Sunday, March 24, 2013

Apple fixes its Podcasts app but too much damage has already been done

I just did something that I thought I would never, ever do: I reinstalled Apple’s Podcasts app for iOS. As a dedicated podcast listener I had waited for years for Apple to break podcasts out of iTunes and give them a seat at the premium app table. To my own detriment I avoided third-party podcast apps so that I could sync my Windows version of iTunes with my iPhone — wirelessly when the stars aligned and iTunes WiFi Sync worked — and because I assumed things would work better when I kept all my listening within Apple’s tools. Then, finally, Apple released an app just for podcasts… and it was terrible.
Podcasts appPodcasts has been a major disappointment for me and many other iOS-using podcast fans. When it shipped in June 2012 the app was a buggy embarrassment — it crashed frequently, podcast downloads were missed, restarts were required after pausing, it was slow, and users tore it apart in their reviews. Since that time Apple has updated it multiple times, but Podcasts never received the overhaul that was required. Yesterday Apple revised the app once again, but this new release should actually make a difference.
This update (to v1.2) made a few design changes — the reel-to-reel player is gone, replaced with a simpler, less life-like Now Playing screen — custom stations were added, and there is also iCloud-based syncing so that your podcasts, stations, and progress will be synced across your iOS devices. A major bug was fixed as well, so that when you resume playing playback after leaving the app and coming back to it, your podcast will actually play again (before you had to close out and restart the app). So, basically, the app is without showstopping bugs now and it has a few nice perks that were not available before.
Months ago I got fed up with Podcasts, moved over toInstaCast, and never looked back (well, until today). It’s still the most-used app on my iPhone and while some people may scoff at the $5 price tag, it’s the best $5 I’ve ever put into the App Store. The app is stable, reliable, packed with features, and when I get on to the subway I can be sure that my podcasts will have downloaded. It was always excruciating to step away from WiFi only to see that Podcasts had not updated and I was stuck re-listening to old versions of On The Media and RadioLab.
Podcasts is free, and it has subscriptions, syncing, and a good discovery system for finding new material, but I can’t see going back at this point. If you are new to podcasting or you are not a particularly demanding user Podcasts should be fine, but after having been frustrated by the app many, many times I’m taking a pass.
[And before anyone tells me and other people to stop complaining about a free app, let's remember that Apple may not care about podcasting but it's still a core part of iTunes. It's very much in the company's interest to support this content as iTunes is the main place to get it. Additionally, apps like Podcasts are part of what buyers expect from their mobile operating system -- they may seem free, but the cost is just built into the price we initially pay for the device.]

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