Featured iOS App: Podcaster

Over the last couple of years I have pretty much exclusively started listening to podcasts while in the car. I don’t listen to music except on rare occasions. This is mostly a product of just having too many podcasts I like, which I can’t even keep up with let alone fit in music.

There are lots of things about the built-in iPod app that make it less than enjoyable for listening to podcasts. Macworld reviewed Podcaster a while back and I was intrigued.

Built-In iPod App Replacement

As far as I can tell, everything the built-in iPod app can do regarding podcasts, Podcaster can. One of the most important features was the ability to playback at 2x speed without much distortion. I have been listening to podcasts at 2x since they implemented the feature1. It doesn’t sound that unusual and it saves some time. The buttons on my headphones work for playing/pausing and when it’s the most recently used audio app it even shows up on the dock when you scroll to the left.

Updating/Downloading Podcasts

The update/download capabilities are what really sold me on this app. First and foremost there is no 20 MB download limit. I understand that Apple put this in to help prevent overage charges for the user, but it should be a warning, not a barrier. Podcaster will let you download any file you want but warn you if you are on a network2 where podcasts shouldn’t be auto-downloaded3.

Additionally, because it uses RSS feeds for podcasts, the application can refresh the episode list for your saved podcasts at set times or on demand4. The most important part of this is that unlike the built-in iPod/iTunes applications, you don’t have to go to a 2nd application to download podcasts, it’s a one-stop shop5.

Playback Controls

I already mentioned some playback features, but the app also includes buttons on the screen to jump forward or backward. This initially starts at 10 seconds, but after two quick clicks it jumps to 20 seconds, then 30, etc. This increase is nice, but I wish there was a setting to keep it at a static 10 seconds, because sometimes I want to quickly go up by 30, and sometimes I go too far. Still the ability to jump past intros or uninteresting segments is invaluable.

Push Notifications and Streaming

A recent release of Podcaster included push notifications which allow you to indicate which podcasts you would like to receive notifications for when new episodes are available. In all honesty, this has been somewhat hit or miss for me, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But since I know most of my podcasts schedules it doesn’t bother me much. There have been a few occasions where it has been nice to get the notification though.

Also you can stream podcasts directly from the app without having to download. I believe you can do this in the iTunes app as well, but it’s limited in the features it has compared to the iPod app6.

Wrap-Up

Because of the frequency I listen to podcasts, the opportunity to have a more complete solution was a no-brainer. The fact that, from a podcast perspective, Podcaster includes every feature of the built-in iPod app meaning that I would not be sacrificing features. The added ease of downloading new podcasts and the ability to jump ahead 10 seconds7 and the lack of a download limit make it worth the $1.99 it cost.

Podcaster (iTunes)
Price: $1.99 (at the time of this post)

  1. I believe this was an iOS 3.0 feature []
  2. Meaning cellular network []
  3. Auto-downloading is a configurable setting []
  4. It’s worth noting that the specified time doesn’t update in the background, it simply is an indicator of when to auto-refresh upon loading the application []
  5. One of my biggest gripes about the iTunes podcast downloading was that sometimes I didn’t know which episode(s) I did or didn’t have yet since the grayed out “Downloaded” box was unreliable []
  6. No 2x, no way to go back to where you were streaming from if you stop, etc. []
  7. Not just back 30 like the built-in app []