I am an avid Podcast listener. I am am also a co-host on the iOSDocked podcast where I join 3 or 4 other guys in talking about everything Apple and iOS. Selecting and using a podcasting app is very personal choice for me, especially since I listen to various podcasts for news, entertainment, and everything in between. In the iOS App Store there are dozens of apps that will download, stream, and play back podcast episodes. I have tried many of the popular apps such as Pocket Casts, Downcast, Instacast, Podcatcher, and more. However, the Apple Podcasts app is one that I seem go back to from time to time.
Anyone remember version 1 of Podcasts? A certifiable nightmare. Bug ridden, unreliable, feature lacking, you name it, it had it. Most egregious of these bugs was the unreliable nature of iCloud sync where syncing across subscription info, playback position, etc were part of the feature set but like most iCloud apps at the time, not very reliable. However, with the release of iOS 7, Apple has released Podcasts Version 2, and it is finally the app that Apple originally intended to be. It should be noted, like many app categories in the App Store, Podcasts may not be the most feature-ridden in the podcasting category, but it is a solid contender for both casual and hardcore listeners like myself.
First and foremost, the iCloud syncing with Podcast seems to be much improved over older versions. I believe this is because Apple has improved the Podcasts app syncing code as well as made some changes to the backend iCloud sync. Setting up podcast subscriptions on my iMac in iTunes caused all the episodes to be picked up by my iPhone and iPad. Apple is attempting to allow users to listen on whatever device is convenient and have all that information ubiquitous. In my experience with the new Podcasts app, Apple is about 75% there. Syncing back and forth between my iPhone and iPad has been flawless. Episode information such as whether or not an particular episode has been played, and your listening position synced flawless between my iPhone and iPad. However, when it comes to other members of the Apple device family such as the iMac and Apple TV this wasn't the case. Hopefully Apple is able to nail down some of the iCloud sync bugs there and bring both the Mac OS and Apple TV back into the fold.
The Podcasts app has been redesigned to become fully iOS 7 compliant, and it shows. The UI, whether you like it or not, is a bright and clean representation devoid of buttons and clutter. The result is a very easy to use application that focuses on podcast listening.
There are some advanced podcast app features that are missing from Apple's app. For example, there are no custom time settings for scrubbing forward and backward during episode playback. Podcasts scrubbers are fixed at 15 second intervals while other apps offer the ability to set how much time to move forward and backward. Another glaring omission is the absence of advanced show notes and the display and support for URL links. However, Podcasts does display show notes within the Now Playing screen where as older versions required you to exit the playing screen to see notes. I do hope that Apple continues improving the show notes view as clicking on URL's can be very helpful when trying to get more information about a given topic that is discussed during a given show.
The Podcasts app now also supports iOS 7's background downloading. This feature allows the Podcast app to download episodes to the device even when the app is not running. According to Apple's specification on background downloading, an app that supports this feature receives an invisible push notification and is given the ability to run temporarily in the background to download the data. I have found that this function works well. When I launch the Podcasts app, my episodes are ready in my unplayed list and ready to play. Where this functionality does not work is if the podcast file is over 100mb which will not be downloaded due to Apple's file size limitation over a cellular connection. However, if you are on WIFI there is no limitation so downloading is not an issue. If an episode is not downloaded, it is available for streaming. The settings for performing refreshes, downloading, and episodes to keep locally are in the iOS 7 settings panel and are customizable for each podcast episode.
One of my favorite features of the Podcast app is the integration with my car stereo. The app uses a native database that stores the episodes you have on the device. That database is readable by the car stereo system which means selecting and controlling podcasts can be done using the built in car display. While most late car systems allow for BT streaming for playback and control, the ability to navigate thru podcast lists is very convenient while driving.
Overall I am quite pleased with the progress and impovements of Apple's Podcasts app. From those early bug-ridden days to a very polished (yet not perfect) application, Podcasts V2 has become a very serious contender for iOS users to consider when selecting a podcast catcher application. It has just enough features to keep both the casual and power-podcast listener happy. I hope Apple continues to support this app in terms of bug fixes and new features. For myself, I will be using Podcasts as my primary app on both my iPhone and iPad. That's a hardy recommendation coming from me considering the number of really good podcasting catching clients in the App Store.
Apple Podcasts - Universal - Free
As an avid tech fan I look forward to sharing my tech experiences both personally and professionally with those that have similar interests and passion for technology.