Quick Review of iPhone Podcast Apps

I've been using iPhone podcast apps from the beginning when it wasn't officially allowed due to the duplicating functionality rule that used to exist. I have used just about everyone of them, so I thought I'd run down my thoughts on them and what I think is missing from the industry.

Podcaster
This is the original. This is same developer from the original app that was kicked out of the App Store on iOS 2.0. I used this app from 2008 until Instacast 1.0 came out. It was a solid app and I was thrilled with it for the longest time. It's not it got unstable, but more of the fact that the interface and feature set didn't evolve.

Instacast
This was the gold standard with 1.0. A lot of the tech press picked up its release (March 2011) and praised it. I really enjoyed using it. It felt extremely modern and stable. In May of 2012, 2.0 was released as a paid upgrade. 2.0 also added an additional "Pro" in-app purchase on top of the new purchase price. It included:

  • Playlists and Smart Playlists
  • Bookmarks with Import/Export
  • Settings for individual Podcasts
  • Push Notification for new episodes

I wasn't upset about any of this. I enjoyed the app and was happy to support the developer. My big complaint is that it removed features in the name of simplicity. This was the big one that got re-added in 2.1:

  • Added "Delete Download after Played" option

Anyone that uses a paid podcast app on the iPhone is interested is pro-type solutions. This was even before Apple offered a free podcast app and it was built into Music.app. Unfortunately, this was a taste of things to come. In December of 2012, 3.0 was release as another paid upgrade. This was only 8 months later (and people were not happy). It did become a universal app (the iPad version had been a separate app previously) and contained a custom syncing solution (iCloud syncing had been problematic). I purchased it (again), but was not impressed. Although it was "built for iOS 6", it was slow and buggy. Image caches were buggy and it again removed features that had to be re-added in 3.03:

  • Added Auto-Delete setting for after being played
  • Added Auto-Delete setting for being marked as played

Version 4 for iOS 7 will also be another paid upgrade. While I am in favor of developers getting paid, it seems like this app needs a different monetization model. Instead of consistently having paid upgrades, perhaps it needs to be a yearly subscription model that is required.

Downcast
I switched to this app full time in early 2013. It's not the prettiest app, but it is highly stable and has plenty of features that allows you to make the app do pretty much what you want it to do. It also had a location based update system where you could have the app wake up when arriving or leaving certain locations and refresh. This will become irrelevant with iOS 7, but at the time, this was an incredible feature.

Pocketcasts
I picked this app up a few weeks ago. It's a bit long in the tooth as the developers are working on version 4. I was told on Twitter it will be out for iOS 7. Version 4 has been critically acclaimed on Android. The biggest difference between this app and the rest of them is the way it refreshes. Most apps subscribe to the feed directly inside the app. This app stores the subscriptions at the server level. This is similar to how a lot of RSS syncing services work. The server controls the subscriptions and the apps just talk back to the server. It drastically speeds up the refreshing process as the server can do this periodically. This should make syncing across iOS and Mac apps to be near perfect (I've yet to find a system that works well with podcasts). I am looking forward to version 4 with great anticipation. It will be a free upgrade from version 3.

Podcasts from Apple
Apple released this app in mid-2012. It has released a steady stream updates since. The original few versions were heavy on skeuomorphism, but that has since been drastically toned down. It's a fine app, but it lacks some pro-features of the third party apps. It is free (which makes it very popular).

So what's the verdict? I am using Downcast currently, but there is an opportunity for someone else to build the Reeder of podcast apps. Reeder is generally loved by everyone. It's easy to use, but highly powerful and customizable. We can only hope that Marco Arment or David Smith can save us.