The rebirth of the podcast?

Some details have emerged over the past couple of days about a patent that Apple has filed for that applies to podcasts (or at least to audio streams of some kind, which for the purposes of the patent are called podcasts). There are some details at AppleInsider and at ZDnet, and some thoughts about the potential implications of what Apple appears to be proposing at Hear 2.0 and Last100 that are worth checking out.

As Ars Technica points out, Apple is clearly thinking about broadening what we think of as the podcasting business, which at this point is pretty much just talk radio on a digital device. Another recent patent application that Apple filed describes what it calls “podmaps” — which appears to be a process for downloading maps and then translating text-based directions into audio. And the most recent patent looks like Apple is thinking of ways to comb through audio files and pull out pieces of them and then let you download just the bits you want.

One of the reasons this interests me is that I just haven’t taken to podcasting, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Friends say they are using podcasts more and more, and that they have pretty well replaced radio. But part of what bothers me (as it does with video) is how difficult it is to scan through an hour-long podcast. If Apple’s patent makes that easier, then I’m all for it (coincidentally enough, this weekend is Podcamp in Toronto, which I’m appearing at with my friend Keith McArthur).

Mark Hopkins at Mashable notes that this kind of idea isn’t particularly new (which makes me wonder whether Apple isn’t reaching a bit in trying to file a patent on it, given such “prior art” and the “obviousness” test in U.S. patent law), but I still think the idea has a lot of merit. I don’t really care whether Apple does it or not, although its dominance in the portable media player business makes it the obvious candidate.

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