I have a theory (truthfully a wish) for the explanation behind why Apple's iOS 6 beta seems to be excluding support for browsing and downloading podcasts within the built-in iTunes Store app.
Many have speculated and reported that Apple is planning on introducing a standalone Podcasts application for iOS, similar to what they've done with iBooks.
While I agree that this would be a smart move for Apple, I believe that the real winning combination would be a full, end-to-end solution, and this post is my pitch. The rest of this post will be written in the hypothetical. No little birdies whispered in my ear here, just my pure predictions.
Apple would host an iTunes Connect style management interface for creating/updating shows, support for both Audio and Video podcasts are included. Key Feature: Apple would host the audio and video data files for producers, for free, just like they host TV Shows, Movies, Songs, Books, Applications, etc for their other iTunes Store types. Apple's (not so new anymore) North Carolina data center would be touted as one of the ways Apple is able to provide such a service. Producers are able to sign in, add new episodes, attach show notes, links, and upload their media. New episodes will then go live, and appear for consumers in the iTunes Store and native iOS Podcasts application (possibly with or without an approval process).
Producers could offer each episode for free or set a pricing tier, similar to how application developers set their prices today. This would allow for independent content providers to release their content for a minimal fee and turn their hobbies into actual businesses, exactly like application developers did when the App Store first launched back in 2008. Imagine a world where episodes of fantastic independent content like Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog or The vlogbrother's Crash Course and Sci Show get released for each week for $0.99 USD. Consumers could purchase season passes, buy individual episodes or subscribe to only the free episodes. The possibilities here are practically endless.
In addition, as many have reported, Apple is likely working on a revamped version of it's Podcast Producer software, that has shipped with OS X Server for a few years now. The new application would included an interface for recording, mixing, editing, and uploading episodes in both Audio-only and Video formats. This application would run on OS X Mountain Lion and would integrate with the aforementioned backend iTunes Connect-style management service.
Now the really big one. A universal (iPhone & iPad) iOS application entitled "Podcasts". This application would provide a way to browse available shows, read about them and subscribe to your favorites. Basicallly extending the existing functionality avaiable in the Podcasts section of the iTunes Store today.
Since Apple will now control the experience end-to-end, they can now provide fantastic support for things like push notifications when new episodes go live.
Any consumer who has subscribed to a particular podcast "feed" will now be able to get push notifications and, as many have reported, even automatic background downloading of episodes as soon as they are released and available, permitting their device's battery and network state permit it. This idea also cooperates nicely with the recently announced "Power Nap" feature for the newer Apple notebook machines.
What does this really mean?
I've thought about this a lot, and I've come to the conclusion that the real competion here could be with services like YouTube and Vimeo. YouTube has been ]working quite a bit lately at trying to get more serialized content on their service. They've been investing millions in independent content providers in an attempt to get higher quality regularly scheduled content going on their network.
An Apple-hosted Podcasts service could help to further blur the lines between professional and independent content providers, giving this type of content the same "bump" that indie developers got with App Store.
I admit, this is a bit of wishful thinking on my part, as I'd love to see this type of content be readily available on Apple's platforms. But given the evidence, I'd say it's at least a solid theory.