Hands on: Apple’s Podcasts app is finally usable!

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When Apple decided to do away with Google Maps and implement it’s own home grown GPS service, it took a lot of heat when Apple Maps wasn’t up to snuff. But really, what more did we expect? Maps are not Apple’s forte and Google has patrolled city streets for years. But podcasting? That is Apple’s thing. It even got its name from the iPod. Last year, Apple rolled out its first dedicated Podcasts app, splitting it out of the Music app. But the Podcasts app was terrible. It’s not a great endorsement of the format when you give it it’s own standalone app and it barely works. Thankfully, with the latest update, Podcasts is finally functional – but it’s lost a lot of ground on the competition.

Podcasts4Apple has given the app a much needed facelift, ditching the reel-to-reel look and opting instead for a more modern player. The buttons remain the same, so your standard interaction with what’s playing won’t be effected much. You’ll get the artwork that accompanies the podcast you’re playing and no longer have to deal with the less-than-functional skeuomorphic controls (controls designed to look like real-world objects). Apple calls the new playback menu “easier-to-use” in its update notes, which is about as good of an admission as we’ll get that the old ones were god awful.

The biggest fix in terms of functionality has nothing to do with the controls but just in how the app functions. The old version had a huge bug that forced you to close the app and restart if you wanted to resume a listening session. Now, you can now leave the Podcasts app, come back to it, hit play, and actually resume listening to your podcast. A far shorter way of wording that: The app finally works!

Additional features to find their way into version 1.2 of this app include the ability to create custom stations that automatically update when new episodes are available and an iCloud sync has been added so all of your stations are up to date regardless of the device you access Podcasts from. You can create on-the-go playlists, a feature that functions similarly to iTunes with music playlists, and podcasts synced with iTunes will now show up within this app. Some of these features seem like no brainers, especially given how good Apple usually is about making everything work within its ecosystem.

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Everything within Podcasts works now, which is great. But that really shouldn’t be the big selling point of your app update. Podcasts are a major part of the audio experience anymore, with the most downloaded shows cracking the million listens mark on a near weekly basis. Apple might not exactly know what to do with podcasts as a medium, but it should know what to do with the app. The company can now say Podcasts is a solid mobile app option for those that find themselves filling their download queue or regularly streaming the content of their favorite audio digests.

Still, it feels like too little too late. Podcasts still go through iTunes, but now they are getting most of their distribution off of Apple’s platforms. Alternatives like Stitcher,  InstaCast, and a plethora of others continue to improve and have functionality that Apple just rolled out today. Maybe because Apple hasn’t figured out how to monetize podcasts on its end, it doesn’t like investing time into them. But if you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all.

Podcasts is now fully functional and a viable option for podcast addicts, but is it worth leaving the service you’ve familiarized yourself with while Apple was absent? We have a hard time saying yes, but you’ll have to make the final call there.

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