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Google Debuts Podcast Manager App for Android

Google today released an Android app called "Listen" that enables users to subscribe, search for and manage podcasts -- revving up the audio-friendly features of the open source mobile operating system.

It's a move that sweetens the offerings available on Android, which is fighting an uphill battle against entrenched rivals, especially Apple's iPhone.

When it comes to mobile music and podcasts, Apple has a strong hand, thanks to the close links between the iPhone and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iTunes, which offers more than 100,000 audio and video podcasts viewable on computers, iPhones and iPods.

And podcasts are an important battleground when it comes to sparring over mobile features. Audio podcast listening has jumped significantly since it first appeared in 2006, with the percentage who have listened to a podcast doubling from 11 percent to 22 percent for 2009, according to a recent Arbitron/Edison report.

It's a valued demographic, too: most podcast consumers are high-income and well-educated, the report said.

Now, with Listen, Android handset owners can store a few hours of audio on their devices, share podcasts and get the latest breaking news updates. Right now, the app only supports English-language audio podcasts, but Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), which developed the application, plans to include video indexing and other languages in coming months.

The search giant calls the app "a personal audio-magazine," and unveiled it on the Google Mobile blog post under a title that quotes Jimi Hendrix: "Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens."

"Listen quickly finds podcasts and web audio relevant to your searches, lets you stream over-the-air or download for later, and subscribe to fresh content from your favorite feeds and searches. In short, Listen helps organize the world of audio information and makes it easily accessible anytime, anywhere," write Bill Schilit and Sam Roweis, Google research scientists, at the mobile blog.

Listen is currently only available for Android-powered phones, which in the U.S. means the T-Mobile G1 and myTouch 3G from T-Mobile. It can be downloaded from the Google Android Market, the open-source platform's app store.

The Listen app lets users search for specific podcast titles or topics including technology, politics or news. Android phone owners can either start listening immediately or choose to subscribe to a program and save it for a later date. It also includes a "popular searches" tool. The Listen Queue allows users to organize their episodes in any order.

The debut of Listen also comes as smartphone sales continue to surge, spurring mobile app usage along the way -- app downloads are slated to triple over the next five years.

Downloads from all app stores will reach 6.67 billion applications by 2014, up from two billion this year, Frost & Sullivan analyst Vikrant Gandhi recently told InternetNews.com.

Meanwhile, all the key mobile players are gunning for market share, with signature handset releases and major upgrades to their respective operating systems. Android in May realized its first big update, Cupcake or version 1.5, with Donut expected later this year. Motorola, Samsung, HTC and Acer are all on tap to sell release Android phones this year.

The Apple iPhone OS version 3.0 came out June 17, the day after the iPhone 3GS launch. Meanwhile, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM), which debuted the Pre June 6, just issued the SDK for its nascent webOS for the Pre and future devices. It is also testing the first round of apps for the webOS Catalog app store.

Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) is expected to unveil an update to the BlackBerry Storm soon and just partnered with Verizon to open an app store later this year based on the network's APIs.