iOS 5 Still Lacks Basic Podcast Handling

Updated on 10 June 2011 by

rssFor a company that invented the product that is the namesake of the term, Apple has done a paltry job of handling podcasting on iOS devices.

While iOS 5 undoubtedly added a lot of features that people have been wanting for a long time, I’m sorry to say that podcasting management appears to be as awful as ever in Apple’s latest version of the mobile OS.

For the uninitiated, podcasts are essentially internet radio shows. They are recorded, then offered up for download, generally on a scheduled basis. Apple’s very own iTunes is home to a huge number of podcasts that you can ‘subscribe’ to, but that doesn’t mean much.

The whole idea of a podcast is that you can subscribe to it, then get the episodes as they are released, rather than having to search around to find out if there’s a new episode.

You can actually access any of the podcasts that iTunes offers directly through the iTunes application on any iOS device, but it’s up to you to check back to find out when a new episode has been appeared, and you have to download each episode manually.

If you want to get your podcasts in a semi-automated way, you’ll have to subscribe to the podcast through iTunes on the desktop, then keep checking back to find out when a new episode has been found, then sync your iOS device to iTunes to get the latest episode. This doesn’t really solve any of the problems though (and might even be less useful then checking manually on the device itself).

Is it so much to ask that Apple allow me to subscribe to a podcast directly on my iPhone, then allow my iPhone to not only check automatically for new episodes, but download them without my intervention?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up and see a notification on your homescreen: “A new episode of your favorite podcast is ready for listening inch, then with a simple tap you could begin the podcast along with your morning routine? This sort of functionality is long overdue.

It seems really simple, but Apple has not taken podcasting very seriously (probably because Apple doesn’t make any money from podcasts).

iOS 5 is removing the need for a PC or Mac to set up and manage an iOS device. However, this means that people who choose to operate their devices in that way will lose out on the only (limited) podcast subscription support that Apple offers. They won’t even be able to sync the latest episodes from their computer, so their only option will be manually digging around, or using a third-party application (which can’t download new episodes in the background).

Perhaps with a little push, we can get Apple to get serious about podcasts with iOS 5. I’m talking: automatic checking/downloading, on-device subscriptions, the whole bit. A bonus would be if the place where you left off while listening would be synced to all of your devices through iCloud so you could pick up where you left off on any one of them.

With serious podcast functionality, I’d finally be able to easily keep up with Chippy and the guys making the great Meet:Mobility podcast!

10 Comments For This Post

  1. Graham says:

    Testify, brother! I can’t believe the company that made podcasting popular has such lousy support for the medium. The question is, how much better is it on Android, and is it worth it to move over. Although Apple doesn’t make any money from it, they do need to keep competitive with Google in features.

  2. Matt Hauger says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, though I’m perhaps a bit less cynical about Apple’s reasons for neglecting podcast management in its OS updates. They may not sell podcasts, but any improvement to device functionality sells more iPhones and iPads. It benefits them to make iOS a better podcatcher.

    Great idea about iCloud syncing your listening progress from device to device. This would be a great feature for audiobooks, as well.

    Does the inclusion of Wi-Fi Sync in iOS 5–eliminating the need to tether your iDevice to a PC–address any of your concerns? True, I’d prefer full, automatic podcast updates (a la the new Newsstand feature). But it will be nice to know that my iPhone has synced the latest podcasts from my PC while charging overnight.

  3. Ben says:

    You’re right, podcasts may come over during syncing at night, however, this leaves those who are running their devices ‘PC-free’ with no ability to sync podcasts automatically whatsoever!

  4. Matt Hauger says:

    Good point. Let’s hope there are a few more features coming in later builds of iOS 5. It wouldn’t take much to improve the native podcast support dramatically.

  5. Ben says:

    Are there no free podcatcher apps out there that at least hit you with a push notification when a podcast has been updated?

  6. Josh says:

    Much like apple blocking rtmp and flash their reasoning for blocking podcasts might be to keep alternate methods of delivering premium content off of their devices. The more they can force delivery of premium content through the iTunes store the more they can TAX premium content publishers and force them to pay a toll to reach iOS devices.

