I listen to an awful lot of podcasts. So many, in fact, that I thought it might be a good idea to occasionally tell you what I think about them on here.
You see, I’m a bit of a podcast tart. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve subscribed to only to leave them languishing in Overcast (still the best way to consume Podcasts) completely untouched after the first listen.
A few do stick, though, and one in particular is MacBreak Weekly. Which is odd, because at times, it infuriates the hell out of me.
What is MacBreak Weekly?
Yes – what is MacBreak Weekly? If you go purely on the title, you’ll be forgiven for anticipating two hours of discussion on all things Apple Macintosh, but in reality, MacBreak Weekly is a show dedicated to all things Apple. Clearly, the team have decided (understandably), not to fiddle with the name just because the content has evolved.
MacBreak is produced by the TWiT network, which, incidentally, absolutely should change its name. ‘TWiT’ stands for ‘This Week in Tech’, but is also a slightly more pleasant way of saying ‘twat’. And it sounds silly, too.
Anyway – back to MacBreak, which is hosted by Leo Laporte. For my UK readers, Leo may not be particularly recognisable, but he has long been on the tech media scene in the US and continues to host a weekly radio show on the Premiere Radio Network that has earned him the moniker ‘The Tech Guy’ and which puts him in front of a large national audience looking for help with their devices, software and pesky viruses.
The personalities of MacBreak
Here’s where it gets interesting. When it comes to podcasts, the people presenting and guesting can make or break them. That said, it’s a bit shitty to be too critical when you bear in mind that shows like MacBreak are completely free to download and consume. We don’t have to pay a penny – all we’re asked to do in return is listen to the odd advert (although they can easily be skipped…).
MacBreak is fascinating, not so much because of the topics discussed – it’s your usual Apple stuff such as rumours, news and opinion – but because of the personalities on display.
Each week, there are four (including Leo) stalwarts either sitting physically around the TWiT table or pitching in on Skype, and I’d like to give you my take on them.
Leo, as noted, has spent an awfully long time in this game, and it shows. He’s measured with his opinions and willing to accept that he may, occasionally, be wrong or shortsighted on certain topics.
He successfully separates being an old-fashioned techy who values open operating systems and lists coding as one of his hobbies from a genuine desire to keep up-to-speed with the fast-moving world of technology. He also appears to favour functional value over privacy concerns when it comes to subjects such as re-targeted advertising, yet is fiercely of the opinion that companies like Apple are straying too far into areas like fashion and away from the land of pro-level computers.
I like Leo, although he does have the occasional, irritating tendency to talk over everyone and sundry. Perhaps it’s his age.
Ah, Rene. Right – this is where MacBreak can, at times, be teeth-grindingly irritating. Mr Richie’s inclusion on the show is a stroke of genius on behalf of TWiT, because if anyone is likely to divide opinion and incite discussion, it’s Rene.
There’s no two ways about it – Rene is a staunch supporter of Apple. He’ll seemingly defend them to the hilt, and regularly takes cleverly-disguised swipes at the likes of Android whenever the opportunity arises.
For a tech commentator, Rene also seems to have one of the most limited pools of commentary from which to draw. He consistently repeats himself and pulls out the same anecdotes ad nauseam. Here’s the pick of the bunch (non-verbatim, of course):
- “Apple tries everything. If you think of an idea, they have absolutely thought of it already and have tested it in their labs.”
- “Apple’s a smart company.”
- “Doing <insert Apple product line or service here> is hard!”
- “<insert name of Apple exec here> is phenomenal.”
- “It’s funny to me, because…”
- “It’s super-interesting to me, because…” (usually used when he really wants to say “Android does that, because it is shit”)
- “It’s super-fascinating to me, because…” (ditto, above)
- “Last year, everyone claimed Apple wasn’t doing <X>, so this year, they brought out <X> and now everyone is saying they’re doomed! This is super-interesting to me.”
- “The human race is super-interesting to me.”
- “Ren wrote <insert name of piece from his colleague at iMore> and it is absolutely phenomenal – please read it. Yeah, she’s amazing – we’re so lucky to have her.”
You could quite easily play the Rene Ritchie Drinking Game, but it would only last about five minutes and you’d be absolutely smashed. So, please – don’t.
I’m sure he’s a nice guy and he is doubtlessly an incredibly knowledgeable chap when it comes to all things Apple, but his devotion to them is often hard to stomach. He can do what he likes with his money, but this is a guy who seems to have purchased every Apple Watch band going and spends most of his free time posting photos of Apple gear on Instagram that Apple’s marketing department would be happy with. Clearly, he absolutely loves them, which is fine, but it makes his ramblings on MacBreak and scribblings on iMore incredibly hard to digest subjectively.
That’s a shame, because he’s smart. But he is fascinatingly irritating, too.
Alex runs a firm that delivers video and streaming services to businesses and classrooms the world over, but still somehow has the time to check in with old pal, Leo, on most MacBreak Weeklys.
A little like Leo, he’s been in the game for some time and offers reassuringly-measured responses to any challenges thrown his way. He’s the quieter of the bunch, and brings that all-important family-man point of view to any topic of discussion.
Unfortunately, Alex also has a penchant for providing ‘picks of the week’ (when each guest has to unveil a techy thing they have recently fallen in love with) which cost at least $50,000 and are only of any use to – you guessed it – companies that deliver video and streaming services to businesses and classrooms the world over.
He also has the most evil laugh I’ve ever heard. Which is fine, but just a little disconcerting.
I really like Andy Ihnatko. He’s a freelance journalist who, from what I can tell, lives very happily on his own. If you follow him on Twitter, you too may have noted that he is relentlessly upbeat and appears to revel in mini projects, whether they be building a Wall-E made from Lego or attempting to cook the perfect pizza from scratch.
Andy is also the undisputed king of metaphors and obsessed with providing advice for consumers that won’t unnecessarily break their bank accounts. Clearly, that puts him well at odds with someone like Rene Ritchie, but he’s a brilliant counterbalance for the Apple-obsessed iMore man. In fact, every episode of MacBreak is a cleverly disguised and somewhat watered down battle between two guys who only appear to occasionally agree on certain topics.
Ihnatko clearly has a deep love for Macs, but having abandoned the iPhone in favour of Android’s openness some time ago and regularly making clear his concerns relating to Apple’s unwillingness to cater for the masses, his presence on MacBreak serves to provide an occasional reminder that the Cupertino company are anything but perfect.
Andy is the key to MacBreak. Unfairly classed as an ‘Apple hater’ by many listeners, he restores balance to what could otherwise be a rather biased panel.
Check MacBreak out. It’s a great way to spend two hours.