How to find a good podcast app?

Search.

As someone who prefers articles over audio and video to consume information, I rarely listen to podcasts. When I do, I usually search for something of specific interest to me instead of episodes shared on my network or random algorithmic suggestions. But unlike articles, web search doesn’t make sense to explore podcast episodes and find good ones. So I thought maybe the “Search” function is a good criteria to compare major podcasting apps, including those that boast a directory full of episodes.

I searched for topics and people of my interest in over 10 apps. To my surprise, only the 3 most common apps—Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts—surfaced any significant number of results. Other revered ones such as Pocket Casts, Overcast, and Castro disappointingly showed either no results or very few for every search term. The screenshots below further illustrates the difference in search results between Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts.

Spotify and Apple Podcasts gave good results for “Substack”, with Apple favoring popular episodes over recent ones, whereas Spotify favored a mix the two. Google Podcasts’ search results were useless, ironic for a company whose business was built around Search.

Next, I searched for “Tory Bruno”, a famous personality in the space industry who frequently appears in the media, and whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. :)

Here Spotify stopped short, surfacing only a handful of results. Google fared much better this time around with quality results but the quantity suffered. Apple Podcasts showed many more results than either app but failed to show recent episodes upfront.

Most other searches fared similar to the cases above. I found Apple Podcasts to have the most comprehensive feed directory, and its search to be the most reliable overall, followed by Spotify. This is by no means an objective metric, or even a considerable sample size. But ‘search’ is a core function so at least it qualifies as a metric to judge a podcast app experience against. I’d be curious to know if you have had different results or have another metric that’s most important to you.

What’s surprising though is that ideally the search results in podcast apps shouldn’t vary this much. Podcasts are powered by RSS, an open and standard format for distributing content. Every podcast is typically automatically distributed via RSS to all podcasting platforms. So why is there such a drastic difference in not just the quality of search results but also their quantity? I don’t know.