Apple acquires and shutters podcasting app Swell

Apple acquires and shutters podcasting app Swell

Summary: Earlier this week Apple acquired presumably for its fabulous Swell app for iOS. While I was hoping that Apple would keep Swell alive post-acquisition, my worst fears have come true.

TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPhone

Late Sunday re/code broke the news that Apple acquired for $30 million. The company's Swell app for iOS was best described by Liz Gannes as "Pandora-for-talk-radio" and was a home screen app for me. 

Swell's strength was in its podcast discovery feature. At first launch users would select from a dozen or so pre-defined categories (like technology, science, movies, etc.) and Swell would use an algorithm to select individual podcasts for you. Like Pandora and iTunes Radio, Swell learned from skips, likes, shares and listen times to serve more relevant podcasts. And it was great. 

It was one of the few iOS app that I could launch and just listen to. On the rare occasion that I didn't like a particular podcast, a simple right-to-left swipe brought up the next podcast 'card' in the well-curated cue. Podcasts in Swell were  streamed (rather than downloaded) relieving users of the find-subscribe-download-play drudgery typical of most "podcatcher" apps. 

Swell also featured a drop-dead simple, card-based user interface that was gorgeous. It literally required zero thought and let the content take center stage. When a podcast was playing Swell gave users the opportunity to swipe left to skip to the next podcast, in addition to the usual play, pause, scrub and share controls. 

As you can tell from the past tense, Apple turned off the Swell service today. I was listening to the Alec Baldwin's excellent Here's the Thing podcast (the Jerry Seinfeld episode) when Swell summarily stopped streaming. I briefly saw an error message about a problem with "Gremlins in the system" and poof, it was gone. 

Now the Swell app and the websites just display a simple "Thank you" message that makes no mention of the Apple acquisition, nor if/when the service will return.

It's upsetting when amazing apps get acquired only to be shuttered, but I hope that Apple resurrects Swell. It's first party Podcasts app (free, App Store) is universally reviled and Apple would be well served to re-release Swell as its replacement.

It's also possible that Apple's simply acquiring the intellectual property and designers to subsume them into iTunes to work on iTunes Radio, or the current Podcasts app – which would be a shame. Apple could also use the engineers to add a Talk section to iTunes Radio.

While its reconsidering its music apps, Apple should break up iTunes for OS X and re-release it as a series of individual, purpose-built apps for music, movies, apps and podcasts (like it's starting to do in iOS). iTunes on the desktop is the poster child of bloatware and has devolved into a user-experience nightmare that's the antithesis of Apple. 

While podcast serendipity took a hit with the demise of Swell, there are other podcasting apps that are exponentially better than Apples one-and-a-half star rated Podcasts app. Until something like Swell comes back, take a look at Marco Arment's excellent Overcast (Free with IAPs, App Store) and Downcast ($2.99, App Store). 

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPhone

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Under Tim Cook

    Sean Foley
    • Please

      everyone does this. It is a normal and perfectly acceptable thing.

      Microsoft bought PowerPoint, for instance. And I for one am glad they did!
      • And canned it?

        MS didn't end PP.
        • Correct

          Regulator1956 said "MS didn't end PP."

          You are correct. They didn't end Powerpoint. However, there is a HUGE list of software that Microsoft bought and then killed. How many of these were killed (and by killed I mean they were shut down and are not used by Microsoft):

          Yes, some were bought and absorbed. Others were bought with that intent and then management changed directions and were terminated.
          • Hmmm

            Just remember that some products that were bought and then shut down may have been merged in or updated current products.
      • Oops, I was about to flame you

        I thought you said Sharepoint, which is a POS.
      • PPT

        And they only paid Forethought $14 million for PPT. A real steal.

        Who can possibly say how PPT would have developed otherwise.

        What happened when MSFT paid about $190 million for Fox?
    • Kill It

      If you cannot do better then buy it and kill it.
      • Errr

        That's your opinion but for Microsoft big bucks.
    • So, why aren't you beating up on the owners

      of Swell? Apple can't buy it if they aren't willing to sell it.
      • I believe they could...

        Usually called a hostile takeover.

        It can also happen to private firms that accept venture capital - all that is necessary is that the control given the venture capital fund is purchased from the venture capital...
  • Keep the users happy

    Apple could at least leave the app working while they work to integrate it.
  • Where's Lala?

    Apple shoots dollars instead of bullets, no less egregious!......& where's Pear OS?
    • You do realize that in order to buy something

      the other person has to be willing to sell it, right? So why all your venom for the buyer and not the seller?
      • Monopoly!

        Predatory practices perfected by the robber barons of the past. Where are you Teddy?
      • They offered them $30 million.

        If someone offered me $30 million for something,I'd be stupid not to sell.
  • Yahoo did the same thing with MusicMatch...

    Because some dolt executive woke up one day and said 'let's beat apple at their music game' and bought the best MP3 ultility there was at the time, and subsequently killed it.

    We now know how the rest of their plan worked, but I was hoping somebody somewhere had the MM codebase so it could be released into the wild. Shame. Its functionality is still unmatched to this day, IMO.
    • Ah

      So that's what happened to MM. Another good thing screwed up by Yahoo.
  • it's better, for Swell, than being Sherlocked

    At least they got $30 million out of it. Apple likes to acqu-I-hire talent and technology, and I bet we'll see big pieces of Swell's guts grafted into iOS and Apple apps. It just may not be quickly.
  • No, don't completely split up iTunes

    I like having ONE app on my iMac to sync my music, ringtones, books, apps, contacts, and calendar to my iDevices. Spin off 2 separate apps: "Watch" for movies, videos, TV Shows and, "Listen" for podcasts and Apple Radio