¶ Apple's New Podcasts App

Me, last week, on the rumor of a standalone Podcasts app for iOS 6:

When Apple touted iOS 5 as being PC-free, one thing they forgot to include is being able to subscribe to podcasts on the iPhone and be able to check for and download new episodes.

Well, it turns out that iOS 5.1 is the release that makes iOS PC-free in this regard. Apple just released their standalone Podcasts app.

Here are the details from Apple:

Podcasts app is the easiest way to discover, subscribe to and play your favorite podcasts on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Explore hundreds of thousands of free audio and video podcasts from the Podcasts Catalog, and play the most popular podcasts, organized for you by topic, with the all-new Top Stations feature.


  • Enjoy all of your audio and video podcasts in a single app
  • Explore hundreds of thousands of podcasts including shows in over 40 languages
  • Try the innovative new Top Stations feature to find new podcast series in a variety of topics, including arts, business, comedy, music, news, sports, and more.
  • Browse by Audio or Video podcasts, or see what’s most popular in Top Charts
  • Tap subscribe for your favorites and automatically receive new episodes for free as they become available
  • Stream episodes or download to listen while offline
  • Skip forward and back using simple playback controls
  • Turn on Sleep Timer to automatically stop playing a podcast while listening in bed
  • Share your favorite episodes with friends using Twitter, Messages and Mail
  • Optionally sync your favorite episodes from iTunes on your Mac or PC
  • Sync your episode playback for seamless transition between devices

This is all very good. The interface is very nice. When you are listening to an episode, tap or swipe up on its artwork to reveal an old reel-to-reel player and the sleep and sound speed settings. If you tap pause, you can see the mechanics of the reel-to-reel player stop.

Another nice touch with the reel-to-reel player is that as the episode progresses, the spool of tape on the left reel diminishes as the spool on the right increases. This also happens quickly as you scribble the timeline.

As for setting up Podcasts, it should pull in any episodes currently found in the podcasts section of Music.app. Also, it should continue to sync with iTunes, just as before. The added benefit of Podcasts, though, is that you can set you device to watch for new episodes and to download the latest. Annoyingly, though, you have to tap into each podcast and toggle each and every one of them to subscribe on the device.

And this is where I see some shortcomings from what I was hoping for. In that post from last week, I stated:

Hopefully Apple will make it easy to use iCloud to keep your subscription list, and allow a new Podcasts app to download new episodes in the background when plugged in to power and on Wi-Fi, in the same manner that it does iCloud backups and Newsstand updates.

Well, this just isn’t part of the app. At least, not yet. iCloud doesn’t keep your subscription list, and while the app will download new episodes, it won’t do so in the background. The app must be open to check for and download new episodes.

What iCloud does offer is syncing the playback position of episodes between devices — say, an iPhone and iPad. Unfortunately, it does this via whatever Apple ID is used for the iTunes Store, and not via the Apple ID set for iCloud.

This identity conundrum won’t affect everyone, as I am sure the vast majority of users have the iCloud ID and iTunes Store ID as one and the same. But for a family? Well, my wife and I each have separate iCloud IDs, yet we both use the same iTunes Store ID. If we were to both be subscribed to the same podcasts (thankfully, neither of us are) we would have a nightmare of playback syncing issues (there isn’t an option to not sync playback).

That aside, this is a very nice 1.0 app. I look forward to how it will improve. Hopefully iCloud will be emphasized more in a future release.

The important thing is Podcasts no longer solely rely on iTunes.

Podcasts is a universal app for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, and requires iOS 5.1 or later. It’s free in the App Store.

While podcasts will exist in both Podcasts and Music apps in iOS 5, it looks certain that the podcasts function within Music will disappear in iOS 6. Use the next few months to transition to the new app.

Apple also has a little support section for Podcasts on its site.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the only way to add a podcast in the interface is via the Podcast Catalog. However, some podcasts aren’t on iTunes. If you want to subscribe to a podcast that isn’t in iTunes, just enter the feed:// URL in Safari, and it will redirect to the Podcasts app and add it to your feed.