A better podcast app

Apple just updated their podcasts app to a state that seems actually usable so I gave it another shot. After messing around with it a bit I ended up abandoning it and going back to Instacast, my podcast app of choice.

The reason that I abandoned it wasn’t that it was bad, actually, or at least no worse than any other podcast app out there. It just didn’t do anything any better and I had already put the work in with Instacast.

In the course of trying to set Apple’s Podcasts up with the podcasts I like, and then thinking about my rationale for going back to Instacast, I realized that at a fundamental level none of the podcast apps work the way I’d like. They’re all too much work. What I really want is a podcast app that works like Netflix.

Let me explain. I love Netflix. Part of what I love about it is that it removes so many layers of management. With Netflix, there is a library of content. Some of it you have marked as interesting to you (your queue). It keeps track of what you have watched. That’s it.

I want a podcast app that works like Netflix. Instead, every podcast app that I have used adds additional layers of management. Yes, there is a catalog or store of podcasts. But instead of just playing those directly I have to subscribe. Subscribing adds the podcast into a separate area that I then have to manage. After subscribing, rather than just showing me all the episodes, it shows me the most recent five or ten (often controlled by a setting – more management). And rather than just mark what I’ve played, it marks what I haven’t played. It treats podcasts episodes like emails. More management. And then in addition to all that, there is often another layer of download management. All these layers leads to a lot if UI, a lot of settings, a lot of “helpful” extras (like the Podcasts app that stops updating your subscriptions if you don’t listen often enough). You might think this is hyperbole, but to me this is so. much. work.

Here’s what I propose: throw that all in the trash. When you launch my dream podcast app you would have three tabs: favorites, browse, and search.

(Favorites could be called starred or queue or whatever. It’s just Podcasts I’m Interested In.)

Viewing a podcast listing would show some details (name, description, etc.) and all the episodes. Tap on an episode to play it. If you had already watched or listened to an episode that would be indicated (just like Hulu and Netflix track viewing). Pressing play on a podcast (rather than an individual episode) would by default start playing the first episode that you hadn’t watched (just like how Netflix handles TV shows). Star/favorite/queue a podcast to put it in your starred/favorites/queue list.

The key is to simplify. Here is content. Press play to watch or listen to said content. We’ll keep track of what you’ve played. No subscribing, no little blue dots, no app badges, no download management, no syncing.

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