But limitations in watchOS 4 make it impossible to deliver standalone podcast playback with the basic functionality and quality that people expect.
Understanding these limitations requires you to read a lot of coding talk, but here’s what it boils down to. Podcast app developers could deliver a Watch companion, but you wouldn’t like it. The reason you wouldn’t like it boils down to what Cupertino allows the Apple Watch to do with audio in the background. The unfortunate reality for now is that we won’t be able to listen to podcasts on Apple Watch in a way that makes sense.
Podcasts on Apple Watch Without Playback Memory
In watchOS 4, any app that plays background audio has to use a method that doesn’t save playback progress. It also doesn’t wake the app up when you pause, seek, or reach the end of an episode.
Arment points out the problem here. “Since most podcast listeners also listen on their iPhone, the Watch needs to sync each episode’s listening progress with its iPhone app or a web service.” That’s just not possible with how watchOS 4 is coded.
Dropping the Ball in a Surprisingly Big Way
To me, allowing the background audio app refresh on Apple Watch needed to save playback progress should be a no-brainer. With the introduction of the LTE-capable Apple Watch Series 3, the concept of exercising or otherwise going without your iPhone is a reality. Sure, you can stream music through the app, but what about playing podcasts?
Can’t do it. Apple doesn’t even provide a Podcasts app for Apple Watch. It’s a perplexing, annoying, and slightly maddening example of Cupertino seriously dropping the ball on something it helped popularize in the first place.
Apple, Please Fix Podcasting in watchOS 5
Since it’s too late to come for watchOS 4, I’m going to put this out there for Apple to ponder. Podcasts are extremely popular, and many listeners enjoy them instead of music when walking, running, or otherwise working out.
The current state of affairs is unacceptable. If we can have music apps on our wrist, and use them sans iPhone, why not podcast apps? With cellular support arriving on Apple Watch, many podcast listeners want to leave their iPhones behind but still listen to their favorite shows. They can’t do that.
For now, I’ll have to keep lugging my iPhone around in an awkward armband when I want to listen to podcasts while working out. Maybe next year, Cupertino will have listened and I’ll get my wish in watchOS 5.