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Apple Computer on Tuesday released iTunes 4.9, the latest iteration of its popular free music software, with support for podcasting.
Podcasting is a way to publish audio files online using the Really Simple Syndication protocol. The new version of iTunes aggregates these published podcasts so that users can easily discover, subscribe to, manage, and listen to them.
"Apple is taking Podcasting mainstream by building it right into iTunes," CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. "Podcasting is the next generation of radio, and users can now subscribe to over 3,000 free Podcasts and have each new episode automatically delivered over the Internet to their computer and iPod."
In April, the nonprofit Pew Internet & American Life Project issued a report indicating that more than 6 million American adults--almost a third of the estimated 22 million who own MP3 players--have listened to podcasts. Much to Apple's delight, many of those MP3 players happen to be iPods. As of March, Apple had sold 15 million iPods worldwide.
Apple says its Podcast Directory in iTunes lists some 3,000 free audio programs, including ABC News, BBC, Disney, ESPN, Newsweek, and NPR member stations such as KCRW in Los Angeles and WGBH in Boston.
That may not be enough. Between January and May, there's been a 25-fold increase in the number of podcasts available online, says Suranga Chandratillake, co-founder and chief technology officer of search software company Blinkx.
Tim Bajarin, president of technology consulting firm Creative Strategies, says that making iTunes podcast-aware will benefit Apple because the company will have more content to interest users and because the ability to easily access podcasts will convince more people of the merits of the iPod platform. "From a consumer standpoint," he says, "this really demystifies finding and accessing podcasts."