts are exploding recently, I remember being one of the only people to use them in my social circle and I though *I* WAS LATE to the game back in 2011. Nowadays everyone knows what they are. This is the perfect time for Apple to take them more seriously and add to the ecosystem stickiness with their massive library.

    What a shame.
    Sadly that seems to be the trajectory for a lot of Apple products now. Touted as the Next Big Thing only to be abandoned letting competitors catch up.
    Ofer
  • Reply 9 of 15
    minicoffeeminicoffee Posts: 51member
    It's like the designers don't use podcasts themselves. I like to look through the library of my favorite shows, and mark them for easy reference in the future, without downloading. Downloading takes up a lot of memory!  I used to do this by clicking once on the download indicator, so the cloud icon (with down arrow) appeared, but this didn't download the episode. That's no longer possible. Now you have to download it, or nothing. The "bookmark" feature downloads it too! So dumb. 
    lolliverfastasleep
  • Reply 10 of 15
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,264member
    Beats said:
    Apple went from inventing the podcast to having a monopoly on podcasts to saying “fu** you” to podcast users.

    Podcasts are exploding recently, I remember being one of the only people to use them in my social circle and I though *I* WAS LATE to the game back in 2011. Nowadays everyone knows what they are. This is the perfect time for Apple to take them more seriously and add to the ecosystem stickiness with their massive library.

    What a shame.
    What on earth are you talking about? Apple has never had a "monopoly" on podcasts. What "massive library"? Apple's app fetches the same podcasts from public RSS feeds like everyone else's apps, they don't host any content. Seems like you actually don't really know what podcasts are.
    cgWerks
  • Reply 11 of 15
    jovikejovike Posts: 9member
    Sorry, how do you display the episode notes? Nothing happens when I click on the title (which is not scrolling).

  • Reply 12 of 15
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,633member
    Great article, and if you're involved in podcasting I highly recommend you go read (and understand!) that link to Podnews ('Research performed' link in the article).

    Apple probably tried to do what Marco (Overcast) is doing, but messed it all up. It is a good thing, in terms of reducing the load on RSS feeds (of podcasts) and for the app users, in that if you're subscribed (now followed) to a lot of podcasts, it could take a lot of time and bandwidth to refresh them all. Now, Apple's servers do that 'heavy lifting.' That's one of the big reasons I've recommended switching to Overcast. BUT, Marco did it right, whereas Apple didn't (so far).

    The other issue, is that this gives Apple a bit too much censorship control over podcasts/episodes. In the past, once you're subscribed, the app read directly from the RSS feed. Even if Apple pulled an episode/podcast from the directory, the listener would keep getting episodes. Now, if they do so, it will stop, or the particular episode won't appear.

    For podcast listeners, I recommend considering 3rd party apps, like Overcast, or check out some of these newer apps https://podcastindex.org/apps starting to support the Podcasting 2.0 directory. If you're a podcaster, I suggest getting familiar with what is going on at https://podcastindex.org as it is not only a backup in terms of protecting the free-speech nature of podcasting, but they are also adding a TON (maybe too quickly, IMO) of new features which podcast hosts and players can implement, including direct listener to podcaster funding, meta-data based clips, tags to create an IMDB type functionality for podcasting, and much more.

    Beats said:
    Apple went from inventing the podcast to having a monopoly on podcasts to saying “fu** you” to podcast users.
    FYI, Apple DID NOT invent podcasting! It was Adam Curry and Dave Winer. Adam met with Steve Jobs just prior to Apple adding it to iTunes, and gave Steve the initial podcast index. Apple, yes, then totally popularized it. But, many of us were downloading podcasts (before they were known as such) and putting them on our MP3 players, or burning them to DVD-RWs to play in our cars, etc long before Apple got involved.

    Fortunately, they've done a nice job of helping promote it in a rather hands-off way so far. In that regard, huge thanks are in order. But, I fear those times are changing. Not that I think Apple is out to ruin it, but in their attempts to push it towards being a new services profit center, they might unintentionally do so (if we're not careful).

    fastasleep said:
    What on earth are you talking about? Apple has never had a "monopoly" on podcasts. What "massive library"? Apple's app fetches the same podcasts from public RSS feeds like everyone else's apps, they don't host any content. Seems like you actually don't really know what podcasts are.
    They didn't host any content until now, that is. And, you're totally correct except that they were like 80%+ of of the market in terms of directory-listing and their listenership of their player for a long time, which has dropped just under 60% more recently. It isn't a monopoly at all, as you point out, because they were never in control of it. But, they did wield a lot of influence, in terms of any changes. Podcasters have been begging for various features for quite some time, with pretty much no response, as you kind of had to get Apple to adopt anything if you wanted any success. I'm hoping Podcasting 2.0 (PodcastIndex.org) changes that.
    WTimberman
  • Reply 13 of 15
    crowleycrowley Posts: 7,616member
    Beats said:
    Apple went from inventing the podcast to having a monopoly on podcasts to saying “fu** you” to podcast users.

    Podcasts are exploding recently, I remember being one of the only people to use them in my social circle and I though *I* WAS LATE to the game back in 2011. Nowadays everyone knows what they are. This is the perfect time for Apple to take them more seriously and add to the ecosystem stickiness with their massive library.

    What a shame.
    What on earth are you talking about? Apple has never had a "monopoly" on podcasts. What "massive library"? Apple's app fetches the same podcasts from public RSS feeds like everyone else's apps, they don't host any content. Seems like you actually don't really know what podcasts are.
    The iTunes podcast listing was the definitive podcast listing for a long time.  Arguably it still is, as other podcast apps still refer to it for browsing and subscribing to podcasts.  But it's not the only game in town any more, and apparently they've made some inexplicable changes to the listing and API in ways which makes it difficult for third party developers.
    cgWerks
  • Reply 14 of 15
    crowleycrowley Posts: 7,616member
    cgWerks said:
    Beats said:
    Apple went from inventing the podcast to having a monopoly on podcasts to saying “fu** you” to podcast users.
    FYI, Apple DID NOT invent podcasting!
    He's been told this multiples times.  He doesn't care that he's wrong, he just does it to get a rise.  Ignore him.
    cgWerks
  • Reply 15 of 15
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,633member
    BTW, in most podcast apps (even Apple's) you can manually add feed URLs and bypass these directories. If there is a podcast you particularly care about, or for testing, or they cover controversial material, etc. it might be a good idea to set it up like that.

    An analogy might be to think of a podcast RSS feed like a web domain name. If someone knows that domain name, they can get right to your website. But, that name and links to your site probably show up in search engines as well. Google is the big, best known search engine currently, kind of like Apple is the big, best known podcast directory. You certainly want to be listed there, as you're likely to get more exposure (and if someone just knows about your podcast, it is the most likely place they'll look). \

    But, you want to do everything in your power to keep control of that RSS feed, just like you would your domain name. AND, when you promote your podcast, be sending them to your WEBSITE (not Apple, Spotify, etc.) where you should have a page directing them where to follow/subscribe on various platforms.
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