Earlier this week, with almost no fanfare, Apple introduced a new Podcasts app, effectively breaking audio and video podcasts loose from the iPod app where they've resided since the iPhone's early days.
As a die-hard podcast fan, I was interested to say the least. But after spending some time with the new app, I must admit I'm disappointed.
For starters, the interface is something of a mess. It doesn't flow; there's too much moving back and forth between different screens and sections. I'm a fairly tech-savvy user, and it took me a while before I really figured out the navigation.
What's more, the Top Stations feature lists popular shows by cover art, but in my experience the app was very slow to load that art -- or it just failed to altogether. Because there's no text description accompanying each thumbnail, you have to tap the little info bug to find out what a show actually is.
Also, if you want to download a particular show for offline listening, you have to view its episode list by tapping through that info bug. If you go to the show list within the Now Playing screen, you won't find a download option. You can tap an episode to stream it, but even that's not obvious because there's no Play icon.
Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't try Podcasts, or even that you won't like it. Any app that provides on-demand access to a mammoth podcast library is OK in my book. And Podcasts does add the much-needed capability of subscribing to podcasts right on your iDevice -- no iTunes required.
That said, there are three alternatives you might like a little better:
CNET's Brian Tong just called Downcast the "best podcast app on iOS," citing its convenient subscription and playlist options and multiple playback-speed and quick-skip features.
You can find out more about Tong's love affair with this $1.99 podcaster in his Tap That App video:
Downcast: The best podcast app on iOS
A little over a year ago, I called Instacast the "ultimate podcast manager for the iPhone." It's still a top contender, especially the 2.0 version that was released earlier this year.
Instacast is designed not only to help you discover podcasts you might like, but also to create and manage subscriptions. It has far more features than I can list here, including a new iCloud sync option (which retains your subscriptions, downloads, and even play position) that's ideal for owners of multiple iDevices.
The app is free, though spending 99 cents on the Pro version (via in-app upgrade) gets you more subscription and push-notification features. This is a great choice for serious podcast listeners.
The app of choice for CNET's John P. Falcone, Stitcher Radio serves up not only live stations in your area and across the globe, but also thousands of on-demand podcasts.
True to its name, the app lets you "stitch" together your favorite shows to form custom stations -- great if you want to hear, say, a range of comedy podcasts during your commute. And it recommends other shows you might enjoy based on what you listen to and "like." Stitcher Radio is the Pandora of podcast apps.
I can't say I'm wild about the iPhone version's interface, but I do love the price: Stitcher is free.
Have I left out a podcast app you consider top of the heap? Tell me about it in the comments!