The iPod is dead, but the podcast lives on

Pour one for the iPod, the cute 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 in which the podcast flourished (that would be the smartphone), but at the time podcasts started, the iPod was pretty much the only game in town. In 2004, the iPod controlled 60 percent of the total MP3 player market. It was the default option for listening to audio programs on the go, albeit inelegantly so.

“It was a terrible experience,” says Leo Laporte, founder of the 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 device ubiquitous, the name “podcast” seemed to fit right in with the online audio programs that were beginning to emerge. So natural that two people claim to have separately merged “iPod” and “streaming.” The first recorded instance is in 2004 guardian article by journalist and technologist Ben Hammersley in which he throws out potential names for the medium (“GuerillaMedia” didn’t get it). That same year, digital audio pioneer Dannie Gregoire named one of his software programs “podcaster” and registered domain names with the word “podcast,” then popularized it with the help of former MTV VJ and one of the first podcast hosts, Adam Curry. Gregoire says that he was not aware of Hammersley’s article before coming up with the name. “It’s an obvious word, given the technology,” he said. Hammersley did not respond to request for comment.

Either way, it caught on. Not only did Apple let the word live, despite possible trademark infringement, but it wholeheartedly embraced the medium by creating a podcast directory on iTunes in 2005. That same year, George W. Bush began publishing his speeches presidential radio broadcasts in the form of a podcast. The New Oxford American Dictionary took notice of all the fuss and made “podcast” its word of the year for 2005.

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

Still, the word is inescapable. A few years ago, Laporte relented and eventually changed the TWiT Netcast Network to the TWiT Podcast Network. “That’s the language,” he said. “You can’t fight that.”

This story was originally published on hot pod, the edgeThe preeminent newsletter for the audio industry. you can subscribe here for more scoops, analysis and reports.

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