I’ve been listening to podcasts on various iPods and iPhones since 2005. My first podcast was SQPN’s The Catholic Insider with Fr. Roderick, listening to him walk through the snow outside his parish church and then entering to the sound of a choir singing Bach’s Passion of St. Matthew. It was beautiful and stirring that I had to hear more and I was hooked from that moment on.
Podcasts have become one of my primary means of entertainment and education. I regularly listen to more than 20 different audio podcasts plus another handful of video podcasts. The topics range from Catholic content to self-help to humor to Mac/iOS to pop culture to news to economics and on and on. These podcasts became my lifeline when I was commuting more than an hour each way, morning and evening, sometimes keeping me sane when traffic kept me on the road for two hours. Lately, they accompany me at work and while I’m doing work in the yard.
I’ve always used the built-in, Apple-supplied apps for listening to them and iTunes to download and manage them. It’s never been ideal, but it’s done the job. But now, I think I’ve found a new app that will once again revolutionize my podcast listening.
The app is called Downcast and it’s available for $1.99. Here’s how it improves on the podcast experience.
First, I no longer have to keep any of the files in iTunes on my computer taking up hard drive space. And once I’ve listened to an episode, I no longer have to remember to delete it from the computer. Best of all, I don’t have to sync the iPhone or iPad to my computer to get new podcasts.
Downcast lets me subscribe to podcasts, either with the feed URL if I know it (perhaps copying it from an email or website) or by searching an internal directory of podcasts. That worked fine for me, finding all of my podcasts with ease. It then downloads the podcasts in the background with an option to download only over WiFi, a good option in these days of bandwidth limits by wireless providers.
Downcast will add new podcasts as they download and delete ones I’ve listened to already if I’ve set the preferences that way. Other preferences allow me to download only the most recent podcast automatically (so I don’t have to fill my iPhone’s hard drive), but also download other individual episodes manually. I can tell it to play continuously, starting the next podcast when the current one finishes; and prevent my screen from locking while the app is open so I can pause and restart with ease.
The app allows me to set up smart playlists, grouping my podcast episodes and sorting them in various ways. I have four playlists at the moment: All, Mac (for all my Mac-related shows); SQPN (for all the shows from the SQPN network); and Weekly (for all the shows that update weekly or more often and thus need to be listened to first.)
The player controls are very nice as well, allowing me to skip ahead 30 seconds or two minutes at a time (for when Leo Laporte does one of his never-ending commercials in the MacBreak Weekly podcast) or back 15 seconds or 30 seconds, if my attention has wandered and I need to hear it again. (The iPhone’s built-in player only does the 30-second back-skip.) And while the iPhone can play the podcast at double-speed (good for powering through a whole bunch of podcasts in my now 15-minute commute) or at half-speed, Downcast can play at half-speed, double-speed, and one-and-a-half-speed for those times when a speaker has an accent and double-speed is too fast.
Downcast is a universal app so it has interfaces tailored to both the iPhone and the iPad. The iPad version has a very nice layout, putting everything right in sight without drop-down interfaces or panes or menus (I’m not sure what Apple calls them) for the various functions. I don’t listen to podcasts on my iPad, but I assume it works just as well.
If you’re a podcast listener, whether casually or as a power user, it’s worth your while to check out Downcast.