Apple Goes Podcasting with iTunes 4.9

Podcasts may be a nascent media form appealing only to tech-heads and online radio enthusiasts, but Apple is hoping to change all that with the launch of iTunes 4.9. The update brings with it a podcast-enabled iTunes Music Store that enables amateurs to list their recorded radio shows for millions to download.

Podcasting comes from the meshing of the words iPod and broadcasting, and was largely spearheaded by RSS creator Dave Winer and former MTV personality Adam Curry. Podcasts are distributed via RSS feeds like standard Web content; links are simply embedded in the XML and podcast utilities can automatically download the audio.

Apple calls the new trend "radio reborn" and is betting consumers will be so interested in joining the revolution that it has built native podcast subscription support into iTunes. Apple's audio software handles the downloading of podcasts using RSS and supports bookmarking for resuming a podcast where it was last stopped.

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The company's iPod line has also been refreshed with a Podcast menu and support for the automatic syncing of downloaded podcasts. New color screens also mean listeners can view artwork associated with a podcast to enhance the experience.

"Apple is taking Podcasting mainstream by building it right into iTunes," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. "Podcasting is the next generation of radio, and users can now subscribe to over 3,000 free Podcasts and have each new episode automatically delivered over the Internet to their computer and iPod."

Content providers can easily submit their own podcast feeds for publication in iTunes. Current podcasts listed include ESPN, ABC News, Adam Curry's Daily Source Code, BBC, Clear Channel, The Dawn and Drew Show, and Disney. Apple has released a Chapter Tool, currently in beta and only for Mac OS X, to aid in the creation of podcasts.

It remains to be seen whether podcasting will catch on among consumers, but the feature gives Apple an early-mover advantage if it does. In addition, those who utilize iTunes for podcasting may soon find themselves purchasing songs from Apple's music store, which has sold over 430 million tracks to date.

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