Looking forwards whilst staring backwards – Thoughts on Apple’s new Podcast app

I recently wrote about the cyclical nature of my feelings towards podcasting and how I am currently losing interest in many of the subscriptions I used to listen to. (As an aside, after years of listening to Leo Laporte talk about it, I finally signed up to Audible. The new-member special of £3.99 a month is great but when that goes away and it heads up to £7.95, I’m going to be less enthusiastic, I think.)

As if in direct response to my musings, Apple released a new and individual Podcast app, separating out the subscription content from the now-familiar orange Music app. It’s a free download and the insides have been completely revamped – not all for the better.

I’m curious why Apple have decided to revamp the podcast section of their business, considering they have shown decreasing love for it of late. After being the front runners in making the podcast community a thriving place, their store has been updated less and less often, and it’s been dominated by big name producers – the BBC being a major culprit. The podcast world doesn’t make them any money, so it made sense that they would focus on other areas, like movies.

This new app, then, could either be a way of spinning off the genre out of the iTunes world completely and letting it do its own thing, or it could be their first step into putting a bit of life back into it. If they could only see their way to allowing you to charge for podcasts, we would see a whole new media revolution on our hands. Motives unknown, then, the app itself is not my ideal solution seemingly going back several steps in the podcast playing journey. I’ll hold my hands up right now and say I have spent only about ten minutes using the app, and I’m therefore not an expert and I have made relatively quick judgements. Here’s my thoughts so far:

Opening up the app, it downloads lots of my subscriptions – from where, I don’t know. Is it syncing with the music app, or have I signed up to a cloud somewhere I’ve forgotten about? Probably. It doesn’t matter. I have a minor panic that we have to look at the cover art for each podcast subscription before finding the list button. Much better. (Nothing wrong with cover art, I’m just not down with items being displayed that way. Same as how I hate Coverflow.)

I’m quite fussy about things I have listened to and things I haven’t so I find a subscription that has all episodes already consumed, so that I can play about at will. As it turns out, that happens to be The Archers. For some reason, Apple have returned to organising the subscriptions in strict alphabetical order with The Archers way down under T. I wouldn’t mind this so much, except iTunes – where I organise all my subscriptions – has it listed under A.

Into the list of episodes and they are the wrong way round. I have a slightly more major panic before finding the setting to order by newest first or oldest first. Unfortunately, I also see that this is a by subscription setting, meaning I’ll have to go through each and every one of my 70+ feeds and change it over. Not a fan of that, at all. I cannot fathom why the default would be newest first. I understand that not everyone is freakish about consuming everything and not missing things, but most shows follow some kind of chronological order and will reference ones that have gone before. Newest at the top might be useful for some, but I can’t see how it is the norm.

With episodes facing the right way, I press play. I struggle to find the x2 button, before realising the weird little squiggle in the middle of the screen is a rabbit. There’s a toggle between tortoise and rabbit, which is about as obvious as mud. Supposedly, this is in reference to the reel-to-reel machine that the design is based on. How forward thinking!

Another thing that intrigues me about Apple apps is their willingness to innovate but their inane desire to make everything look like really old stuff. I’ve never seen a reel-to-reel in action, and there’s a whole generation beneath me starting to get into technology. What are they going to think about these gadgets made to look retro into things they have no reference of? It’s a novelty, and it’s fun for a bit, but at some point surely we have to throw up our hands and say, hey, you know what, times change.

Anyway, I now have an episode of The Archers, playing at the speed I am comfortable with and it all seems to be working okay. Except that when I try it for real, starting a new show that is on my to-listen list, I go to check the time I am through the podcast and the whole thing grinds to a halt and crashes. Oh well.

It’s a new app, I know, and the bugs take some working out. The irritations are just the small things that I have worked out a system for and Apple have completely turned on their head. They’re a company well known for telling us how we want to consume things, so I am not surprised at this. I’m mostly just documenting it for future reference, and to put my foot firmly in the camp of “not liking the new app.”

I haven’t even got to looking at the stations and the podcast discovery and how subscribing to things via the app works now. Mostly I have been put off by the fact it looks like an old radio dial. WHY? Anyway, small props to Apple for attempting to revamp things for a new world, with major points taken away for ruining fundamental functionality. Oh, and no props at all if they are spinning podcasts off to die, as per above.

18 thoughts on “Looking forwards whilst staring backwards – Thoughts on Apple’s new Podcast app

  1. According to the Dan Benjamin & Jim Dalrymple via the Amplified podcast this week, the tortoise and hare harks back to the mouse control speeds in Mac OS System 7 (circa 1991)

    The skeuomorphic reel to reel tape deck is an homage to a 1960’s recorder, the TG 60 (that’s some tech geekery right there folks), and seems to be one of many such design choices that Apple seem to be getting flak for lately. Similar to OS X Lion’s stitching in the Calendar app.

    I agree that the app is definitely unfinished. It’s often the Cupertino way to chuck a product out there and wait for the feedback before updating it with stuff hat we felt should have been there on day one. I’m still reserving judgement but so far, I like the potential

  2. …and wait for the feedback before updating it with stuff hat we felt should have been there on day one.

