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Google launches podcast player for Android

By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 19 July 2017, 5.52am edt

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Edit: The below article actually refers to a product that Google originally launched in April 2016, and has some documentation. The fact that this player was news to podcasting experts that I contacted rather highlights the failure of Google to have promoted this product. There are signs that better functionality is on the way.

Google has quietly launched a podcast player for every recent Android phone.

Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world, with 81% of the market. Apple's iOS operating system only has 17.9%. Yet, Apple is driving podcasting's success.

Until now, podcasts have required you to download an app for Android phones. There are no shortage of good, fully-featured apps; but it's an additional hurdle to ask a potential listener to download a new app just to listen.

Google's quiet launch of a podcast player into Android is significant, therefore, since it has the capability of greatly increasing the amount of listeners to podcasts.

The new podcast player, part of the Google app that is preinstalled on virtually every Android phone, allows a user to listen to the latest podcast from a publisher, as well as to add that podcast to their home screen. This adds a small icon of the podcast to a user's launcher, allowing them to quickly open that podcast and listen to it.

As discovered on the daily Podnews website, here's how it works.

  • Open Google Assistant. It's available on most Android phones running Android v6 and above, by holding down the home key. It'll say "Hi, how can I help?"
  • Say "Play 'The Daily' Podcast".
  • The Google Assistant will confirm it'll play the podcast, and then start playing it. The screen will show the latest episodes, and you can touch any episode to read the show notes.
  • On most podcasts, you'll have the option to "Add to home screen". This adds a shortcut on your home screen to that podcast.

The app plays in the background. To stop it playing, use the controls in your notifications.

The app appears to remember where you left off. If you close a podcast in the middle, the next time you ask to play the podcast it'll take you from where you stopped listening. It also marks episodes you've listened to. And if you use more than one device, it syncs your progress on all of them. The player has a skip-forward button, which jumps 30 seconds, and a skip-back button, which goes back 10. The disparity is probably designed to help users skip ads and segments they aren't interested in.

You can click the program to read the show notes. Users of Android Wear devices can also control the playback on their watch. It currently has no Chromecast support, however.

This behaviour is new, and may be only available on the beta version of the Google app. If that's the case, you may need to opt into the beta version by searching for the Google App on the Play Store and then scrolling down to the bottom of the page to opt into the beta program.

Don't have Google Assistant on your phone? Don't panic: here's another way:

  • In the Google search bar, type "Play James Cridland's podcast"
  • This will bring up a set of search results, some of which have play buttons.
  • Hitting "play" will start playing it in the Google app, and it will allow you to add it to your home screen.

Using the search bar is also a good way to find less popular podcasts. I couldn't get the CBC News hourly podcast to play using Google Assistant, yet I could find it, buried in Google's listings, and play it from there.

At the time of writing, it's unclear whether the podcast listing that this app uses is from Google Play Music or another source. It's also unclear whether podcasts that have been saved to your home screen give you an alert when there's a new episode to listen to. [Edit - they don't.]

In testing, I noted that adding to the home screen doesn't appear possible if part of the podcast is being served via HTTPS. The Daily by the New York Times is one such podcast.

Is this the finished podcast integration for Android? Will Google promote this clearly as a way to listen? And why does "Play James Cridland's podcast" work when the title is actually "James Cridland - radio futurologist"? As we learn more about this feature, we'll see if we can get some answers.

This was tested on a Google Pixel XL running Android 7.1; and on an LG Stylus 2 running Android 6.0.

Interested in podcasting? You should subscribe to podnews.net, where this story was published. Daily, short emails with all you need to know about podcasting and on-demand.

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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Comments

1 month ago

Sorry, James, but the person on PodNews was, unfortunately, quite mistaken. This is NOT new. It's been around since at least last year, and has already been reported on by top podcasting experts.

1 month ago

Oh, I see that you're the author of PodNews. So, I'm sorry to burst your bubble.

PRO1 month ago

Thanks, Daniel. I've updated the piece. As I say, "The fact that this player was news to podcasting experts that I contacted rather highlights the failure of Google to have promoted this product." I did consult a few, and all said that they'd never heard of this.

I hope that podnews continues to be a good read, notwithstanding that.

1 month ago

Yeah, Google is horrible with podcasts. They had Google Listen for a while, which was only okay, but at least it was an official Google app designed specifically for podcasts. But then they killed it. When podcasts launched in Google Play Music, that seemed like a great thing, but it was and continues to be a horrendously small release. And the promised updates still haven't happened.

I really think the sole purpose of this search feature is for Google assistants: Android, Home, and such.

Google simply doesn't get it, yet. We really need a "Google Play Podcasts" app.

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