I tried a thought experiment four years ago where I'd look ahead eight years, imagining what the podcast discovery experience for listeners might look like in 2026. And no, I've no idea why I used eight years instead of ten. It's not like I naturally count in base-8 or anything.
We're now halfway through that completely arbitrary timeline, so I thought it might be interesting to take stock to see how my prediction (though it wasn't a prediction) is trending.
The answer is... a mixed bag. Well, a bag with exactly two things to support my vision of the future.
How Future Podcast Apps Could Work
Back then, I envisioned future podcast listening apps that evolved not to give us more but give us less. At least fewer choices when users of those apps were looking for their next podcast fix.
Specifically, my future vision was one where several specialty podcast listening apps would exist, containing—or perhaps only promoting—podcasts within a particular genre, vertical, or flare.
Say, for instance, you are a fan of fiction podcasts. In the future, you'd be able to use a podcast app focused exclusively on fiction podcasts. When you open the app, you'd see a curated selection of shows that fit that genre. So no Rogan. No The Daily. No Conan or anything else that wasn't podcast fiction, regardless of how popular the not-a-fiction podcast was. No, this new app would do what it says on the box, allowing the app to be tailored to accommodate that particular niche of podcasting. And in the case of fiction podcasts, the listening experience is quite different.
But when you think about it, the listening experience is quite different for other types of podcasts too. True Crime, for instance. It's a huge category, and plenty of listeners only listen to True Crime podcasts. So an app that curated only True Crime shows and optimized its design and functionality for listening to that type of podcast would, you can imagine, lead to a far superior listening experience that true True Crime fans would enjoy.
In fact, I think a smart development team could find ways to optimize the experience of those who prefer to listen to long-form interviews. Another could optimize finding and listening to sports-related podcasts. Another could start unpacking the messiness that is the Society & Culture category, which is the "junk drawer" of podcasting, in my opinion.
That's what I predicted would happen by 2026. How's that coming along halfway through my completely arbitrary timeline?
The Future Is Here... In Limited Capacity
I'm aware of two podcast apps that have already gone down the specialization route, tailoring their app around the needs of listening to a specific type of podcast.
The first is Apollo, which says it is... "A library of 7500+ shows on the only open-RSS podcatcher designed just for fiction, with new shows added every day. And playlists curated by audio drama creators. Plot your escape into a world of audio!"
Apollo isn't just choosing to list only fiction podcasts. It's wholly re-imagined the experience of listening to fiction podcasts and only fiction podcasts. They do things like correct the sort order (you start with the first episode, not the most recent), isolate out "bonus" episodes from the main content feed, and work with actual fiction podcast curators to curate various discovery lists... All things that make sense on this very specialized app but wouldn't work universally on apps that have every type of podcast. If not every podcast!
The second is Maps.fm. (Full disclosure: I'm on the advisory board.) Maps.fm is customized not to a particular genre like—Society & Culture - Places & Travel, you might imagine—but to only contain and surface podcast episodes or entire shows about a specific local area. Not podcasts produced in a particular area. But podcasts that are on an incredibly localized topic.
Here's why that's cool: In a couple of weeks, I'm going on vacation to Ireland in a couple of weeks, and I've no idea what I should be doing. But when I open Maps.fm's helpful map-based view and zoom in on Dublin, for instance, I'm shown episodes of various podcast about a particular attraction, neighborhood, or moment in history. And I can get all that without suffering through a rotten text-based search bar experience. Nope. Find the location. Zoom in. Move around. See only the episodes from lots of different podcasts that are about a single place. Brilliant!
That's just two. There are probably other specialized listening apps I don't know about. And I really, really want to know about them. So please, if you have a suggestion for a podcast listening app that intentionally limits the content they index to give a customized experience that's just not possible in a one-size-fits-all podcast listing app, let me know.
So... how do I feel about my "prediction" (that wasn't a prediction)? Pretty good. We're still four years away from 2026, so there's plenty of time for more specialized podcast listening apps to be developed.
So keep your eye on the podcast app space, and when you hear of one developing that covers your particular genre or area of focus, get to know the developers and see if they're into letting you help shape the app's development.
With millions of podcasts available, we need apps like these to not only make for better listening experiences but also to provide an alternate discovery system. Here's to the future!
I shall be back next week with yet another Podcast Pontifications.