Apple's Swell Buy Signals a Focus on Personalization

Apple's acquisition of Swell, the developer of a podcast streaming app, is another bet on the value of personalized content.
Swell is to podcasts what Beats Music is to music: a service that delivers a personalized collection of audio content. The Swell app learns from a user's listening activity and offers a stream of audio content "based on your preferences and the wisdom of the community," says the company's website. That's a different approach than Beats Music's editor-curated approach, but it's a leap forward from the old-school approach (read: no personalization) currently employed at iTunes.
As of today, the best guess is Apple will integrate Swell's technology into iTunes or iTunes Radio rather than rebrand the app. Re/code, which first announced the deal, says Swell will be shut down as part of the terms of the acquisition.
On the surface this looks like a small acquisition that helps round out iTunes Radio. Podcasts represent only 1.7% of time Americans spend listening to audio daily, according to Edison Research. In contrast, AM/FM listening accounts for 52.1% of listening time.
But Apple almost certainly isn't aiming for 1.7% of America's listening time. Swell's technology could help Apple's quest to make iTunes Radio a major streaming service in automobiles. And that would help iTunes Radio eat into the 52.1% of listening time current spent on AM/FM radio -- the majority of which comes from listening in automobiles.
Google and Amazon have also shown an interest in curated, streaming content. Google recently acquired Songza, an Internet radio service that offers playlists based on mood and activity. Amazon's Prime Music offers a selection of themed, handcrafted playlists. If Google or Amazon chose to buy a podcast app rather than build one, Stitcher is still available.


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