Apple’s terrible podcast app has finally taught me a lesson about myself—and I don’t like it. If I was already mad at the app before, I’m utterly incensed at it now, due to all this unwanted introspection.
Before revealing the substance of what I’ve reluctantly learned, allow me to recap the drama surrounding this bewildering app.
Apple’s podcast player was never quite a fan favorite, but its reputation took a massive hit after a disastrous update last spring. Even had it worked properly, the redesign felt like users were always trying to find their favorite podcasts on a stranger’s device, leaving entire queues scrambled or decimated—but on top of all that, an infestation of bugs made the app even less inhabitable. It was so bad, I took a quick tour of all the other podcast apps on offer . . . without ever taking the leap, of course.
So it came as not much of a surprise the other day when I noticed that the app had gotten even worsedespite its suspiciously high rating in the app store.
Few things are as boring to read about in detail quite like podcast app defects, so I will keep this description brief. Sometimes, lately, the app just stops working in the middle of a podcast, as though it got so bored facilitating an episode of Las Culturistas that it died. The strip at the bottom of my phone screen that usually displays what’s Now Playing, suddenly reads Not Playing and jettisons the podcast art thumbnail for good measure. Whatever song I was last listening to—songs being distinct from podcasts—returns when I manually command my AirPods to resume playing.
Trying to go back to the podcast’s landing page only leads me to an eternal loading screen, the podcast app equivalent of the MacBook’s spinning beachball of death. All there is to do at that point is restart my phone, and hope the problem gets fixed . . . and that the podcast I was previously listening to isn’t one of the odd ones that gets Raptured from my phone sometimes lately, under completely mysterious circumstances.
It was something of a relief to type “apple podcast app” in Twitter’s search field and uncover several fresh complaints about the app from the same week. At least I was not alone.
But why was I still there at all? What was keeping me within this podcast app’s grasp, after marveling at its ineptitude time and again?
I did some involuntary soul-searching about that, and here’s what I’ve concluded.
As I’ve written before, I am absolutely addicted to seltzer, aka jazz water—the crisp, sparkling nectar of the beverage gods. I drink so much of the stuff, it’s almost a problem. When I drink it from cans or bottles with such voraciousness, it is a problem. In an effort to be more environmentally conscientious, though, I bought a SodaStream several years ago. It was an easy, affordable way to have all the seltzer I could handle, right at my fingertips, without buying cans in Doomsday Preppers bulk at Costco.
I used the machine exactly once and then abandoned it forever.
It wasn’t a mindful abandoning. No decisions were made. I never officially swore off the SodaStream because it required a couple more steps than I’d have preferred. Instead, I just avoided it at every opportunity. There was a first time I wanted some seltzer but didn’t feel like actually making any, and then there was every organic subsequent time the same exact thing that happened, until the machine was either consumed by dust mites entirely or thrown out by my wife. It was only this past winter, though, when my wife purchased SodaStream’s Fizzi One-Touch Sparkling Water Maker—and I started using it all the time—that I realized what was going on.
The value proposition of that earlier SodaStream had failed to convert me into a power user. All it apparently took, though, was making carbonation so easy I merely had to tap a single button.
That is also the appeal of Apple’s podcast app. Not that the app is so easy to use, but that it’s so easy to not have to install and learn another app; so easy to keep the default podcast setting of my iPhone and the one that bears its manufacturer’s name; so easy to just roll with the punches until I’m bloody and bruised, and then keep rolling some more.
The tyranny of technological comfort has left me addicted to the path of least resistance. I now want and expect a frictionless experience at all times and in all situations. Whenever I encounter the slightest hint of resistance or redundancy in an app or device, I am not only turned off but dumbfounded. How have they not optimized this yet? Let’s go!
Meanwhile, I can’t bring myself to optimize my own life by getting rid of the most confoundingly bad app I’ve ever used at length, just because to do so would require touching more than one button one time. The temporary epic friction of test-driving other podcast apps seems to outweigh the perpetual friction of continuing to use the one that’s currently making my life worse. There was simply a first time I wanted a better app but didn’t feel like actually doing anything about it, and then there was every organic subsequent time I did the same exact thing.
Does Apple know this about me—that I will never leave its cursed app? Is this data point something the company has actively been trying to locate, using as bait an app in perpetual decline like the picture of Dorian Gray?
If all the bugs and questionable design choices are part of a stress test to find the lazy iPhone-owner’s breaking point, I have now concluded: I do not have one. They can throw in a bug that exclusively plays banned Joe Rogan episodes and Car Talk reruns, and I will hold a gruel bowl up to my ears and say, “More, please.” As long as every other device is breathtakingly convenient, I will not stop using this app until Apple stops making it.
Or at least not until they add a button that finds and installs what it intuits from my data is the optimal podcast player for me, with just one touch of that button.