Together with Apple’s release of iTunes 4.9, on Tuesday, Apple release a software updater for 4G iPods and later. This updater adds some powerful new features to the iPod, to better manage podcasts, and provide a streamlined way of listening to them.First, this updater adds a Podcasts menu item below the Music menu; select Music, then select Podcasts to see a list of the podcasts you have on your iPod. The titles of the podcasts scroll, even on 4G iPods, and, when you select a podcast, you’ll see a list of episodes (whose titles also scroll, so you can see the full titles).
You start listening to a podcast the same way you listen to any other tracks on your iPod. The first new feature appears when you press the Select button twice while listening to a podcast. The first press lets you scroll through a show, and the second press displays the show notes. Quality podcasts have detailed show notes, though many of the podcasts currently available from iTunes have only limited notes.
Some podcasts can be “enhanced” podcasts. These are special versions of AAC files with “chapters”, or sections, and you can use these chapters to easily navigate the podcasts in iTunes (see my article The Complete Guide to iTunes 4.9, with Podcasts on iPodlounge for more on using this feature in iTunes), but the iPod lets you work with these chapters as well. If you are listening to an enhanced podcast – two examples are Apple’s iTunes New Music Tuesdays podcast and Adam Curry’s PodFinder – you’ll be able to skip through the chapters on the iPod.
You’ll be able to see whether a podcast is enhanced right away – the time line features little lines within it, indicating the location of chapter marks. Start listening to an enhanced podcast, then press the Select button once, and you’ll see the name of the chapter in a small font just above the time line. Press the Next button to skip to the next chapter, or the Previous button to go back. As you do, the iPod skips to the chapter mark, displays the name of the chapter, and starts playing from that point. A second press of the Select button displays program notes.
This ease-of-use could truly empower listeners as they tune into podcasts. The ability to see what’s in a podcast, and skip over the parts you don’t want to hear, resolve one of the biggest problems with audio content: the inability to skim and scan and only hear the bits you want. Apple has done something truly interesting with this feature, and the combination of podcasts in iTunes and these new features on the iPod, make podcasting really worth checking out.
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