New Apple Podcasts Spec Coming with iOS 11

Today, at one of the last sessions of WWDC 2017, Apple outlined some big changes to their podcast specification. This spec sits atop RSS and defines the format for delivering content that, for the most part, all podcasters follow and all podcatchers use to consume feeds.

The new changes are aimed at helping creators of seasonal and serialised content better express how their shows should be listened to. With the addition of podcast type and season fields, these podcasts can now be treated differently from their standard episodic counterparts. For example, come iOS 11 new subscribers within Apple's own podcast app will be guided towards the first episode of a run, and not simply the most recent episode overall.

Another welcome addition is the episode field, which means that episodes can easily define a title and episode number without jamming both in together. Episodes can also now be marked as being trailers or bonus content, which should make it easier for creators to promote their shows and provide extra value, without distracting from their main feed.

Apple Podcasts Analytics

Another huge announcement was the addition of podcasts analytics coming later this year. While details around this new feature are scarce, this will give podcasters a better insight into how their content is being consumed, at least through iTunes and Apple's podcast app. Traditionally, podcast creators have relied on download numbers to get an idea of how their show is performing, but with statistics from Apple they will be able to view actual play numbers as well as things like average time listened per subscriber, abandonment point and completion percentage. While more data is often a positive thing, advertisers will likely start expecting to review this information before sponsoring a show, so hopefully this doesn't end up having a negative effect on the industry.

I hope to incorporate some of these changes into the feed of Tangential Soup, the podcast I cohost, in the not too distant future. However, as it's hosted by Squarespace it's really just a wait and see if they decide to adopt the updated spec in a timely manner. It's interesting to note they aren't on Apple's list of podcast partners, unlike the other popular hosts: Blubrry, Libsyn and Soundcloud.

iTunes Connect App Analytics

At WWDC last year Apple told developers that they’d soon have access to analytics for their apps. On the eve of the 2015 conference the folks in Cupertino have finally made good on that promise, albeit in beta form.

While analytics for applications if far from a new concept, the options on Apple’s platforms have up until now all involved embedding third party libraries at build time and being willing to share your app’s data with the company providing that solution. For both of these reasons the team and I at Armchair Engineering decided not to pursue any of these alternatives, and instead wait and hope Apple would eventually deliver some means of gaining a greater insight into how one’s apps are performing. 

Perhaps the best thing about the new analytics package is that not a single line of code is required to enable it, it just works. Upon launching the new dashboard you’ll be greeted with a colourful and graphic-rich overview of your app’s performance. 

AppAnalyticsScreenshot2

The data here goes well beyond the standard download and revenue numbers iTunes connect has always offered, providing figures relating to conversion, retention and engagement. The latter probably being the most immediately interesting to a small operation such as ours; its always nice seeing your software finding a place in people’s lives and isn’t simply being deleted moments after installation. Although, as we move forward the conversion information will go a long way to understanding where new customers are coming from and helping to identify areas that can be improved.

One drawback that is probably worth mentioning is that many of these important figures are collected only from devices running  iOS 8 and from those users who have opted-in to share their data with app developers during the initial setup of their device (or potentially, although far less likely found and enabled this option in settings - Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & Usage > Share With App Developers). The good news though is that despite this the number of users who have done this seems to be surprisingly good. For Temperature Converter (the app associated with the data in the screengrab above), Apple reports that in the last 30 days 22 % of users have in fact agreed to share their data. While this number isn’t quite as good for all of our apps, varying between 15 and 25 percent, there’s still plenty of data to be relevant and potentially very useful.