Apple released their Podcasts app today. It’s a free app that is the first stage of splitting out podcasts from the rather buried place it has traditionally occupied within the iTunes environment. With this app, which runs on iOS 5.1 or later, iPhone and iPad users can finally manage their subscriptions and podcast content without relying on 3rd party apps.
Podcast management defaults to the view shown above, a tiled display that works similarly to the album cover view in the Music app, and much like tracks in that app, tapping the art for a given podcast brings up the episode list.
The other available option is a list view, which handles things in a somewhat more compact way.
This app addresses a complaint commonly heard from podcast fans in the iOS world, the lack of native subscription management. Before, you had to either manage your subscriptions on your computer and then sync, or resort to third party software. There are plenty of good apps out there that can handle the job, but it always felt a bit weird that you had to rely on them. Now you don’t.
The Podcasts app gives you pretty flexible control over your subscriptions on a per-podcast basis. If you want to keep everything one podcast does, you can configure that option for that podcast. Maybe you’re on the ball with your viewing and a little short on space? Tell it to only keep unplayed episodes, or only the most recent episode. Maybe you don’t want to automatically download episodes because one show is really long and it’s a lot of bandwidth; you can turn off automatic downloads for that show entirely, and just watch it on demand.
Finding new podcasts to subscribe to is accomplished through the Catalog button, available in the lower left of both views. This is basically the podcast section of iTunes without having to leave the app and launch iTunes.
The app handles playback of audio and video shows alike. For audio programs, a very old-school tape reel graphic is displayed and you’re given playback speed control for those who like to listen at .5x, 1.5x or even 2x speed. The same options are available for video shows through a button in the upper right while the video’s playing and the interface is visible.
In addition to just managing your podcast library and subscriptions, they’ve included a Top Stations feature that follows the metaphor of a radio tuning band.
The radio metaphor is (at least in my opinion) somewhat unfortunate as it feels kind of clunky and inelegant. Discovery of channels is slow and it can be hard to keep track of where you are on the band. It’s not the worst way in the world to browse through content, but I’d like to see them improve this in the future.
There’s a slider switch at the top of the app amid a lot of empty space. The switch lets you switch between audio podcasts and video podcasts. The display can be slow to update with the album art for the new selection of shows after you toggle this, which is unfortunate as there are no text labels and until you see the art, you don’t know what show it is you’re looking at. You do have the option of tapping the tiny little information icon to the lower right of the art, which gives you the episode information and podcast name, same as in the library.
Podcasters should be happy with this app as it promises to make finding podcasts much easier for consumers, provided they have and use the app. Having the app will only be a problem for a short time, since it’s going to be included in iOS 6, which should be coming our way sometime this Fall. Podcast consumers should be happy because managing podcasts just got a whole lot easier.
Have you tried Podcasts out? Let us know what your experience was like and how it compares to any 3rd party apps you may have tried! We love comments.