App Review: Pocket Casts for iPhone

Long-time readers of this blog (hi, mom!) know my affinity for podcasts.  I’ve offered advice to aspiring podcasters. I even returned my first Android phone largely because I didn’t like how that platform handled podcasts (in 2010).  So when Apple came out with their own dedicated Podcast app over a year ago, I was ecstatic.  Though version 1.0 was full of bugs, it offered one feature that made it worthwhile: A single playlist that automatically showed all my downloaded & unplayed podcasts, ordered from oldest to newest.  That’s all I really needed.

And then Apple updated their Podcast app.  The bugs largely went away… but so did the one function I actually used.

The new “unplayed” list now showed all the unplayed episodes of all the podcasts I subscribed to, whether they had been downloaded or not. Here’s the thing: If I haven’t downloaded a podcast episode, that means I don’t want to listen to it. (I have zero interest in streaming podcasts while I’m out and about.) I kept waiting for a revision that would restore the ability to automatically hide undownloaded episodes, but, alas, that day would never come.

After a year of manually managing my podcast library, I decided to finally break Tech Guy Rule #121: “Never pay for an app when a decent alternative is free.” I emptied my piggy bank and scrounged up enough coins to buy a new podcast app. But which one? Downcast, Instacast, Pocket Casts and iCatcher all had good write-ups on the web, as well as largely positive reviews on the app store.  They all cost less than five bucks.  They all bragged about their customizability.  But only one had this on its app store page:

PocketCastsiTunesCopy

And that app was Pocket Casts, which I immediately bought.  Here’s what the app looks like once you get it up and running:

PodcastsScreenshots 1

Above is the app’s home screen, where you’ll find a bevy of filters and lists you can customize to organize your library.

PodcastsScreenshots 2

This is what the app looks like after you’ve subscribed to some podcasts.

Subscribing to podcasts is very easy. As soon as you hit the “+” in the upper right hand corner (from almost any page), you’re greeted with a page of Featured Podcasts.

PodcastsScreenshots 3

You can also see podcasts grouped by popularity, categories, and network.

PodcastsScreenshots 4

The Network view is very useful, though it’s far from complete. Earwolf and MaximumFun.org, for example, were both missing. (But their podcasts were easily found using the search tool.)

PodcastsScreenshots 5

Once you’ve subscribed to a podcast, you can see all available episodes.  You can then download only the ones you want to listen to. You can also set it to auto-download new episodes in the future, if you wish. Thanks to iOS 7, downloading is done in the background, and only on wifi if you don’t have an unlimited data plan.

PodcastsScreenshots 6

Some of the icons were unfamiliar to me. For example, I had no idea what that little checkmark meant until I clicked it. (FYI: It’s to toggle between “played” and “unplayed” status.)

PodcastsScreenshots 8

From the episode page, you can choose to start playing the episode immediately or add it to a playlist. There’s also a “PLAY NEXT” option I’ll go into detail more later.

PodcastsScreenshots 7

Viola. A list of just the episodes that are both unplayed and downloaded.

The app is not without its quirks.  For example, you can create a “filter” — like the one seen above — that will automatically sort your podcast library by whatever criteria you want, but it’s not the same as a playlist.  Selecting an episode in the “filter” list will only play that individual episode. It will not automatically go onto the next one in the filter.  You need to create a “playlist” to do that.  Adding episodes to a playlist is easy, but, still, it’d make more sense to just have filters and playlists be the same thing.  The reason I left the Apple Podcast app is because I didn’t want to have to manually add anything to a playlist, yet here I am, having to do just that.

But just when I was ready to give another podcast app a try (for another $3), Pocket Cast won me over.  The saving grace?  The “play next” button.  One of the reasons I hate playlists is this: Let’s say you see an episode you’d like to listen to after the current podcast you’re listening to is over.  So you add it to a playlist, where it appears at the bottom of the list, and then you have to manually move the episode up, in order to hear it next.

With the “play next” button, it’ll cut through all that.  Just hit that button and the app will automatically cue the selected podcast to start playing as soon as the current one is finished.  It’s a feature I never knew I wanted… and now it’s the main way I listen to podcasts.

Another cool thing about the app is the way it handles “chapters.”

PocketCastsScreenshots 1

Only one podcast I listen to — Scriptnotes — uses chapter markers, but I imagine more and more podcasts will start to.

Another thing it handles quite well: Links to additional content.

PocketCastsScreenshots 2

The app might not be quite what I expected (seriously, filters and playlists shouldn’t be two different things), but I’m not regretting the purchase. If the idea of super-customizable filters, a “play next” option, and an extremely user-friendly interface for finding & subscribing to new podcasts intrigues you, then I can easily recommend Pocket Casts.

