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Apple to launch standalone podcast app with iOS 6?

Wherefore art thou podcasts, Apple?

Developers were a wee surprised to find iTunes' familiar 'Podcasts' link missing in a preview of the next, to-be-released version of the software. Does that mean that Apple has abandoned podcasts entirely? Is NPR about to launch a missile at Apple HQ in retaliation?

Not quite.

In actuality, undisclosed tipsters speaking to a number of publications have all but confirmed that Apple plans to release a standalone podcasts app when iOS 6 debuts this fall. That's only for mobile devices, however - those looking to tap into their weekly shows on their desktop or laptop computers will still do so via iTunes. It therefore stands to reason that the missing 'Podcasts' link is but a temporary issue, not indicative of how podcasts might appear in the app's official update.

Other rumours suggest that Apple might also be working on podcast-producing software that could find a home within the company's 'Podcasts' app as well.

Those with access to the beta version of the iTunes update say that it's also missing AirPlay and Ping, and that it doesn't seem to work very well with iTunes U content. The lack of Ping isn't much of a surprise, given the recent reports that indicate Apple plans to kill off the failed social service in the not-so-distant future. However, the other issues affecting the iTunes preview do seem to suggest that the app developers are playing around with something that isn't yet final.

AllThingsD's Peter Kafka suggests that Apple's intentions toward podcasts might be the first sign of Apple putting, "iTunes on a diet," the idea that the company could be starting to take a more careful look at all the different kinds of content one can access within the app and, where appropriate, slicing out parts and pieces to their own separate applications. Similar situations have happened previously in the Apple world, most notably when Apple decided to launch a separate iBooks application in 2010 instead of just dumping e-books as a new content category within iTunes itself.

There's also talk that Apple might also move all iTunes U content out of the main app - another sign that some slicing and dicing might be hitting iTunes prior to its anticipated fall release.

Apple typically introduces a new version of iTunes when it debuts new music hardware at its annual fall event. This time around, however, it looks as if a new 'Podcasts' app might also get thrown into the mix.