    Yea, but this isn’t “I want copy and paste, why no copy and paste?”

    This is more – Apple, you had a perfectly good system perfected after already listening to feedback, why have you forgotten it all?

  3. I think this is part of the bigger picture to sort iTunes on the desktop out. It has become a bloated monster that has outgrown it’s remit as a music library. Video and Music have already been disassociated from the old iOS iTunes app, this move will seem obvious in a year or two, if not sooner with iOS 6 and Moutain Lion around the corner

    The music app still contains podcasts so, for now, there’s the option to carry on using that.

  4. The music app still contains podcasts so, for now, there’s the option to carry on using that.

    I absolutely will, until they kick me off it. Just like “natural” scrolling 🙂

  5. I think this is part of the bigger picture to sort iTunes on the desktop out

    sure… but why is it so BAD?

  6. I completely agree. I can’t understand why they put this out there without iCloud syncing. Even though they’ve moved it into its own app, the download links in the list of podcasts are still hopelessly unresponsive, though I think that’s an iTunes Store issue.
    Having tried this and looked at all the poor reviews on iTunes I decided to give Downcast a try. It’s $1.99 rather than free, but it does everything you’d expect the Podcast app to do. It syncs between devices (using iCloud, natch), it auto downloads, it can stream a podcast as it’s downloading. I don’t mind paying for an app that does what I want it to do. Fee can be expensive I terms of frustration.
    It’s even more confusing that Apple put this out when there are already better third party apps out there. It’s not like they need to fill a gap or show developers the way. Downcast works for me, I hear good things about Instacast too…

  7. Ah… I think I might have discovered one reason why Apple is not doing syncing. I turned on all the sync options in Downcast and got two warnings – the first was that syncing had paused because of the bandwidth limit on background syncing (I think that’s what it said). I assumed this was just like a first backup taking a long time, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I got a warning saying that my storage space was almost full, meaning my iCloud space. I’ll have to go back and check Downcast’s settings as I don’t need it to send the actual podcast data to iCloud, just the list of subscriptions and the markers of where I am in any particular episode. Hopefully it has that level of control if I pay more attention to the settings.
    Maybe Apple are wary of overloading either their backend servers or users free storage capability..?

  8. Then I got a warning saying that my storage space was almost full, meaning my iCloud space.

    but nothing in the itunes store contributes to your icloud storage. you can buy any number of films and the space remains the same. podcasts should work this way too.

  9. Does the arrival of this app mean I can’t place podcasts into playlists mixed with music?
    I listen to Podcasts while driving, and I can’t keep stopping to change podcasts on an app, so I have a playlist that I update every day. The podcasts are interspersed with music. This might sound like a hassle, but it only takes me a minute.

  10. Well, I can’t see why you still wouldn’t be able to organise your podcasts into playlists via iTunes because that uses the music section – dragging the podcasts into there, I think.

    The new app only affects the actual subscribing and playing of podcasts through the podcasts bit.

    That’s what I’d assume, anyway.

  11. In addition to Christine’s issues, there are a couple of things I don’t like which the current system does perfectly. (1) It keeps all of the episodes in the app, I want it to remove the ones I have listened to so I know what’s outstanding (2) I have to adjust the speed for each podcast I listen to. I want all podcasts to play at double speed unless I intervene.

    I hope that they don’t turn off the current system anytime soon or I will be extremely 😦

  12. Having spent a little more time with this app, I’ve come to realise that’s it’s release was premature but was probably done so to gain feedback before podcasts are removed from the Music app in iOS 6. [expected in October]

    My gripes are as follows and I sincerely hope they are ironed out by October as I will probably stop using it as it currently stands.

    * It freezes on opening until it has a handle of what it needs to do, presumably. I have a modest 16 subscriptions, not an unreasonable amount
    * Auto-Download has no option for WiFi only. Consequently, I’ve used 823MB of data in 11 days! [Not all on podcasts, but a large part of it, I suspect]
    * As mentioned by Janna, listened to episodes do not disappear, even when instructed. This is even more of a pain when you wish to have new old episodes first, to play in chronological order. Some lists are in the hundreds.
    * Half or fully played podcasts sometimes revert back to an unplayed status, with your place lost.
    *No flag on the Cover Flow theme to denote that new episodes are available
    *Overall, I like the UI but there are a few things that require precision finger targeting, to hit the desired icon first time

    So, for now, I’ll revert back to the music app and hope that Apple are listening to the feedback of less than stellar reviews and issue an update to make it usable as intended

    I’d hold back in upgrading the OS, when it comes, if this is a deal breaker

  13. I’ve used 823MB of data in 11 days!

    OUCH!

    if i submitted an app to the store, with that functionality, apple would flat out reject it. unbelievable.

  14. finally some decent updates to this app today. syncing via icloud & shows play oldest to newest by default. wooohoo!

  15. just realised the reels display how much of the show remains. half arsed implemenation though. i keep trying to wind a show on by spinning them.

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