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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.

When you swipe up on this artwork you’re taken to the tape recorder view, where you find additional controls. Among them is a speed control for speeding up or slowing down the podcast without changing pitch (Apple claims the faster “rabbit” setting makes the audio play twice as fast. It’s actually about 1.5 times as fast.) You also find a timeline, a Share button for sharing links to the podcast via email, Twitter, or the Messages app; and a sleep timer button, which allows you to configure the podcast to play for a certain amount of time (from five minutes to an hour in increments) and then stop playing. As the episode progresses, the virtual tape on the reels decreases on the left reel and increases on the right. It’s a clever effect, but as the timeline shows you where you are in nearly all cases, it seems more gimmick than help.

Like the built-in Music app, the Podcasts app supports scrubbing at a variety of speeds. Start a podcast playing and drag on the playhead. When you do, the podcast scrubs (plays short snippets of audio) at high speed. Drag your finger down while scrubbing and the scrubbing speed decreases from high speed, to half speed, to quarter speed, to fine scrubbing. You can scrub both back and forward.

That timeline can be confusing in that it contains Back and Forward buttons that don’t appear to do anything—that is, until you play an audio podcast you’ve downloaded that contains chapters. When you play such a podcast, you see new chapter buttons below the timeline. The first button will read Chapter 1 and the second, All Chapters. When the episode gets to the next chapter, the name of the first button changes to Chapter 2. If you tap All Chapters, the timeline becomes segmented, with each mark indicating a new chapter.

Those Back and Forward buttons in the timeline now come into play. When you tap on them, you skip back or forward a chapter, respectively. As you do so, the reels speed up to show that you’re skipping through a significant amount of time, which is kind of cute. But I’d like more from the chapters feature. When you listen to an episode that contains chapters in iTunes, you can easily navigate to other chapters by selecting them from a list (plus those chapters include their chapter titles rather than a generic “Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on). While Podcasts’ chapter button and segmented timeline work reasonably well with the timeline conceit, they’re not the most efficient way to move between chapters.

About syncing

The app is capable of syncing—to an extent. When you play a podcast episode on one iOS device and then move to another iOS device tied to the same Apple ID, playback on the second device will pick up where the first left off. (Provided, of course, that each device has Internet access.) However, this isn’t true between iOS devices and iTunes. (Apple makes no claim that it is.) The Podcasts app won’t bookmark a podcast in iTunes so that when listening on your computer you can continue from where you last stopped.


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