My Podcast Listening History
Going back many years, to early 2005, when I started listening to Podcasts, I've always used iTunes to do so. Apple added the Podcast Directory to iTunes on 28 June, 2005. I honestly don't remember how I listened to Podcasts from March/April until June - I think I downloaded them manually - but from June 2005 until about 2 months ago, I used iTunes exclusively. At first, I used my 3rd generation iPod, then my 4th, then my 5th. In 2008, when I got my first iPhone, the 3G, I abandoned my iPod and switched to using the podcasts section of the music app on the phone instead. When the iPad came out in 2010, I expanded my podcast listening habits to the podcasts portion of the music app on that device as well. Why am I telling you all of this? I wanted to make the point that I am a long-time user of Podcasts in iTunes, from the beginning, and am intimately familiar with how iTunes, iPods, iPhones and iPads have functioned with regards to podcasts. In the last couple years, I have not made the switch to any alternative podcasting apps (until recently). Now that we've established what I hope you will take as my qualifications to bitch about this subject, I shall now lodge my complaints.
Reasons For Wanting To Switch
Over the last couple of years, I have been slightly annoyed that, using the model I've outlined above, in order to receive new episodes of a podcast that come out when I'm not at home, I must go into the iTunes app on my iPhone or iPad, manually search for the podcast, and manually download it. There was not a way within the app to search for new episodes, especially if it is a podcast that I do not keep played versions on my device once listened to. Once an episode gets deleted, the podcast disappears from the Podcasts section of the Music app. This was incredibly frustrating. A month ago, I finally made the decision to stop using iTunes for podcasts and to research both Downcast and Instacast, two of the leading 3rd party iOS podcasting applications. Both are highly rated in the store and very popular. Without going into specifics, and based on Marco Arment's endorsement, I chose Downcast. Now, while Downcast still has its faults, I had been using it fairly well for 2-3 weeks. Then Apple released Podcasts. Because Podcasts was produced by Apple - I assumed it would have superior iCloud features, do everything the Music app did, and had been instilled with features that the Music app did not do previously. I was partially right, but mostly wrong...
The User Experience or The Beginning Of My Ranting
I will now list everything I've found that the application falls short on. When it was built into Music, I could partially understand, which is why I sought out Downcast. But now that Podcasts is separate - I no longer grade it on a curve but expect it to do at least 80% of what Downcast or Instacast do. Sadly, it does not. First of all - the application is limited to downloading files less than 50MB in size. As I understand it, this is a limitation across all iOS applications when on 3G - but as about 1/2 of all podcasts I listen to are greater than 50MB in size…well you can see why this is an issue. Next, whenever the user starts listening to an episode, the album artwork covers up the play/pause/forward/reverse controls for the episode. The user must swipe upward to reveal these controls. In the 7 years I have been listening to podcasts I do not think I have ever cared about the album artwork of a podcast while listening, however, I usually need to access the controls from 0-5 times during an episode. This extra swipe to access them each and every time is tedious, to say the least. Next…reel to reel tape? Are all of the designers that Apple assigned to work on this application over the age of 40? I'm 30 and the last time I recall seeing a reel to reel tape machine in was sometime in elementary school during the 80s when my poor, rural county was still using 20 year old equipment because they couldn't afford to purchase anything better. And yes Apple, I get it…in order to be a designer at Apple one must pass an extensive Dieter Rams fetish test, but enough with the god damned skeumorphism already. The tape deck is beautifully done! Kudos to you! But podcasts are 7 years old. I would wager than 75%+ of all podcast listeners are less than 35 years old. We don't need to be hand-held to explain the UI to us, no matter how cute you think it is. How about you give us controls that makes the forward and reverse buttons not be placed directly next to the play/stop button huh? That is the kind of user interface design I can get behind. While I'm on that subject - why is it that when I try to pause or unpause an episode from the button on my headphones it now works about 50% of the time? The old Music app worked almost 90-100% of the time. As of now, I hit the button and it's as if I am pulling a slot machine lever in order to be able to pause an episode without having to remove my iPhone from my pocket to do so. Lucky me! And when I receive a call or use Siri, the application almost never resumes playing (as the old Music app used to do). Furthermore, when I mark an episode as played….put the phone in my pocket, and then pull it out later - why is it marked as unplayed again? And why do you keep randomly re-downloading episodes I've deleted…and marking them as unplayed too? Also, why is it that I can make a bunch of changes (listen to episodes, delete episodes, download new ones) and then dock it with my computer to sync with iTunes - the application doesn't sync all of my changes back to the computer, but instead, the comptuer overwrites the application. Does your sync workflow not follow chronological order of changes? Do you understand how infuriating this is? And finally - iCloud sync. Or not. Because apparently, the ONLY thing Apple syncs over iCloud is an episode's play-state. To be more specific, if I am listening to Back To Work, and am on minute 35, pause it, pick up my iPad, it will also have Back To Work on minute 35. This is the only thing you sync. C'mon Apple. You're APPLE for pete's sake. Sync my entire list of podcast subscriptions. Sync their play/unplayed state. Sync whether I have the episode still (even though I've listened to it) or deleted it. Downcast does this. Instacast does this. That you do not do this is pathetic. I'll stop ranting here, but I warn you - if you've made the switch to Downcast or Instacast, and are tempted to switch back to using Apple's Podcast app - DON'T. Perhaps Apple will slowly iterate this application into an Apple-like level of quality in 2-3 years, but as of right now, this application behaves like an engineer with a Dieter Rams fetish who works at Google made it.