Podcast App Roundup – Fall 2018

My name is Bill, and I’m a podcast addict.

Seriously, I listen to tech podcasts, flying podcasts, advertising podcasts, even podcasts about making podcasts.

So I think of myself as a bit of a podcast power user. I listen on at least 2 mobile devices and 1 desktop. A recent addition of an android work phone got me looking at my podcast client options. Pocketcasts is the leading android choice as well as having IOS and desktop options (web/electron clients). My traditional IOS choices have flipped between Downcast and Overcast. So I spent a week with each of them, the Short story .. almost nothing changed.

The Givens

To avoid repetition, all of these clients can add podcasts from a directory or directly by URL. You can control how many and when podcasts download. The ability to stream podcasts if you want to conserve space on your device. You can control playback speed including their own ‘smart’ speed options. All have at least some support for private feeds from paid, subscription or Patreon feeds – YMMV. They all also support Carplay from IOS.

The new choice – PocketCasts

If there is a second choice in an Android podcast client, I probably never heard of it (GooglePod?) but the first choice is clearly Pocketcasts.  Pocketcasts does give you almost all the tools you need and equality between the IOS and Android clients. In a metaphor that is completely lost on me, in place of playlists they have filters. This allows you to organize your podcasts but if you want to play you work list or nighttime list you have to build a queue each time. So if I start listening to one filter and tap to play something from another it will play that one episode and go back to whatever was previously in the up next queue. The filter options, Carplay support in IOS, and syncing services were all great. In what was a great choice, the lack of real playlists became a total deal breaker.

Back to the Future – Downcast

Downcast is the power user option on IOS and has the added value of a Mac desktop client. The playlists options including recent (last day/week) and partially played is excellent the best of the three. The multiple levels of playback priorities make building my daily ‘briefing’ of news podcasts a joy.  Downcasts supports both audio and video podcasts plus Carplay and watch support. Like many one-man development efforts, Downcast has two drawbacks. First, development is slow with long stretches of little changes. This always gives me concern about applications being orphaned. I have thrown some dollars in the ‘tip jar’ but after the first purchase, George really doesn’t have a revenue stream to support development. Which brings us to the second problem, syncing. Downcast uses the iCloud syncing for everything from settings to the play position. Not the developer’s fault but iCloud syncing doesn’t work well for frequently changing content from multiple devices. If you start and podcast on your iPad, go to your phone and back to the iPad over the course of a day iCloud works on the most recently opened app, not the furthest played position. So I ended up listening to the same stuff over again. I hope at some point George can get a subscription supported syncing service. This would solve both the problems but I understand it is a tough ask in the hopes of future revenue. My money is there if he ever does.

Ho hum… back to Overcast

I really wish I could live with the syncing in Downcast because going back to Overcast is really a step down in control over Playlists. Specifically a partially played and a today or this week playlist. The Overcast smart playlists organize by podcasts and almost nothing else. There is clearly a desire to keep a minimal style and well-balanced UI that makes adding more complicated playlist options unlikely. There is a bare-bones web player for desktop playback.  It does beat the non-playlists of PocketCasts and the syncing is lighting quick and gets it right everytime. Supported but well-promoted coverage and a regular subscription revenue you really can’t bet against it continuing to be supported. Overcast has also introduced many of newer features like volume boost and Smart Speed.

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