Apple podcast updates will help you catch up on 'Serial'

It's introducing seasons, chronological order tags and more.

Podcasts have come a long way from the days when they represented a novel way to fill up your iPod. There are now shows with seasons (like Serial), teasers and other trappings that you'd normally expect from TV. Simply speaking, podcast apps need to evolve to keep pace with listening habits... and Apple knows it. The company has detailed changes to the specs for iOS 11's Podcasts app that will make it easier to listen to shows as intended. The spec now supports seasons, and you'll have the option of downloading an entire season in one go if you're catching up. Creators can specify that a show is meant to be heard in chronological order, and they can tag podcasts as bonuses or teasers. And that's not all -- Apple is also helping podcasters make a better living through ads.

The company will start using anonymized data to help podcasters identify how many people are actually listening to podcasts, as well as those moments when they skip ads. They'll find out whether or not they're keeping their audiences, and sponsors will know if those mid-episode plugs are translating to more customers. You'd be more likely to get podcasts that reflect what you want to hear, and advertisers might be more likely to back your favorite series if they know their campaigns are working.

Apple's updates also include "clear, concise" titles and a quick play feature in the iOS app to help you resume where you last left off.

All the changes appear to stem directly from last year's heart-to-heart chats between Apple and the podcasting community. At the time, authors were worried that iTunes and the Podcasts app weren't doing enough to nurture their content -- how are you supposed to make money from a show if you don't know reels in new listeners and sponsors? There are still some unanswered concerns about in-store discovery and paid shows (there's still no official purchase mechanism), but Apple is at least addressing some of the fundamental issues.