The iPod is dead, but the podcast lives

Pour one for the iPod, the beautiful little gadget of my teenage dreams. While Apple finally discontinued the latest iPod model this week, the “pod” lives on in the digital audio medium we all love and obsess over.

The iPod was never really the format where podcasting flourished (that would be the smartphone), but when podcasts first started, the iPod was pretty much the only game in town. In 2004, iPod controlled 60% of the total MP3 player market. It was the default option for listening to audio broadcasts on the go, if they were inelegant.

“It was a terrible experience,” says Leo Laporte, founder of a first digital audio outlet This Week in Tech (TwiT) and radio show host The Tech Guy. “You had to download it to your computer, connect your computer through iTunes to your iPod, copy it to your iPod, and then you could listen to it.”

But with the ubiquitous gimmick, the name “podcast” seemed like a natural fit for the rambling online audio broadcasts that were beginning to emerge. So natural that two people claim to have merged “iPod” and “broadcast” separately. The first recorded case is in a 2004 Guardian article by journalist and technologist Ben Hammersley where he pitched potential names for the medium (“GuerillaMedia” didn’t get it). That same year, digital audio pioneer Dannie Gregoire named one of his software “podcaster” and registered domain names containing the word “podcast”, then popularized it with the help from former MTV VJ and early podcast host Adam Curry. Gregoire says he was unaware of Hammersley’s article before coming up with the name. “That’s an obvious word to come up with, given the technology,” he said. Hammersley did not respond to request for comment.

Anyway, it took. Apple not only let the word live, despite the potential trademark infringement, but it embraced the medium wholeheartedly by creating a directory of podcasts in iTunes in 2005. That same year, George W. Bush began publishing his presidential speeches on the radio as a podcast. The New Oxford American Dictionary took note of all the brouhaha and made a “podcast” his word of the year 2005.

Not everyone was happy. For years, Laporte fought — and lost — the battle to rebrand “podcasting” as “netcasting,” arguing that the word tied the form too closely to Apple. Time has proven him right and wrong. Yes, the iPod was a fleeting phase in the podcasting race. But the word has overtaken its namesake to the point where Apple is only part of the podcasting ecosystem and not even the dominant one. Spotify took its crown as the most widely used platform for podcasting, and Apple’s podcast lineup is minimal at best.

Even so, the word is inescapable. A few years ago, Laporte gave in and eventually changed the TWiT Netcast network to the TWiT Podcast network. “That’s how language is,” he says. “You can’t fight it.”

This story originally took place in hot capsule, The edge‘s preeminent audio industry newsletter. You can subscribe here for more scoops, analysis and reports.

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