Apple’s Podcast App Revisited

Apple’s Podcast App Revisited

So you see what it takes to get me to write. There have been many things I wanted to write about over the last little bit. But I’ve been so doggone busy. The Google Reader imminent shutdown really made me want to write. But this… this makes me write. You can see what’s near and dear to my hard: Podcasts.

The internet is abuzz with the the news of Podcasts 1.2. Chris Breen has a good rundown of the new app. And I agree that this is the version that should have shipped in that it is far better than the previous app. But it still has some serious flaws that make it not worth using for me. Believe me, I want to use it, I want it to work. I was genuinely excited for the update. The addition of playlists stations is nice and brings it on par with Instacast in that way. And the stilly and quaint reel to reel playback screen is gone, for better or worse (I sort of liked it, but it was a wee bit hard to use).

Here is my biggest frustration. The reason I want this to work is because I spend as much time working at my Macintosh computer as I do out and about with my iOS device. iTunes, with which my phone syncs every night when I plug it in, has podcast subscription capabilities. But I rarely plug my phone directly into my computer. It syncs overnight and so podcasts could sync that way, but I might work at my computer for a couple hours, then head out in my car and want to pick up my podcasts where I left off. Without a physical sync this was impossible. And what if I subscribe to a new podcast on one of the devices? It’s cable (or Wi-Fi sync) time to get everything on the same page.

Apple is touting full subscription sync for this version of the app, but here, as I have found, is the rub: that subscription syncing is only between iOS devices, NOT between iOS and it’s sync master, iTunes (isn’t that quite odd? iTunes syncs with the iOS, but only iOS devices can sync podcasts with each other over the air). This is growing beyond frustrating. Let me explain my experience.

Being excited as I was for this new version of the app, I went and downloaded it, and added a couple of my favorite podcasts to the app. I let the latest episodes download, then I fired up iTunes and waited, and waited, and waited. No podcasts were added to the podcasts section of iTunes. This must be some sort of mistake. So I closed iTunes, forced the podcasts app on the iPhone to refresh and tried again. Still nothing. So I manually subscribed to the podcasts in iTunes and played the latest episode for a few minutes. To my great delight (perhaps the only delightful part of this experience), even though the subscriptions don’t sync over the air, the playback position does IF both devices have subscribed to the same podcast and downloaded the same episode. Yay.

So then I subscribed to a couple podcasts on iTunes. As expected from my experience trying it the other way, these podcasts did not automatically show up in the podcast app on iOS. A manual sync with a cable did make them show up. But here is the rub. THE SUBSCRIPTION SWITCH IN THE IOS APP DID NOT GET TURNED ON. You have to manually do that. So even though the podcast was synced over from the iTunes library, the podcast app does not consider that a subscription, it’s just sort of parked there.

LAME LAME LAME LAME LAME!

This does not seem that hard to get right. I don’t understand why Apple is making this so painful? I don’t get it. I want the features to work as advertised.

Here is what else I would be giving up to switch away from Instacast:

  • Push Notifications for new episodes
  • Show notes (why does Apple refuse to support this when this is such a standard now?)
  • More robust media management

I must admit that I am not thrilled with Instacast 3’s slightly more dumbed down media management, but it is still way better than what Apple’s app offers.

And I am excited because Instacast has teased that a Mac client is in the works with full sync. As a podcast geek and power user that will make me extremely happy. I will finally have what I have been longing for these many years.

But the real bottom line for me is that there are still not good and easy podcast solutions for the average person. Apple’s app still adds complication by not working quite as advertised, and by trying to hard to make things easy. Sometimes trying to make things easy adds unexpected complication. And solutions like Instacast simple are not easy for mainstream consumers to grasp. Podcasts remain just out of reach for many average consumers in my opinion.

What is so maddening is that Apple could make this so easy and so good, but they just can’t seem to manage it.

P.S. That icon is still hideous.


Here is the orginal article I wrote about podcasts, and a quick follow up to that.