Organize podcasts with easy-to-use mobile apps

Several years ago, I described a podcast as a radio show that’s delivered to your iPod. That is still an acceptable definition, only the number of devices that can receive the show has grown. Computers, smartphones, some car stereos, Internet radios, and more all grab podcasts for you.

As the format’s popularity has increased, the technology behind it became simpler to use. Today, people around the world produce and share podcasts on all manner of styles and topics. The more shows you subscribe to, the greater the need for good software to keep it all organized. In this post, I’ll discuss two solutions for mobile devices: one for the iPhone and one for Android. There are several others, of course, but these are two standouts to help you get started.

Apple — Podcasts (Free)

I use Apple’s own Podcasts app on my iPhone. It ships with the iPhone, is free, and is easy to use. When Podcasts was introduced in June of 2012, it was divisive to say the least. Apple was in a playful design phase back then, which manifested itself in the Podcasts app with an animated reel-to-reel tape player that was supposedly inspired by a real unit from Braun. (Sure.) Many fans liked it, and many did not. About a year later, Apple nixed the design, and today we have a nice, clean presentation.

The aesthetic shift was accompanied by additional features that are still in place today.

Finding and subscribing to shows

Apple provides three ways to find shows you’ll like — they are Features, Top Charts and Search.

Features. Tap the star icon at the bottom of the screen to browse the podcasts that Apple has deemed worth showing off. Purple buttons at the top of the screen let you view just audio shows, just video shows, or the whole lot at once.

A “New and Noteworthy” section is a grab-bag of shows that are performing well in iTunes. Beyond that, you’ll find shows that fit in rotating themes. As of this writing, Apple is highlighting the great outdoors and the financial markets, as well as featured providers like Slate, Nerdist and Revision3. Finally, you can tap Categories in the upper left to fine-tune your search.

Top Charts. Here you’ll find the most downloaded shows in each category. Again, you can opt to see audio video podcasts.

Search Finally, you can cut to the chase and search for the name of the show you’re seeking. Podcasts lists show titles and episodes that mention your search term.

Once you’ve found a show you’re interested in, tap the Subscribe button. Podcasts will download the latest episode for you. Note that you’ll see two buttons once you tap on a show’s image: My Episodes and Feed. My Episodes lists the episode(s) that have been downloaded to your device. Feed lists the show’s archive of older episodes, which are not on your device. You can download any of these older shows by tapping the cloud icon to the right of its title.

Organization

Apple makes it easy to keep things organized. To begin with, you can choose between a list view, which shows a small thumbnail of each show’s art, its title, the date of the most recent download, and the number of episodes available. Meanwhile, the album view eschews all that information and instead shows big, bold cover art and a number representing the episodes you haven’t heard.

By default, Podcasts lists shows in the order that you subscribed to them. Fortunately, you can change that. Here’s how:

  1. Tap the Edit button in the upper right.
  2. A three-lined “handle” appears next to each show’s title.
  3. Tap and hold on that handle, then drag the shows into your preferred order.
  4. When you’re finished, tap Done.

Finally, you can create what the app calls Stations. Essentially this is like a playlist in a music app. Simply start a new station by tapping Stations at the bottom of the screen and add any shows you like. I have a sci-fi station and an audio drama station. As each episode is played through, it disappears from the station. New ones are added automatically. This saves a lot of scrolling if you have a many subscriptions.

Pocket Casts by ShiftyJelly ($3.99)

On the Android side, I recommend Pocket Casts. This great-looking app is easy to use and, like Apple’s Podcasts, offers nice options for keeping things organized.

Finding and subscribing to shows

ShiftyJelly recently released version 4.0 with a great-looking new user interface. Unlike Apple’s offering, which puts buttons at the bottom of the screen, Pocket Casts has all controls “behind” the main screen, so your shows are front-and-center. It’s a clean look that I appreciate.

To find shows, swipe finger to the right to move the main screen and reveal the controls. Again, Shifty Jelly’s developers did a good job here because the controls are clear and legible. At the top of the screen you’ll see the Discover button. Tap it to view featured shows. Tap any title to get a description and the option to subscribe.

The search works great, too. Just enter a keyword or name of a show and you’re presented with several options.

Organization

Downloaded episodes are presented in a list with the title and description. There’s a playlist option, too, similar to Podcasts. You can view a list of just unplayed episodes across all of your shows, audio podcasts, or video podcasts.

It’s true that you can obtain, listen to, and organize podcasts with a computer. I happen to listen to podcasts almost exclusively while I’m in the car, and that means I’m using my smartphone. Many developers recognize this trend and build strong organization features into their mobile apps. The fact that I can arrange things to my liking on my phone without having to sync or otherwise communicate with my laptop is a huge benefit.

Picking a podcasting app is a personal thing. As I said, there are many worthy options out there. If you have a favorite, let me know. I’m always willing to try something new if it might be better than what I’m already using.

6 Comments for “Organize podcasts with easy-to-use mobile apps”

  1. posted by Robin on

    I love PocketCasts for Android and have been using it for a year or so. It’s just so slick. You can even have it skip the first N seconds of every episode of a specific podcast :)

  2. posted by Darrell on

    I’m an Instacast user since the developer has iOS (Universal) and Mac clients. But the syncing is super funky. Same problem I get with the Podcasts app and iTunes – podcasts aren’t deleted, or the play position doesn’t sync. t guess I shouldn’t expect RSS or IMAP-like syncing with a podcast app :(

  3. posted by Danny on

    Another choice for iOS is Downcast. It’s great for heavy podcast users (I currently subscribe to 73 podcasts), can add custom podcasts (non-Apple Store) and password protected podcasts, and has tons of features, but may overwhelm the basic user.

  4. posted by Harold Goldner on

    The interface for PocketCasts is unbeatable, however it utilizes an obscure filenaming system that results in long, hexadecimal-named files which cannot be identified as any particular file (although the internal id tags are intact). As a result, if you like to flash different ROMs or switch phones, you can anticipate that those of your podcast files which are no longer downloadable on their respective servers will no longer appear in PocketCasts, and your files will be orphaned. PowerAmp and other audio players will pick them up, but it is a considerable annoyance if you store more than a handful of podcasts locally. I have repeatedly asked Shifty Jelly to fix this, but they haven’t addressed it yet, and while I run it on my Nexus (with <50 video podcasts), I had to abandon it in favor of Podcatcher on my phone.

  5. posted by Zach on

    My experience with the Apple Podcasts app was that it occasionally just decided that it could no longer play downloaded podcasts and you would have to redownload them (I forget the exact error, but it happened regularly enough). I switched to Downcast, which has a lot of lovely deep settings that help you download and organize podcasts, along with a really simple interface for day-to-day use. Had the Apple one not been so buggy, I probably would have stuck with it.

  6. posted by Bryan Villarin on

    On a related note, Huffduffer is cool if you don’t want to subscribe to a new podcast yet, or you’d only like to listen to one episode without downloading the others.

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