Sherlocked and unSherlocked

In the current episode of The Prompt, the boys delve into the history of Sherlocking, both real Sherlocking, as with Sherlock/Watson and Dashboard/Konfabulator, and imagined or predicted Sherlocking, as with Reading List/Instapaper and Camera/Camera+. It’s a fun episode, but it’s missing two things:

  1. A photo in the show notes of Myke in a deerstalker.
  2. A discussion of Apple’s most successful and unsuccessful Sherlocking, in which it destroyed an entire category of applications in one fell swoop and then allowed it to come back through inattention and ineptitude.

In the fall of 2005, Apple added direct podcast support to iTunes. To normal people, this was what put podcasting on the map. Instead of fiddling around with RSS URLs, third-party apps, and special playlists, users could now find and subscribe to podcasts very easily from within iTunes itself. There’s been a lot of criticism of how Apple has allowed iTunes to grow into an unwieldy behemoth of an app, but I don’t think anyone complained about the addition of podcasts. It was both useful and well implemented.

Almost instantly, applications like iPodderX dried up and blew away. The guys at a little podcast-centric startup called Odeo started desperately searching for another business to get into. God only knows what happened to Adam Curry.

This was, of course, during the heyday of the iPod, when connecting to iTunes via a cable was de rigueur. But Apple was working on the device that would make that technique obsolete.

When the iPhone came out, we had become habituated to the USB cable, so updating through iTunes seemed natural. But eventually people realized that the phone’s internet connection meant it could update podcasts over the air at any time. Dedicated podcast apps began to appear and listeners abandoned the iTunes model, which Apple hadn’t updated to the new reality. The unSherlocking of podcast listening had arrived.

Apple might have reSherlocked the business with the Podcasts app, but it stunk. Unlike the podcast integration in iTunes, the Podcasts app was clumsy, ugly, and harder to use than the existing third-party solutions. A later version of Podcasts was said to be an improvement, but it still stunk. When a further update hit the App Store, I refused to test it myself and waited for others to report on the new odor. This was a good decision.

I moved podcasts back into iTunes. (Don’t worry I still have Downcast). The past hour has been a miserable sync mess. I’m going to bed now.
Katie (@KatieFloyd) May 15 2014 8:27 PM

As Federico pointed out late in the show, every year some of Apple’s additions to OS X or iOS are touted in the tech press as the next Sherlocking. And every year virtually all of them turn out to be duds. As I said a few years ago, the likelihood that an app will be Sherlocked depends less on the quality of the app than on the effort Apple puts into its purported replacement. The experience with podcast software is unique in that it shows both outcomes.