Swell’s iPhone App Aims to Take the Pain Out of Podcasts

News and information, Pandora style.

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Swell app

The creators of an iPhone app known as Swell like to compare their creation to Pandora. Which makes sense: Like the wildly popular music service, it also provides you with an endless, effortless stream of content, which it selects by monitoring both your listening habits and those of other people with similar tastes. But Swell isn’t a Pandora competitor: The stuff it plays is spoken-word news, information and talk, including shows from broadcast networks as well as podcasts produced for the web.

This week, the company released version 1.5 of the app. As before, it has a simple card-like interface that shows one piece of audio at a time. The more you listen, the more it refines its choices as it watches for clues such as whether you swipe to skip an item or tap the thumbs-up button.

But Swell has a few useful new features. When you sign up, you specify topics of interest — such as News & Politics, TV & Film, Arts and Business — which help Swell immediately play programming of interest. Later on, you can filter the stream down to one category, pick and choose shows from a list tailored to your interests or check out what’s trending among all listeners.

The Pandora metaphor isn’t perfect. With Pandora, you can enter the name of a musician or group you already know you like and the service will build a station with songs from that person or act, plus similar material, which makes it really easy to be very specific about your tastes in a way that might otherwise be tough to articulate. Swell doesn’t do that for news and information, and I’m not sure if it would even be possible to do something comparable. Still, it’s an interesting alternative to higher-profile apps such as TuneIn and Stitcher — especially if you’re less interested in listening to shows you know you like than you are in encountering ones you never even knew existed.