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Overcast is a winning podcast app

Jason Snell | July 17, 2014
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.

The app's podcast directory is also powered by social media, optionally using your Twitter account to discover episodes that people you know are recommending. It's an interesting idea, though it remains to be seen how useful those recommendations are for most people. There are also numerous lists of recommend podcasts divided by genre, and you can search for any podcast under the sun. (Disclosure: During the app's beta-testing process, I suggested a couple of categories for the podcast directory, and those categories are currently listed in Overcast, though the lists are updated dynamically and will undoubtedly change over time.)

My biggest complaint about Overcast is that its approach to downloading a bit too simplified. There is, wisely, a switch that keeps the app from downloading podcasts via cellular connections, so it doesn't chew up your data allowance. But there's no way to force a single episode to download, nor is there any concept of streaming an episode. If you're out and about and want to listen to a new episode of your favorite podcast, you must: pause all the other queued downloads, flip on cellular downloads, watch the episode download, flip the cellular-download option back off, and then press play.

It's also worth noting that Arment has said on his podcast that he intends to make Overcast limited to iOS 8 only once Apple's operating system update ships this fall. If you're using a device that won't be supported on iOS 8, or you're planning on giving that update a pass, you will not be getting future Overcast updates and may want to steer clear.

I've used just about every iPhone podcast app out there, most of them for fairly large amounts of time. Overcast is the one I'm going to stick with — for now, anyway. The podcast-app space keeps changing and is quite competitive, but Overcast best fits the way I listen to podcasts today. Your mileage may vary, which is why it's great that Overcast is available for free rather than being a $5 purchase right off the bat.

The app's settings screen even links to five other podcast apps, in case Overcast is "not for you." That's a great gesture toward independent app developers. It's always worth keeping an eye on the tremendous innovation happening in all of these apps, which are developing almost as quickly as the medium of podcasting itself. But for now, Overcast's cute orange icon is the one sitting in my iPhone's dock.


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