If you notice a change of language the next time you add a series in Apple Podcasts, you won't be alone. Podnews and 9to5Mac report that Apple is changing the option to "subscribe" to a podcast to "follow" as of iOS 14.5 and its iPadOS counterpart While Apple hasn't explained the change (we've asked Apple for comment), it's likely a simple matter of perception. "Subscribe" implies that you're paying a recurring cost, and that might put off new listeners who might not realize most podcasts are free.
Nearly half of people who don't listen to podcasts think it will cost money, Edison Research's Tom Webster found.
Apple isn't first to use "follow" language. Spotify, Amazon and Stitcher already do. However, Apple's move may have a significant impact on podcast uptake. The Podcasts app is one of the most-used podcasts clients on the planet, if partly because it's the default app on iOS. A new turn of phrase could easily change behavior for many people. And remember, the very concept of podcasting is tied to Apple — the name comes from the days when you'd load your iPod with new episodes. This choice of words might have a ripple effect on other podcast apps, even if you're not inclined to use any Apple products.
It might also be a matter of strategic necessity. Rumors have swirled of Apple launching a premium podcast service. If that's the case, the company might need to clearly differentiate between free and paid shows. A seemingly simple change like this could be laying the groundwork for much, much more.