On Wednesday, Marco Arment released the podcast-playing app Overcast, his anticipated major return to the iOS App Store after selling his popular Instapaper read-it-later app last year. The app was teased last September, its development has been detailed on Arment's popular podcast, and now it's out there for everyone to try. For the last few months I've been using a prerelease version, and I've come away impressed.
These days, there are countless good podcast-playing apps out there — it's a UI playground, like Twitter apps were back in the day. From Downcast to Pocket Casts to Instacast to Castro to Apple's own Podcasts app (not to mention podcast-aggregation apps like Stitcher and Swell), each app takes a somewhat different approach. That makes sense, because different people listen to podcasts in different ways — and all those apps rightly have their fans. (If you use your iPad for podcasts, Overcast isn't for you yet — it currently runs only on the iPhone, though Arment says an iPad version is planned.)
Let's start with the basics: Overcast is free, though feature-limited. "I want to offer a better alternative for the mass market, so it must be free," Arment says in a statement on the Overcast website. For a $5 in-app purchase, however, users can unlock numerous additional features, including: support for downloads over cellular, features that modify or improve sound output (more on those below), and unlimited playlists and episodes in playlists (there's only one playlist, with 5 episodes, by default).
The Overcast interface is simple, functional, and clearly the result of careful design. (It doesn't match the visual flair of the prettiest podcast app, Castro, but Castro pays for that flair by being harder to use.) The main screen features a simple list, split in two: playlists at the top and podcasts at the bottom. As you might expect, you can tap on a podcast, then tap on an episode to start playing it. When an episode is playing, that information is displayed (along with a small set of playback controls) at the very bottom of the window.
I listen to a lot of different podcasts and always want another episode to begin playing once the last one concludes — especially when I'm driving and can't select another episode manually — so for me, playlists are the most important feature of any podcast app.
Overcast's approach to playlists is smart: Not only can you choose specific podcasts to add to a playlist (or the inverse, choosing specific podcasts to ban), but there's a Priority Podcasts feature that lets you specify which podcasts float to the top of the play order.
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