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…

Muvid IR715 internet radio

I found this sweet box in a local supermarket last weekend (119,– Euros). I’ve been looking for something like this for quite a while. Ever since I installed my new living room setup, I had no more radio. I have a Zyxel NSA-220 that features a built-in media server, but no connection to the living room, yet.

I have been looknig at an AppleTV, but this would require me to switch on my TV to pick a song. The Muvid has a small display that works well.
Connectivity is available through Ethernet and WiFi, additionally there is a USB port on the back.
This little box plays everything I have – MP3s from network drives and the media server, podcasts (built-in directory and search!), internet radio streams (built-in directory) – I’m very very happy with it. It also has a normal FM stereo tuner with RDS. Each capability (internet radio, media streamer, FM radio) has its own set of presets.

Like it. Very much.

Why MP3 phones still suck

I have been looking into MP3 phones ever since I started listening to podcasts. So far, I’m not using one – which is quite funny being the kind of geek I am. I’d really love to – I’m on the road a lot, so every device I can get rid off means less weight, one less sync cable, and one less charger.

So, why am I still using my iPod, then, you might ask? Quite simple: the MP3 phone manufacturers so far have tried making teenagers happy, which seems to be good enough for them. If all you do is drop the occasional MP3 onto your phone, todays phones will work for you.

If you’re listening to podcasts and/or work with frequently changing playlists, todays solutions suck. Totally.

My daily routine involves updating my podcast subscriptions, plugging in the iPod and leaving the house. I can be sure that my iPod will not only have the most up to date podcasts, it will also have gotten rid of the ones I have allready listened to. Great, huh..?
This kind of simplicity is what has made Apple so successful.

The only mobile phones that integrate into desktop applications for MP3 management so far are Windows Mobile phones. Unfortunately they only work with Windows Media Player, which does not include a podcatcher. So, things work, but in an extremely crude way.

iTunes can only be used manually or through third party tools. One of the better sync tools is probably iTunes Agent, which lets you use smart playlists. A cascade of smart playlists lets you do the sync.

What all of these solutions lack is a feedback to the PC application, i.e. management of which podcasts have been listened to already. Not only is this not visible on the phone, it also does not get back to the PC, so you can’t delete the episodes you’ve already listened to.

In a nutshell: for podcast listeners, there currently is no alternative to the iPod in terms of synchronisation functionality. A huge gap that cries to be filled, if you ask me. Given that the so-called “smart” phones can run applications, this should not be too hard.

What’s your take – are you satisfied with listening to podcasts on something other than an iPod?

A suggestion for video podcasters: audio feeds

Recently, more and more podcasters I like have gone video (Steve Gillmor, Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble). Unfortunately, I mostly listen to podcasts while I’m in the car. Furthermore, the iPod Nano will not even sync these episodes (other audio-only players most likely won’t, either).

Wouldn’t it be nice if these bloggers also provided an audio-only feed that you could subscibe to?

This could even be provided as a service by a third party – for example through Yahoo! Pipes. Something like http://makeitaudio.net?http://scobleshow.com

What do you say – is that something you’d like to see?

Gillmor Gang rides again soon…?

Steve dropped some hints about a new upcoming gig:

“Several months ago Doc Searls and I came up with a name for a new show I have been developing. I grabbed it that night as soon as I got home. Tomorrow that show will launch: it’s called Bad Sinatra.”

I sure hope that’s true – I really miss listening to the Gillmor Gang.

Here’s Steve’s new domain, http://badsinatra.com/. Watch that space.

Will the iPhone’s WiFi support podcasting?

In the Jobs/Gates discussion, Steve referred to the iPhone as “the best iPod we ever made”.

That said, will it require the Desktop to update music? While this would be fine for your entire library, not being able to update podcasts on the go would be a serious bummer.

I haven’t seen screenshots or videos from the iPhone’s iPod application yet – can anybody shed a light on this?