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Podcasts for iPhone and iPad

Christopher Breen | July 4, 2012
Apple’s new Podcasts app is a welcome step to bringing attention to audio and video podcasts that were previously buried in the Music app. But while it has some good things going for it, it’s a step that’s not yet fully realized.

What isn’t clear—but welcome—is that you can additionally subscribe to podcasts that aren’t offered on the iTunes Store. However, the feature is anything but intuitive. To subscribe to such a podcast enter the RSS feed for the podcast in the app’s Search field. When you do so and tap the Return key, you’re asked if you’d like to subscribe to the podcast associated with that RSS address. It then appears in your library of podcasts.

Audience and interface

The lack of playlist support and the hidden feature for subscribing to podcasts outside the iTunes Store is evidence of an app intended for a general audience rather than the podcast aficionado. Podcasts seems aimed at the person who listens and subscribes to a handful of podcasts but doesn’t require a lot of bells and whistles. (The bells-and-whistles crowd is better served by third-party apps such as Downcast ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) and iCatcher ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) that do offer such features. With that audience in mind, Apple has loaded the Podcasts app with some intriguing interface elements, but sometimes sacrifices functionality to those elements.

For example, while the library page is useful—allowing you to view shows by large thumbnail or in a list, the Top Stations feature needs a lot of work. It’s laid out so that podcast categories such as Arts, Business, Comedy, and Education appear on a large side-scrolling wheel across the top of the screen. Within each large category are subcategories that appear as you move the wheel—Design, Fashion & Beauty, Food, Literature, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts in the Arts category, for example. Below, you see one large hunk of cover art. To see the next program you must swipe up to move to the cover art below. This cover art is the only thing that identifies the program. If a program lacks artwork (something I encountered many times) you have no idea what the program is until you tap the small Info button next to it. At this point, the artwork flips around (iPad) or scrolls up (iPhone and iPod touch) and you can see the show name, a Subscribe button, and available episodes that can be downloaded or streamed. If you’re new to podcasts and seek some of podcasting’s most popular shows, this can be helpful. But another, smaller view that offers multiple programs would be a more efficient and informative use of space.

The Now Playing screen for audio podcasts is another interesting design decision—some of which is useful and other bits, not so. When you first start playing a podcast, the Now Playing screen shows that large piece of cover art. Below the art are Back, Forward, and Play/Pause controls in addition to buttons for skipping back 10 seconds and jumping forward 30 seconds. If you’d like to view other episodes of the program, simply tap the Playlist icon in the top right corner of the screen and a playlist appears. To play an episode within that playlist, simply tap on it and it will stream to your device. This is all great and easy to use.


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