Reading Apple's Tea Leaves from the GarageBand & Podcasts Updates

Apple did two things last week that have stuck in my mind: it radically redesigned its Podcasts app and added support for a third-party music routing system, called Audiobus, to GarageBand. I try not to get too optimistic when watching Apple’s moves, but I can’t help but wonder if these tea leaves speak of what’s in store for iOS this year.

Recent iOS app updates hint at changes in AppleRecent iOS app updates hint at changes in Apple

When Apple released Podcasts last year, its heavy use of a realistic-looking reel-to-reel tape deck for parts of its interface brought to a head the discussion over skeuomorphism (or what is also known as simulacra) and whether Apple should use it in so many apps. When Apple shook up its executive team in October 2012 and ousted Scott Forstall, the former head of iOS and champion of skeuomorphism, the community erupted in discussion again. I’m going to skip rehashing this conversation because everything has already been said. Personally, I’m a fan of moderation.

Fast forward to now, and the Podcasts 1.2 update feels like Apple has quietly tossed its hat into the ring. Podcasts is its most recent iOS offering, so giving it a significant redesign with a small point release seems like Apple is speaking softly but carrying a big stick, and on the side is written “skeuomorphism.” I don’t expect Apple to remove this design tool from all of its apps, but I won’t be surprised to see it disappear from at least a couple more in iOS 7, either.

Apple’s other big recent move—adding a third-party music service to GarageBand—also feels like classic “actions speak louder than words” Apple. In short, Audiobus allows you to hook up separate apps for making music on iOS. Instead of just creating your drumbeat in one app, a synth loop in another, and recording your guitar in GarageBand, you can now route that drumbeat and synth loop from separate apps into GarageBand in real time as you rock out with your guitar. Yeah, it’s fantastic.

It’s also the first time I can think of, at least in recent memory, that Apple has adopted a third-party system and API for one of its apps (granted, as The Verge points out, it’s only one-way for now. You can use Audiobus to route other music apps into GarageBand for recording, but you can’t route GarageBand into other apps to do the same—yet). When I think about iOS’s weaknesses, especially compared to the competition, sharing data between apps is high on the list, even at the top for some. What better way for Apple to say “we’re working on it” than by actually doing it with a standalone App Store offering, especially one that is a beacon of the post-PC, “creation versus consumption” discussion surrounding tablets?

The more I’ve thought about this, the more I realized these moves aren’t just tea leaves or “speaking softly.” They’re actual actions, and the fact that they come on the eve of the typical period when it starts previewing new products and features feels like class Apple. I get the feeling this could be a great year for iOS.

[Some image elements courtesy of Shutterstock]