I don’t often talk about the fact that I love podcasts. I love the old-style feeling to a talk radio show that many podcasts nowadays offer. I also love the fact that there are podcasts that I listen to, that I just learn so much from. I couldn’t even tell you how many different podcasting apps for iOS I’ve tried over the years, ever since podcasts came onto the scene. From Pocket Casts, to Instacast and Downcast, and even Apple’s own Podcasts application. I don’t know why, but I never really settled on any specific application to aggregate my podcast subscriptions, before I would find something else.
Instacast On The Left; Pocket Casts On The Right
Before I switched from iOS to Android, coming up on two years ago, I was listening to podcasts on a religious basis. I worked in a warehouse where I would sit in silence, without disruptions, for 8-10 hours a day. That’s a lot of time to listen to podcasts. I would listen to Back To Work and Mac Power Users, as well as ESPN First Take, and even The Tech Guy from Leo Laporte. Mainly I used podcasts to catch up on news in the tech world that I wasn’t getting anywhere else. However, I also used podcasts to learn new pieces of information, and more importantly, find new ways to streamline my workflow while I was trying to write for my Uncle’s website.
Apple Podcasts On The Left; PodCruncher On The Right
When I finally made my way onto the Android scene, I essentially gave podcasts up. I don’t know the exact reason why, I’m not sure if it was because the times coincided with a new job for me, or if it was because, other than Pocket Casts, there weren’t any podcasting applications that excited me to use. I would tinker around, and play with some applications that made their way onto the Play Store, but nothing EVER stuck. I mean it was worse than my podcasting life on iOS. I would literally populate my podcast list, make playlists (if applicable), play one or two podcasts, then delete the app. It never made sense to me, but at the time, I didn’t think I cared.
Then I began to realize something. Around the time that I defected from Android and went back to iOS, coming up on a year ago, I started to get tired of listening to music, and tired of listening to the radio in general. I had Instacast and Downcast downloaded on my iPhone 5S, and some of my favorite feeds were populated, but I just never listened to anything. The number of missed episodes would just grow and grow, and I would get irritated, and delete the apps. One day, I was bored at work, and saw something on Twitter about some podcasting app that Marco Arment was developing. I got all excited, and got back into podcasts again.
Before going any further, Marco Arment is the same gentleman who developed my favorite Read-It-Later service, Instapaper. I’m sure, if you’ve read any of my posts regarding my favorite applications, or how I use my phone, Instapaper is mentioned somewhere. It may just be my favorite app ever, because of the simplistic design, and because it’s so intuitive for me. Needless to say, when I head Marco was working on a new app, I was all ears (and eyes) and scoured the internet trying to find more information on it. Overcast was going to be the name, and I instantly followed the Overcast.fm Twitter account, just to try and keep up with updates.
Then, I found that Marco had left his old podcast, Build and Analyze, and started a new one with John Siracusa and Casey Liss, by the name of the Accidental Tech Podcast. So naturally, I reinstalled Instacast, and that was the first podcast that I downloaded. It wasn’t like Marco was giving status updates every single episode (it’s a weekly show), but every time Overcast was mentioned, I stood at attention, and waited to hear some type of progress report.
After waiting forever for Overcast to finally be released, and went on another Podcast hiatus, due to various reasons, I looked in my RSS feed aggregator, Unread, and found a few reviews already. Needless to say, I immediately switched to the App Store, downloaded Overcast, and started peeking around to see exactly what Marco had done to this application. Only two words are needed to summate what Overcast is. It’s beautiful.
Overcast Web Interface
From the time that you open up Overcast for the first time, you are just thrown back by the design, and the detail that Marco has put into the application. The fonts are smooth, and I love the color coordination that Marco uses with Overcast. It’s a soft orange with a white background, and it just looks elegant. It’s recommended that you sign up with an account, that way you can sync all of your podcasts with the Overcast.fm servers. There is even a web app that you can log into, so that you can view what podcasts you have subscribed to, as well as listen to whatever podcasts you have already subscribed to. Creating an account allows you to not only log into the web app, but if you ever need to install Overcast again on your iPhone/iPod Touch, you will pick up right where you left off.
