One of the most lacking feature of the iTunes app within the iPhone is the inability to actually subscribe to a podcast show for automatic download. It’s a very simple feature and one that would have made life a lot easier for many users. By default, Apple wants you to use iTunes on the PC/Mac to manage your podcast subscriptions and downloads. Once you have the latest episodes downloaded in iTunes on your computer, you then have to sync them to your iPhone. You see where the hassle part comes in? It’s like having a middleman. Why can’t we just manage our podcasts directly within our iPhone without having to go through iTunes on our computer? Many users alike hate iTunes in general and wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole if it wasn’t for the sole reason of syncing our iPhone apps. Luckily, there is an awesome app that allows us to cut ties with iTunes altogether for podcast management. That awesome app is called Podcaster. I’ll say it right now. If you are a podcast freak, Podcaster is a no-brainer. It’s a must-have app for your iPhone!
Podcaster was formerly known as RSS Player Podcast Client. I have purchased it during that time and it was a pretty horrible experience. Constant crashes plagued the app and during times when it worked, it sometimes would lock up my iPhone during playback to the point I had to manually restart it. It was a really nice idea but the execution of the app was horrendous. Fast forward to now and we have Podcaster. Things have definitely improved from my time with it and it’s a lot more usable than its previous form.
Podcaster is a complete podcast management application for your iPhone. The whole point of subscribing to a podcast is to be immediately notified of a new show and immediately download the newest episode for your listening or viewing pleasure. Rather than having to re-visit the site every time to check whether or not if there is a new episode, the exact opposite happens. The site lets *you* know when there is new content. If you subscribe to a lot of podcast shows, you can immediately see the benefit of actually subscribing to their RSS feed. As mentioned above, the iPhone doesn’t allow you to handle podcast subscriptions directly on the phone itself. With Podcaster, this limitation is removed.
Podcaster for the iPhone can be viewed and downloaded from here on iTunes. UPDATE 06.26.12: Apple has just released their own podcast management app and it pretty much rivals that of Podcaster. This app has been a long time coming for users who wanted a more granular approach in managing their podcast library. Apple’s Podcast app can be downloaded from here. However, in my honest opinion, it’s pretty horrible.
Although Podcaster has improved a lot over its predecessor, its still not crash-free. I am on an iPhone 3G with the latest 4.2.1 firmware. I experience a lot of crashes not during playback of a podcast episode (fortunately) but usually during browsing or searching of a podcast within Podcaster. For example, if you select a podcast category and immediately scroll through the list without waiting for the pictures to load, the app will crash. During writing of this post, I left Podcaster alone for about 6-7 minutes and it crashed for no reason. Luckily though, I haven’t experienced any crashes during the playback of a podcast episode and that’s most important in my opinion. Your experiences may vary.
The Podcaster app currently costs $1.99 but in my opinion, it’s worth every single penny. Let’s take a more in-depth look at Podcaster and see what it can do.
Before you actually start subscribing to podcasts and whatnot, you should configure some important settings within Podcaster. Click on the More section and then head over to Settings. Here, you get to configure and specify the general settings of how Podcaster should behave. One of the most important setting is instructing Podcaster what to do when there is a new episode. You can either download everything for all your podcast subscriptions, download only the most recent episode, or do nothing at all. The Auto-Download setting is equally important. You get to specify how Podcaster should download new episodes. You can set it to Never auto-download, only on a Wi-Fi connection, or both Wi-Fi and on a Cellular connection.
If you want to receive notifications of when there is a new episode for specific podcasts, you can also configure that within the Push Alerts option menu in the More section.
Once you have subscribed to a podcast, you can head over to the Favorites section. You can easily refresh your entire podcast subscription list by hitting the refresh button at the top. This will immediately have Podcaster check all of your podcast subscriptions for any new episodes. To view episodes of a podcast show, simply select the show from your list. Here, you’ll see the most recent podcasts for that show (the amount of episodes seen here also depends on your settings).
To listen or watch a episode, click on it. Once you are in the Now Playing view, you have a couple of options to choose from. To begin immediately streaming the episode, hit the Play button. To actually download the entire episode for offline viewing, hit the Download button in the lower left corner. During playback you can use the playback controls at the top to either fast forward or rewind time or increase the playback speed of the episode. To get more information on that specific podcast episode, click the top right corner icon. Another welcome feature of Podcaster is the bookmarking feature. Many podcasts are very lengthy and Podcaster knows that you might not be able to finish the episode in just one listening session. Therefore, if you pause a episode, exit out of Podcaster and then head back in the next day or so, you’ll be right where you left off.
In the Downloads section, you can see a list your current download queue, if any. For example, if you specify that Podcaster should never download a podcast over a cellular connection, then the downloads would not begin until you connect to a Wi-Fi connection.
Over in the Playlists section, you can create your own podcast playlist or select from any one of three default list. I really don’t use this feature but I’m sure many users have a need for it.
One of the greatest feature of Podcaster is giving you the ability to import your own RSS podcast feed into your Favorites list. As mentioned above, it is not possible for Podcaster to list every podcast show on the Internet. However, most if not all podcasts, have a special RSS feed in which you can import into Podcaster. This way you can literally listen or watch any podcast you come across right in the Podcaster application on your iPhone! To import a feed, head into the Directory section and select the Import option. Simply enter the RSS feed of your podcast and if everything goes smoothly, the podcast should now be in your Favorites list.
If you need a place to search for popular podcast shows and whatnot, I have to admit that iTunes can be a big help here. Head into the iTunes store and under the Podcasts directory, you can browse the massive library of podcasts available for your subscription needs. Once you find one that you want to subscribe to, simply visit the podcast’s website link and find the RSS feed URL. Type this URL inside Podcaster to subscribe.
Last but not least, there is the Backup feature. It certainly takes time building your podcast library and it would be a shame if you had to do it all over again should something bad happen. Luckily, you can export your podcast subscription library to an .OPML file, email that file to yourself and then restore it to Podcaster should the need arise. Details can be found in the Backup option under the More section.
In the End…
Even iTune fanatics cannot deny the usefulness of Podcaster on their iPhone’s. No longer must we sync in order to get our latest dosage of podcast episodic heaven. There’s not really an app that I can say I use on a daily basis on my iPhone but Podcaster is definitely one of them. For $1.99, it’s a bargain. Sure there are crashes here and there but once you have built your podcast library, the application works beautifully. Due to me not having a cellular data plan, I tend to download episodes on my Wi-Fi connection for offline viewing before leaving the house. That way, I can enjoy the podcast wherever I go. What’s not to like? Trust me, Podcaster can make your life a lot easier.