I Know the Apple Podcasts App Sucks But I Still Use it Every Single Day
Why can’t I break up with Podcasts.app?
It may be true that Apple didn’t invent podcasts, but podcasts would not be enjoying the success they currently are without Apple devices and Apple software.
I pretty much ignored most podcasts when they first appeared, mostly because I was ignoring almost everything. But when I started to discover podcasts by my favorite Twitter personalities (back then it was people who were funny or otherwise interesting, not celebrities and NPR and pundits), I went deep, and have been hooked on podcasts ever since.
Yes, I’ve been listening to podcasts since before Serial was invented. Yes I have a beard and wear hipster glasses, but I am really just a dad who works from home and likes having more voices in his head than his own.
Ever since the introduction of the Podcasts App as it’s own thing on my iPhone, I have been using it to download and listen to my podcasts, and since that time I have recognized that the Podcasts App has always been kind of garbage. Here are just a few of my complaints, just so you know I am not simply jumping on a bandwagon but have actual complaining complaints that originate and end with me.
Please Download My Podcast
Every morning when I look at my phone and open the app, there are several new podcasts there, and they are supposed to download. And instead of downloading, they forever give me the square with a circle around it to indicate that the podcast will be downloading soon if I am patient enough. But there is no patient that is patient enough to actually make the app eventually download the podcast because it is never going to download the podcast on its own.
This isn’t always the case, but it is the case often enough that I’ve learned when to give up. When I give up, I click the square to stop the download, then click the cloud with an arrow button that downloads the podcast. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. (Sometimes the only thing that works is voodoo.)
I used to think it might be the server on which the podcast was hosted that was having the problem, but if that were the case then I guess all my podcasts are being hosted on the same crappy server and all I have to do to make it an okay server is to click the little square and then click the cloud. So that isn’t what’s happening. I don’t know what is happening, but it sucks.
Come to think of it, I do know what his happening. Nothing is happening. And that is what sucks.
Just Play What’s Downloaded Already
I have cellular data turned off for the Podcasts App because I don’t want to spend another fifty bucks a month to Verizon just to download podcasts while I’m driving. A not-previously-downloaded podcast will play so long as it started playing while still on wi-fi, and it will continue to play the portion that it managed to download before I drove away. But then if I pause said podcast, it refuses to continue to play even the already downloaded portion of said podcast. Instead it tells me I have cellular data turned off. But I was listening to it just the second before. All I did was pause it. I know the app has part of the audio downloaded. Just play what you have downloaded for crying out loud.
Also… you know… give me the option of clicking a button to override my cellular data setting and download that one podcast. I’m likely in my car having dropped my kids off at school and I want to listen to the rest of The Daily and I don’t have the time nor the resources to turn data on and download in the parking lot (there is another parent right behind me and they are five seconds away from honking and giving me the finger) and I don’t want it turned on permanently. I just want the option to turn it on temporarily so I can listen to the rest of whatever I was listening to. Give me that option and I will forever be in your debt.
Queue You Too
I don’t know how the app decides what order to put the listening queue into but it rarely has anything to do with what I’m actually interested in. I can get to the episodes in reverse chronological order, so I can see the most recent individual podcasts at the top, but it took me awhile to figure out that I had to do it in “Episodes” under “Library.” Maybe that was obvious to you, but it wasn’t obvious to me.
You know what? If I could just have a regular playlist, and it showed me everything available and it made the podcasts easy to move around? That would be cool. (It seems like a previous version of the Podcasts app had this functionality, but apparently it was too useful.)
Also, after the last update the app just stopped playing after the end of every episode, and I figured they’d changed the way the app worked, because before that it would play all the episodes of one podcast in a row, and that was never the behavior that I wanted. Maybe they were trying to fix it by updating to another behavior that I didn’t want.
But before I had a chance to research what was going on (because I’m lazy and just want to play my podcasts), it started a different behavior that I haven’t quite figured out. At the end of one podcast it starts playing another podcast, but it’s almost never one I’m expecting. It’s like when Siri suggestions guesses that I want a map to the pizza place at 7:30 in the morning. Calm down, Siri. I’m taking my kids to school.
My guess is that the queue is something that that the app makes “intelligently” based on my listening behavior, but I don’t know where the queue is located, or if I even have access to it. So I go to my phone, find the episode I actually want to listen to, and click on it to start playing. If I want it to stop at the end of the episode, I set the sleep timer.
I get that I can select “Play Next” from the options on any given podcast and it will add it to my “queue,” but if there is a queue I want more precise control over it. Is the queue available somewhere on the app? I mean I use this app every day and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the queue. (I should look this up but I’m not going to, because I shouldn’t have to. Nobody is looking up how to use their iPhone apps. If they are, then their app is poorly designed.)
Why isn’t the queue what I find when I click the “Listen Now” tab? What is the “Listen Now” tab even for? And why does the Podcast App sometimes call the queue “Up Next” instead of the queue? What the heck?
All of this makes me wonder if the people developing the podcast app even listen to or enjoy podcasts.
If I constantly feel as if I’m using an app in a way that it was not intended, then the app probably sucks.
Podcasts App is Dead, Long Live Podcasts App
Okay. I think I’m done complaining (sort of). There are more things I could nag the developers about but there isn’t any point in doing so. They probably know that I’ll just keep listening to podcasts on the Podcast App, even though there are plenty of options to listen to them elsewhere. They know no matter how bad their app is, you can tear it out of my cold dead hands (which are cold and dead because I tried to find the latest episode of Do By Friday while walking the dog around the park in January).
I don’t mean to be this way. In fact, I’ve just downloaded Overcast (again) and have listened to a podcast on it, and it played the podcast very nicely. I’ve also downloaded Luminary, but I know very well what is likely to happen with both of these apps.
I will leave Overcast on my phone for a while, thinking I’ll load it up with my favorite listens when I get a chance, but my muscle memory will continue to return to the Podcasts app because, well, it’s what I’m used to. I know where the cracks in the broken UI are and I know how to make it do what I want it to do (sort of), and using Overcast would mean learning something new (though it appears to be remarkably intuitive so far… if I do end up switching to something, I think Overcast is a contender). Maybe I’m just old, but sometimes it seems like the “better” podcast apps are trying to do too much, to be so much better that there is too much to learn. I like some of the features of Overcast. I like to be able to post audio clips from a podcast to twitter. But I don’t know if that alone is not enough to make me switch, and I don’t know why that is, really, except that I like my dirty old t-shirt with the holes in it because it’s comfortable.
Luminary? Yeah, this app is barely going to get a chance. I don’t need or want another subscription service. I don’t care how amazing your podcast content, I don’t want to pay a monthly fee to listen to it. In my mind (and in my heart) if your podcast is not available for free in on Apple Podcasts, I don’t think of it as a podcast. It’s a media file you’ve posted to the internet. (This goes for Audible and Spotify “podcasts” as well. I know they exist, and I know that I can get some of this content because I already pay for those services, but I just don’t care enough about what they offer me, and I’m annoyed that they’ve tried to further splinter my attention with premium cable services that I did not ask for.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that though I’ll keep trying other apps, I’m likely to go back to Apple Podcasts no matter how much it sucks. I feel more than a little deflated just typing those words, but I just want to listen to my stories. If I have to spend fifteen minutes adjusting the rabbit ears on the living room TV because that’s where I’m most comfortable listening to my stories (even though there’s an HDTV with surround sound in the den), then that’s what I’ll do.
These are the headwinds you have to sail your apps into, developers, and I’m so very sorry.