We spend a lot of time with mobile apps. We know what we like and what we dontsometimes within the very same app. Our Fix This App series takes a closer look at a mobile offering thats not without some flaws and tries to nudge it a little closer to perfection.
When I first heard that read-it-later mastermind Marco Arment was working on a podcast app, I couldnt wait to try it out. Mind you, Im not a rabid podcast fan; rather, I would classify myself as more of a casual listener, enjoying occasional episodes of The Alton Browncast, CBC Radios Q, and the Accidental Tech Podcast during my hour-long commute. Above all Im a fan of Marcos work, and that was what piqued my interest with Overcast.
The best apps are built to fill specific needs, and Arments have always done that. Instapaper was famously born when he couldnt find anything to read on the train, but Overcast is a little different, in that it was meant to offer solutions to the problems Arment saw with the podcast apps he already used, namely in interface design and simplicity.
And in that he succeeds admirably. Overcast is a remarkable marriage of form and function and you can feel the meticulous development that went into itbut for my needs, it's missing one feature I just can't live without.
What it gets right
Even without Arments significant clout in the iOS community, Overcast would have instantly found its spot among the Downcasts and Stitchers of the world. As Macworlds Jason Snells glowing review captured, the app is a labor of love with a clear attention to detail that makes it an absolute joy to use. Its interface is minimal without being confusing, and each screen has been designed for optimal viewing and navigation, with small animations and clear buttons that lend an air of playful sophistication.
Finding new podcasts or browsing your subscriptions is quick and logical, but its playback where Overcast truly shines. A $5 in-app purchase (Overcast is otherwise free to use) unlocks Smart Speed and Voice Boost, a pair of proprietary technologies that give it an edge over every other client Ive used. Voice Boost skillfully solves the problem of having to crank the volume on your iPhone because of a particularly low-talking host, and Smart Speed detects any lengthy pauses or moments of dead air and eliminates them, dramatically cutting down on the length of shows without distorting the voices.
What it gets wrong
Overcasts playback experience is so great, its hard to believe its missing such an important and downright essential feature: streaming. It wasnt a surpriseArment said in a blog post last September that he had no plans to support streaming in the shipping version of Overcastbut Overcast excels in so many areas, the lack of streaming is a glaring omission, at least for me. I want to use it as a superior version of Apples Podcasts, but its focus on downloading makes it difficult.
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