Apple’s iOS podcasts app SUCKS – here’s why

So Apple has finally come out with a dedicated iOS podcasts app, something that iOS users have been asking for a long time. The problem is: it sucks.

Let me tell you why I think that:

I’m anything but a casual podcast listener – I have a two to three hour commute every day, so I get a lot of listening time. I spent money to buy an iPhone cable that connects to my car stereo so that I can operate my iTunes Media from the car stereo, which works just perfectly, including podcasts and audiobooks. This goes as far as syncing the time codes for podcasts and audiobooks, i.e. I can continue listening where I left off on the iPhone after I take it out of the car, or even on my Mac after syncing the iPhone.

My usual routine in the morning was to press “update all” on my podcasts in iTunes, then connect the iPhone and carry the new podcasts to my car.

The supposed advantage of the dedicated app is that it allows you to update podcasts over the air, i.e. without the need to invoke iTunes. I see why you’d want to do that, but the way that Apple implemented the app breaks existing functionality:

I’m not exactly sure how they do that, but it seems Apple will store podcasts in a new directory, no longer in the iTunes Media folder.

In my car stereo scenario this means that my car will start playing music once I connect the dock cable. If I want to listen to a podcast I need to start the app and select one on the iPhone. This is really bad in the car…
If I start a podcast, the song that played will fade away and the podcast will start. Sometimes. Most of the time I’ll have to go back and forth a couple of times before I hear the podcast.

For the first few days I used to start the podcast from the car stereo, and when I started the podcast on the iPhone it would start from the beginning. That was when I realized there are two different databases for the files. I then instructed iTunes to no longer sync podcasts, so that I would rely on the App entirely.

As you can see on the image above, my car stereo and the iPhone don’t really agree which podcast they’re currently playing ;)

Android users keep complaining that iPhones NEED iTunes, and Android phones can work autonomously. That sounds like a great idea until you start downloading a 1GB video podcast, which is when you’ll realize that your desktop can do that quite a bit faster…

But back to the podcasts App: It imported all my iTunes subscriptions, and I began setting up the individual podcasts for automatic downloads and retention. It’s nice that you can set retention by podcast now, instead of globally as in iTunes.

There are two more downsides to in-iPhone downloads for podcasts:

  • They don’t work when the iPhone is off. Even though my iPhone spent the night 2 feet away from the router, I started my commute and realized that it hadn’t downloaded any new podcasts. Bummer
  • The UI doesn’t make it easy to see that – when you open the app it will start syncing, i.e. it will show you the blue bullet in front of an episode to indicate it’s an unlistened one. You’ll barely realize the tiny grey arrow on the right side for downloads – when you start playing the podcast it will download it immediately (and probably start syncing the others). Unfortunately it will happily do that via 3G, which I realized when my operator sent an SMS this morning telling me I had spent this month’s download limit. BIG bummer.

Plus, of course, iTunes no longer acts as an archive for your old podcasts.

I deleted the app today – I seriously hope Apple fixes some of those issues, or keeps the iTunes podcasting functionality in parallel. Which works just fine for me…