How the iPhone 5s Changed How I Manage Podcasts

I have a 45-minute drive each way back and forth to work daily, so that means I am privileged enough to spend 1.5 hours of my day in the car. In order to make the most out of that time I listen to podcasts that allow me to learn more about topics that interest me and I also listen to some podcasts just for pure entertainment (sometimes you can actually get both at the same time...thanks Ken Ray!). Some of the podcasts I listen to are daily podcasts, which means each and every day I need to somehow get these podcast onto one of my iOS devices so I can listen in the car. I also have a lot of time to fill so as you can imagine I have quite a long list of podcast I listen to. The other aspect of listening to podcasts in the car is that of distracted driving. If your solution requires you to look at your device and interact with the screen multiple times during the course of a commute then in my opinion the solution is too dangerous. So what's the best way to manage podcasts for the purpose of listening during daily work commutes? There are many different ways to do it. I'm going to talk about the two methods I have used.

My Podcast Management Solutions

Up until the fall of 2013 I used an iPod Nano as my device of choice for storing and listening to my podcasts every day:

  • No passcode required
  • Didn't take away from my iPhone battery life or storage
  • Required me to physically sync my iPod every morning
  • No way to easily (yes it could be done but it was complicated) create a continiuous playlist of podcasts
  • I also used the Nano to listen to music while I worked out

For a little over a year I synced my iPod Nano with my Mac every morning before leaving for work. Typically I would only have to advance from one podcast to the next only once during a commute and since the Nano wasn't password protected it didn't distract me while driving. It worked pretty well, but having to take even 5 minutes out of my day every day to sync my Nano was a bit of pain. Then came Touch ID and the iPhone 5s. When the iPhone 5s came out giving me the ability to unlock my iPhone without looking at the screen I knew it was time to consider moving my podcasts back to my phone. However, like I said earlier, there are many options out there for managing podcasts on iOS. So what solution should I go with?

Choosing a Podcast App

I'm not going to go into great detail here on all the different podcast app choices that are out there. Not only do I not want to write that much in this post I doubt you want to read that much. However, I will recommend that you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you listen to podcasts on more than one device? (cloud sync may be important to you)
  • Are you concerned about spending money on the application(s)? (there are free and paid options)
  • Are you picky about the app user interface design? (large variety of interface styles out there)
  • Do you want to be able to customize how the app syncs individual podcasts?
  • Do you listen to and use the enhanced podcast features that Apple offers? (not all apps support this)

After you have answered the questions above you should be able to narrow your list of potential apps down to just a handful of apps. For me it was between Downcast and Instacast. I didn't mind paying for the app, had no need to cloud sync between multiple devices and the most important feature for me was being able to customize a smart playlist. Based on what I had read so far I was pretty sure I was going to get Instacast, but I headed over to a website called Applr ( Applr is a social app discover site that let's you follow friends and people with similar interests as you and then it shows you the kind of apps the people you follow recommend. My friend Michael Johnston created the service (which is free) along with some help from Adam Christianson (the host of the Maccast podcast). All you have to do is create a free account, enter your Apple ID and password so Applr can access what apps you have purchased and then start following people. You then rate all the apps you have purchased (start with your most recent and favorite apps, rating them all would take forever). You can find me on Applr as Skip Owens so look me up! Even though I thought I knew what app I wanted, after doing some digging on Applr I found out that the smart playlist feature that was so important to me was causing people that bought Instacast a lot of frustration. And here I thought from reading the app descriptions on iTunes that Instacast had the better smart playlist features. So I followed my friend's advice and went with Downcast and love it! I am able to customize by podcast whether I want to stream the podcasts over cell data or download first before listening. I can also customize by podcast whether I want the ability to download new episodes using cell data or if I want to wait until I am on a wifi network.

There is another podcast out there on the horizon called Overcast that is being developed by Marco Arment the developer behind Instapaper. I am very curious about this app and will most likely try that app when it is released...

So I have been using Downcast for about 6 months now and it works perfectly for me. I could have easily spent the last 6-months buying different podcast apps but thanks to doing a little bit of homework and using Applr I found just what I needed the first time.

In case you are curious, here is a list of the current podcasts I am subscribed to:

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