As for the various settings, Marco has hit the nail on the head in terms of creating a minimal, yet extremely functional podcast app, that gives you every feature that you may think that you’ll need. You can create playlists, skip either forwards or backwards, and choose the Seek Controls timing. In terms of the sync settings, other than being able to view your podcasts on Overcast.fm, you can also sync your Twitter account. What this syncing does, is allow Overcast to pull various podcasts out of your feed and recommend specific episodes for you to download and check out from those Twitter users that you follow. This was something that I found really awesome, since I had not seen it done before.
Now there are a lot more features that Overcast offers via an in-app-purchase. I know many of you will groan when you see that, but hear me out. Overcasts works perfectly fine without purchasing the IAP, and Marco, on Overcast.FM even states that it’s not necessary to unlock all of the features, in order to enjoy Overcast. Now, as for the list of items and features that the Unlock Everything IAP entails, view the list found below:
- Cellular Downloads
- Variable playback speed
- Smart Speed
- Voice Boost
- Per-podcast effects settings
- One-by-one playback option
- Sleep timer
- Unlimited number of playlists
- Unlimited episodes shown in playlists
Now other podcast applications may offer some, or all of these features included for the free download, but like I stated earlier, none of these features are MUST HAVE, and Marco doesn’t force anyone into purchasing anything. Sure, it would be nice to have these features included in a free version, but the IAP goes towards other back-end costs, such as server fees, and the ability to keep ads out of the free version of the app for those who don’t want to purchase anything.
There was something that I saw in the settings panel that really threw me when I was going through Overcast for the first time. Marco included a section that offers suggestions on other podcast applications, if you don’t find his app sufficient. It’s not often that a developer, any developer, recommends it’s users to download another app of the same type, and this was a pleasant surprise. Marco suggests the following podcast app alternatives:
- Pocket Casts
- Pod Wrangler
Now the only app out of that group that I have yet to purchase or try out, is Pod Wrangler. I don’t know why, but at this point, it doesn’t really matter. Tapping on any of those suggestions, takes you directly to the App Store so that you can view the description and screenshots of the app, and allow you to make the decision from there. I don’t know why I like that Marco went this route, but I think it’s a rather noble idea. Maybe noble isn’t the right word, but it makes sense at this point in time. Maybe it’s because, as a developer, Marco understands that there are other possibilities for users, and he wants to assist them in any way possible to find a solution for a podcast app.
When it comes to adding podcasts, there are a few different ways to add your favorite podcasts, as well as discover new ones. Once you’ve hit the “+” button in the top right hand corner of Overcast, you are presented with the Add Podcast screen. From here, you can search the directory for various podcasts, or you can add the specific URL for whatever podcast you are trying to find.
However, remember when I stated that you could find suggested podcasts from those Twitter users that you follow? This is the panel where you do so. Now, the Twitter suggestions also allow you to subscribe to complete podcast channels, but it also sorts through your Twitter feed and offers suggestions on specific podcast episodes. From here, you can download the specific podcast episode, and then search for whatever podcast channel that episode was on.
There are also several categories for you to pick and choose from to download, such as Tech, Comedy, Public Radio, Movies & TV, Politics, and the list goes on. There’s even a category named “Retired Greats“, which is a populated list of retired podcasts, if you want to go back and listen to them for the sake of nostalgia.
As for your various podcast subscriptions, Overcast allows you to view the show notes for the podcast, as well as letting you view any of the previous podcasts that you may have missed in the past. When you’re actually playing a specific podcast, Overcast has the artwork centered in the middle of the screen, with big control buttons for backwards, Play/Pause, and forwards.
There are also two options in the bottom right and left hand corners for the Playback settings and the Effects for this specific podcast episode. Above the podcast artwork, there is a progress bar that shows the time remaining, as well as the time already progressed, and there is an orange bar that goes from left to right as the podcast progresses. Also while a podcast is playing, there is an equalizer that shows right above the playback controls, which faintly overlays on top of the artwork.
Overcast is one of the most beautifully designed applications on the App Store, or for a mobile device in general. I’m probably biased to any type of work Marco does, but I don’t care. I think his work is impeccable, and every single detail was combed over in the development of this application. While the iPhone app was just released into the wild, Marco has already stated, and states on Overcast.fm that an iPad version is in the works, and that a Mac version may be in the future. However, it is also stated that Overcast will not be developed for other platforms. Now that IAP that I mentioned will run you around the cost of a cup of Starbucks coffee at $4.99, but like I mentioned numerous times, Overcast itself is free.
What podcast apps do you use? What are some of your favorite podcasts? Leave your responses in the comment section below.