Podcasting has risen in popularity, sunk like a stone, and then recovered more times than your favorite celebrity trying to make a comeback. Back when podcasts first debuted around 2005, the idea seemed strange — like having your own radio station or talk show. I remember creating a podcast way back in 2006 or so, with all of the newbie hallmarks, like cheesy intro music and awkward audio cuts.
Then, after the success of the Serial and Revolutions podcasts, I started getting into them again. Obviously, most of us were already used to having a device that plays podcasts easily on Android and iOS, but the new podcast revolution was different for me. In my view, the shows rivaled what you can hear on the radio and in many ways were even better. Serial is up there with most television news programs. You could play any show from a previous season, which has always been true, yet having access to every podcast from Serial (instead of the one your cousin does with his friends where they talk about goth rock bands) is suddenly more impressive.
Recently, I re-rediscovered podcasts in a car I’m testing, the 2017 VW Tiguan. After connecting up with Apple CarPlay using a USB cable and seeing my iPhone 7 Plus apps pop up in the dash display, I finally noticed the podcast icon next to the ones for music, nav, and texting by voice. It was cool to have such easy access to my favorite shows, including some by a few comedians I like and one my son-in-law does on local professional sports teams. How had I missed this feature before?
Because CarPlay works exactly like my phone, I was able to find the most recent podcasts for the shows with a few flicks on the display. I was also impressed with the audio quality. The Tiguan uses a Fender sound system that has a rich tonal quality — not too loud, but distinct. The audio from Serial is fairly pristine — they obviously use high-quality microphones.
One of the interesting features on CarPlay is that it restricts your history a bit. For example, when you look for your recently added music or podcasts, you won’t see all of the options. That’s a safety feature, because it’s much better to use your voice to do a search while you’re driving. When I asked Siri to “play the Serial podcast” by long-pressing on the voice activation button in the Tiguan, Siri showed me that podcast after a short pause, and then I hit play. It’s a new way to interact with my podcast library.
That said, it would be nice to have much more powerful features for CarPlay control. I wanted to be able to do a voice search when I was listening to Revolutions and have Siri look for specific episodes related to George Washington. It would be cool to have Siri do even more to help me, like having a discussion about my interests and then playing related podcasts.
Those features are likely coming soon, especially since Siri has fallen behind Amazon Alexa and Google Home’s Assistant bot in overall AI capability.
Still, driving around in the Tiguan all week it was great to have such easy access to my podcasts, even if a few of them still use cheesy intro music.