Apple acquires and shutters podcasting app Swell

Summary:Earlier this week Apple acquired Concept.io 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.

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(Photo: Concept.io)

Late Sunday re/code broke the news that Apple acquired Concept.io 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 Concept.io/Swell.am websites just display a simple "Thank you" message that makes no mention of the Apple acquisition, nor if/when the service will return. 

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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 Concept.io 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 Concept.io 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

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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