The Apple Watch is set to become almost an entirely new device with the introduction of watchOS 2 this fall, but the changes set to arrive with the update seem like they’ll have extreme benefits for one group in particular: podcast aficionados, and podcasters themselves.
How does watchOS 2 achieve this? Two ways: support for local, long-form audio playback, and support for audio recording – including high-quality audio recording that could be suitable for use in content designed for a listening audience.
Apple Watch long-form audio playback is different from the way it handles short clips; app makers will be able to create custom UIs for controlling playback of the longer audio streams and files they provide users, and long-form tracks will play in the background, even while the app isn’t active, with playback control options always accessible via the stock Now Playing glance in watchOS.
Long-form audio only outputs to a connected Bluetooth speaker, headset or pair of headphones connected to your Apple Watch, and never to the built-in speaker. That’s a sensible decision on Apple’s part, since it’s unlikely many people would even want to listen to longer content on the Watch’s tiny speaker, and even if they did, they should be prevented from doing so in the interest of those around them. But it’s also now available without your iPhone present, which is great for runs, walks and other temporary outings where the distraction or burden of carrying a phone isn’t wanted.
The fact that an application can offer long-form audio in the background is key, because that means it can run while you’re using a workout app, or that you can use it in tandem with other content provided by the app offering the audio itself; imagine scrollable show notes, or occasional image assets that might supplement a feed, visible while the show is running.
Finally, that audio recording capability offers the chance to actually use the Watch as an input mechanism for creating podcasts. Apple has anticipated Watch uses beyond simple voice memos and messages with watchOS 2 recording powers; there are three distinct audio quality choices developers can use when capturing recorded content, including a high quality version that will probably provide serviceable raw material for podcast recording in a pinch.
Other new features, including support for third-party Complications on the Apple Watch faces, and support for digital crown input, could result in interesting podcast-related features like a list of upcoming scheduled shows, or the ability to finely scrub through an episode’s timeline on your wrist.
Of course, things like long-form audio have other potential benefits, including for audiobook applications, and recording as ample other uses, most of which will probably be much more popular. Still, for the podcasting crowd, Apple is doing a lot that’s going to result in a much better experience once it arrives in the fall.