Podcasts, the audio broadcasting format that Apple has supported on its devices since 2005, are hugely popular among iOS device owners, not the least because countless influential tech podcasts (from the likes of 5by5 and Relay.fm) focus on Apple and its mobile operating system. If you have an interest in iOS, you should definitely be subscribing to a handful of podcasts – but which app should you choose handle them? Let’s check out two of the most popular options.
Release date: June 26, 2012
Latest update: 2.2 (Sept. 17, 2014)
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
Apple’s own Podcasts iOS app is available free of charge on the App Store, and it’s optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. For a long time, it was the iOS application I used on my iPhone to catch up on podcasts; after all, it’s a free app and it comes from Apple, so why not use it instead of a paid, third-party alternative?
Podcasts indeed offers everything you’d want from a simple, easy-to-use podcast client: it allows iOS device owners to search for and subscribe to individual podcasts from inside the app, and users can view podcast charts from the iTunes Store. There’s also a useful “My Stations” feature, which allows Podcasts users to create playlists of shows. Your new shows will download to the application, meaning they’ll be ready and waiting for when you’re looking to catch up on your favorite podcast, and users can also sync podcasts across from iTunes, too. Perhaps best of all, iOS device owners can use Siri to play episodes from the app (like, “Hey Siri, play Mac Power Users”), and a number of further features – like a handy Sleep Timer, which lets users set the app to automatically stop playing a podcast while listening in bed – will also be appreciated by podcast fans.
At the minute, there’s no Podcasts app for Apple Watch, meaning owners of the new smartwatch can’t launch individual shows using the wearable. Folks have also bemoaned the app’s user interface (UI), which is a little bland, and the speed at which the app searches for, displays, and downloads individual podcasts. It seems that for more than a handful of users (myself included), the app often sticks at “processing” during this process, too. As such, using the application isn’t always a pleasant experience.
Total score: 14 out of 20
Release date: July 16, 2014
Latest update: 1.2.1 (April 23, 2015)
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple Watch
Overcast: Podcast Player was first teased by developer Marco Arment (of Instapaper fame) back in September 2013, and it eventually launched on the App Store some months later, in July 2014. Promising users a better podcast experience on iOS, the app is free to download and offers a selection of “pro” features for a $4.99 in-app purchase (IAP). But how does it compare against Apple’s own free offering?
Overcast’s strengths are numerous. First, the app’s UI is hugely appealing, and adopts a simple orange-on-white design that fits with the feel of Apple’s iOS really well. You can browse through your substriptions in the app, and these automatically update when new episodes are published; if you like, Overcast can also send out a notification for when new shows are available to listen to. As you’d expect, you can create playlists in the app, and new podcasts can be added using Overcast’s built-in discovery interface. The application also supports the Apple Watch, allowing users to launch podcasts on their iPhone using the smartwatch; it’s a simple extension, but one I’ve found myself using frequently. However, it’s Overcast’s sync support, and its offering of a Web-based player, which is a real boon for users. You see, because Overcast requires users to sign-up for a free account, it allows iOS device owners to log-in to their account at Overcast.fm and listen, or continue listening, to unplayed and activate podcasts.
In truth, it’s hard to fairly criticize Overcast. I mean, sure, the Apple Watch extension isn’t as responsive as I’d like, but because of the limitations Apple has imposed on the platform none of the available Watch extensions are as responsive as iOS device owners are used to. I also wasn’t keen on signing up for an account when I first started using Overcast, but without this account, the app’s sync platform (and its Web player) wouldn’t function. Finally, some users might feel disappointed at having to pay $4.99 in order to access some of the app’s more advanced features (like cellular downloads, for instance). This, however, is a small price to pay, especially when you remember that Overcast is an indie project
Total score: 18 out of 20
And the winner is …
Overcast is the podcast client I use on iOS (and Apple Watch), and it’s the one I’d recommend to our readers. You can download Overcast on the App Store free of charge, and it’s optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (as well as for the Apple Watch).