Apple’s Podcasts App came out this month to much fanfare and then fizzle. As a podcaster, I have mixed emotions about the application. On one hand, I’m pleased to see Apple is still actively embracing the platform and thought it worthy of its own application. However, at the same time I’m concerned that reports indicate podcasting will not longer be supported in the Music application in iOS 6. This means in order to play and discover podcasts, consumers will have to actively seek out and download an app. (Of course iOS 6 is in beta, I have not personally used it and things can change before final release.)
I was excited to try the Podcasts App since I’ve been searching for a better solution to manage podcasts. I split my podcast consumption between my iPhone, my primary music/podcast player, and my iPod shuffle. When I’m on the treadmill or elliptical machine at the gym, I’m usually listening to podcasts rather than music playlists. For various reasons, I don’t like taking my iPhone into the gym. I don’t like the disruption, I get lousy reception, I don’t like the extra bulk, and I’m always afraid of breaking the iPhone. I’ve tried various gym cases and armbands for the iPhone but I just don’t like it. I much prefer to clip my Shuffle on my shirt and go.
Because I need to keep my iPhone and my shuffle in sync, iOS only solutions like Downcast and Instacast don’t work for me. I still need to manage my podcasts through iTunes and have the ability to sync playback position and tracks played. However, after experimenting with these superior podcast applications, I really wanted some of the advanced features a dedicated App could bring. I thought the Podcasts App might bring a good compromise with some enhanced features associated with a separate App, but still the ability to sync with iTunes keeping my Shuffle happy.
Sadly, after a week of using the Podcast App it’s been banished from my iPhone. While some would say the App was a good initial effort by Apple, there were major problems right out of the gate that made it a non-starter. For one, it did not have the ability to automatically download new podcast episodes in the background. What good is a subscription to a podcast and setting for “automatic downloads” if I have to launch the App to trigger them? That doesn’t sound very “automatic” to me. Secondly, playback position of podcasts played within the App didn’t sync to iTunes. *Are you freaking kidding me?* If I listened partially to a podcast using the App on my iPhone, then synced with iTunes, the change in playback wouldn’t register. This meant my Shuffle was constantly out of sync and defeated the whole purpose for me. Lastly, iCloud support was half-baked at best. Podcasts downloaded on one device don’t necessarily show up on the other. There were other problems with the App, but I could have lived with them if at at least this core functionality worked.
So, for now I’m back to my manual method of syncing my shuffle and my iPhone with iTunes and using the built-in apps. I’m not sure what I’ll do when iOS 6 comes out in the Fall. By that time I'd love to see small form-factor Nanos with built-in wireless for over the air syncing running a version of the Podcasts App. But perhaps what I’m looking for is too specialized. If I’m not able to continue to get by with customized smart playlists for podcasts, then perhaps I’ll have to compromise and find a better gym solution for my iPhone and go with one of the third party solutions. I guess I’m part of a small minority of people who listen to podcasts on both iOS and non iOS devices?