Apple Podcasts app for iPhone review
You may have missed it earlier this week, but without fanfare Apple has pushed out a new Podcasts app. You can find at the top of the App Store, as well as in the Podcasts section of iTunes.
There’s no doubt that the cluttered, frustrating podcast interface of the existing iTunes app reflects a time when podcasts weren’t such a big industry as they are today. A redesign has long been needed, and rather than doing that within iTunes – where the same old podcast section remains in place – Apple has opted to produce a standalone podcast app for those who want it.
It’s an interface designed to put your chosen content front and centre. Podcasts you’ve downloaded can be viewed as large tiles or in a more compact list view, and it has a dedicated Search box and full category listings. Tiles can be dragged around to keep your most listened shows near the top, and if you tap on one to open it you can now do much more than before.
The biggest issue with the iTunes app was always keeping up with episodes, due to the lack of a simple Subscribe option and automatic delivery. That’s all been rectified at last, with separate options for subscription and download, and you can manually choose episodes from your list to keep. Perhaps in a bid to appease Spotify fans, you can also now stream podcasts over Wi-Fi or 3G without having to download them. This feature must involve some serious caching: I tried it this morning and it kept on playing happily all the time I was sat on the Tube.
Playback controls have been greatly improved too, with the addition of 10-second back and 30-second forward jumps for quick navigation. If you tap the podcast’s cover logo while it’s playing it flips up to reveal a nicely designed advanced control panel. You can flip a toggle between tortoise and hare icons to change the playback speed, and a retro red bar can be dragged along a timeline for large jumps. A sleep timer gives options from 5 minutes to an hour, or just “when current episode ends”, and you can share a podcast via email, text or Twitter.
The final new addition is less useful. If you look at the Home screen again you’ll see an extra tab at the bottom, called Top Stations. This opens an awkward radio dial interface, in which several of the top podcasts in each category are picked for you as recommendations. You scroll to the side to change the dial from category to category, then scroll down to reveal a handful in each. Any that catch your eye can be streamed or subscribed to directly – and you can flip the switch at the top to view video podcasts too. It’s a good try at improving podcast discovery, but Apple’s attempts at stylish design make things far clunkier than it needed to be.
And that’s it. Whether it’s the right move to put podcasts in their own separate app or not, something had to be done to improve iTunes’ dreadful handling of them. Navigation could be better, and it’s a bit sluggish at the moment, but this new Podcasts app brings more positives than negatives, and with a few tweaks here and there will be a useful addition to your iPhone’s home screen.