Are the updated apps on your iphone/ipad not syncing back to your Mac?

You are not alone.  In fact, it seems to be a deliberate move on Apple’s behalf.  Why?  I don’t know.  It used to be that no matter how you updated your apps — whether it was via iTunes on your computer or the App store on your iDevice — the apps would then automatically update on all your machines the next time you initiated a sync.

It’s not that way anymore.

Updated Your Apps

Now, if you update an app on your iDevice, it will NOT move over to your computer.  iTunes will still show this icon, telling you that you need to update your apps, even if you’ve already done so on your iDevice and synced everything.

If you update your apps on your computer first, then sync with your iDevice, everything will work like it should.  But I’m guessing that you — like everyone else on the planet — are manually syncing up your devices less and less frequently, if at all. (Though I highly recommend that all iPhone/iPad owners sync up their devices occasionally at least for safety/back-up purposes.)

So how do you get your updated apps over to iTunes without redownloading them all again?  Simple.  First, if you’re using the latest version of iTunes and no longer see the handy “sidebar” that looks like this…

sidebar

…you can bring it back just by going to the VIEW menu at the top of the screen and selecting “SHOW SIDEBAR.”

Show Sidebar

Then, with the sidebar back — and really, why wouldn’t you want it back? it’s great! — all you have to do is right click on your iDevice and select “TRANSFER PURCHASES.”  (If your mouse/trackpad can’t “right click” then hitting the control button when you click will bring up the same little menu.)

Transfer Purchases

This will make sure that everything acquired from the App store on your iDevice — including updated versions of Apps — is moved over to your computer.  That’s it.

If you’ve downloaded a lot of app updates on your device and don’t want to download them all over again on your computer, that’s all you have to do.  This is handy if you’re on a data cap and only want to download apps once for all your devices (using the computer to sync them all up). It’s also a handy way to just make that darned “you’ve got 28 apps to update” reminder go away.

Here’s hoping that a future version of iTunes restores the ability to do this automatically with every sync.

 

UPDATE:  The newest iTunes 11.0.5 now syncs updated apps both ways!  The above steps are still handy for getting music and other content off the phone, though.

So you want to be a podcaster…

I don’t have a podcast.  I’ve only been a guest on one a couple times.  But I listen to a lot of them, and if I have one piece of advice for would-be podcasters it’s that…

Listener fatigue is real.  You really can have “too much of a good thing.”

I know what you’re thinking:  “But Eric, podcasting is cheap and there’s no restriction on length or posting frequency, so I’ll just put as much out there as possible and let my listeners pick what they want to listen to!”

First off, if that’s what you’re saying… you’re a liar.  Every podcast of yours that isn’t getting downloaded will send you into a tizzy.  If you don’t believe me… well, just ask anyone who’s been podcasting for a while.

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Cable Boxes are Evil

From 1950 to 1980, watching TV was super easy: All you had to do was remember what time your favorite shows would be on and then turn a knob to tune in.  So simple.  The process required less than 0.0000001% of your brain power, freeing America to do some pretty cool things during that time span, like walk on the moon, march for civil rights, and impeach a president.

Then came a wolf in sheep’s clothing that sought to annihilate the elegant simplicity of TV watching: The Cable Box.   Sure it came with dozens of enticing channels, but it rendered useless the TV’s own dial and it made hooking up a VCR a complicated mess.  It also made life hell for every 10 year old boy who was forced to become their home’s I.T. guy.

Fortunately, electronics manufacturers saw a need for simplicity, and they started sticking cable tuners right into a multitude of devices. The result:  cable-ready TVs & VCRs that relegated cable boxes only to those who desperately needed to buy pay-per-view programs (i.e. boxing & porn) or unscramble premium channels (i.e. less interesting boxing and simulated porn). Thus the 1990’s became the golden age of cable: 60 to 70 additional channels, no special box required.  With that hassle eliminated, America saw it’s greatest decade of prosperity since the end of World War II.   We even had time to impeach another president.

But then the cable companies fought back. “Sure you can get up to 70 channels with no box,” they said in a dark alley behind the middle school, “but that’s BASIC cable. Wouldn’t you like something better? Something DIGITAL?” Ooh, digital cable. Hundreds of channels! Better sound and video quality! The ability to watch movies on demand! “Sounds great!” we shouted, “but what’s the catch?”

“That’s the best part,” they responded. “There isn’t one!”

Ah, but there was.

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