Podcasts are a misunderstood and vastly underrated medium. Lots of people skip over this section in iTunes and ignore it on their personal devices because they don’t really know what podcasts are. In short, thousands of publications, celebrities and talented individuals create short audio or video capsules covering things such as news, current events, politics, cookery, comedy, education, religion, music, management and, of course, technology. These are generally shorter than TV shows and can even be created out of TV clips. You can download individual episodes or subscribe to a series, which ensures that the latest episode is always available for you to watch. Think of it as an automatic, portable version of all your favourite YouTube channels and personalities.
Podcasts are an extremely convenient way to catch up on topics that interest you. The term originated because of the early use of iPods to take web content offline and listen to it while commuting or at any other convenient time, but Apple quickly made Podcasts an official part of its store and various products. Sadly, the official Podcasts app isn’t all that easy to use, and isn’t even included on iPods and iPhones by default anymore.
The main interface shows podcasts you've subscribed to and available episodes
Downcast is a lot more flexible and powerful than Apple’s official app. It’s especially useful if you like to maintain a collection of episodes of various podcasts and hold on to specific individual episodes for later reference. It also lets you keep only the most recent few episodes of each handy, so if you don’t have the time to keep up with every single one, at least you always have a current one when you want it.
On an iPad, you’ll see a narrow column on the left with the titles of shows you’ve downloaded or subscribed to, while the larger column on the right shows individual episodes along with summaries and controls. You can create playlists and adjust various parameters such as playback speed, which is especially useful for educational podcasts. Videos play fullscreen while audio can be controlled with the buttons above the two columns. Buttons on screen let you jump ahead or backwards in preset intervals.
Global settings for playback and episode retention
You can search for new podcasts to add or browse through well-known ones by categories. Unlike the official app, you can only browse in a narrow pop-up list, and you can’t change the sort order or browse by popularity. The categories also don’t have further subcategories, so for example, if you want to learn a few Spanish phrases, you’ll have to scroll through the Education category for a few minutes, skipping over TED talks, business tips, snippets of history, discussions of math problems etc. The lack of discoverability is Downcast’s only real drawback. You can also manually add a podcast by typing or pasting in its feed address.
The app’s true power comes from its ability to manage downloads and your library. There are global settings that determine how long episodes are retained after you watch them, when and where to allow large downloads, whether Wi-Fi and cellular data can be used, and much much more. You can also override the global settings for individual podcasts and also individual episodes. By default, episodes are deleted as soon as you’re done with them, which saves space on your device. If you don’t override this right in the beginning, you’ll have to remember to lock episodes you like before finishing them.
Podcasts let you catch up on all kinds of news and topics of interest at your own leisure and without disturbing anyone else. By making them that much easier to manage and use, Downcast is one of those apps that can transform the way you use your phone and tablet.
Overrides for global settings in each individual podcast
Download the app for iOS here.
Updated 19 May, 2013, 5:16 pm IST
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