    Sure it sounds a little like a conspiracy theory… but if it is not purposeful then it is one of the most brilliant marketing mistakes ever made because that is precisely how it has worked… all avenues for premium multimedia content deilvery outside of the iTunes store have been choked off.

    Even more evidence was revealed early this year with Steve’s press release revealing new terms dictating that publishers could not deliver premium content through applications unless subscriptions to that content was also offered for sale inside the iTunes store… that would not have been so bad but he also dictated that those selling premium content subscriptions and delivering them through applications could not offer their premium content for sale anywhere and to anyone at a lower price than that offered in the app store… thus dealing a frustrating blow to magazine publishers who often offer promotional discounts and professional discounts not available off the shelf.

    Premium podcast feeds can be linked to an individual subscriber offering yet another method to distribute premium content outside of the app store and iTunes one click subscription links that fire iTunes automatically subscribe and download the first episode have provided hope for innovation and eventual autonomous support on iOS devices… but as pointed out by this article NOTHING has been done to innovate or integrate in years… it could be as simple as itunes for iPad and support for one click podcast subscription just like we enjoy on the PC or mac…

    And yes it would drive podcasting forward in a major way…

    Is it a patent issue? Is it a conspiracy? Is it that there is no financial reward for apple by expanding this functionality?

    I have been waiting for years for them to end the “dock” and support one click podcast subscriptions… and during that time I have been innovating with rss… I wish Apple had even a remote inclination to move podcasting forward… we don’t need much… but its been so long since they threw podcasting a bone.

    While I am at it… I will also mention that iTunes could have been so much more… if it were not such a “Wal-Mart” …just a few more functional features and it could be one of the most useful pieces of software. An RSS reader would be awesome too ;-)

    So, yeah, I know my ramblings about conspiracy are likely just imagined… but its pretty easy to imagine these things given apple’s choices and Steve’s press releases and terms putting tight constraints on premium content producers and Magazine publishers such as Hearst.

    For now I will still dream of the day that iOS runs the full iTunes software natively, works with itunes one click buttons on websites everywhere, auto updates based on your own preferences for podcast sync…

    There is so much more potential with iTunes and RSS… I could go far beyond the traditional concept of podcasting.

  7. Ben says:

    Though I do believe that Flash was not added to iOS for performance considerations rather than financial ones, Apple is certainly keeping very close grip on the content that is available to the devices. It’s a good thing that jailbreaking was ruled legal, otherwise Apple would have completely blocked native applications unless they come through the App Store (which also means abiding by all of Apple’s rules).

    iTunes makes me so sad. It could be a great program. But because Apple has a monopoly in this field (it’s the only software that can sync with the iDevices) they don’t have any competition to keep them in check. Instead of being great, it’s the single most bloated application on my computer. I’d still be using WMP if I didn’t need to use iTunes to sync to my iPhone.

  8. Josh says:

    Here is an interesting article addressing the html5 vs flash performance question:

    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/does_html5_really_beat_flash_surprising_results_of_new_tests.php

    Quoting that article:

    “…recent tests have put Flash up against HTML5, the new web markup language that eliminates the need for the Adobe plugin. The results of these tests show that this is not a simple black-and-white issue. Is Flash really a CPU hog? Yes, in some cases. But, surprisingly, not all the time. In fact, sometimes HTML5 actually performed worse.”

    It made for an interesting read and it was refreshing to see someone at least attempt a scientific approach and let testing results speak for themselves.

  9. Matt says:

    Regarding podcasts, I have always thought the same about Apple and podcast syncing. It would take so little to fix it yet they never touch it. However, there are now a couple of paid apps (I use Pocket Casts) that do most of what you ask for and then some. It doesn’t do auto-downloads, but does have push notifications which I’ve come to prefer since I can then choose to download only those podcast episodes I want to listen to. It will even download episodes over 3G. Now I only sync with iTunes when I want to do a backup or to sync my work calendar (work uses exchange but they don’t allow personal devices to sync wirelessly). So since these third party apps are now allowed in the app store, I’m fine with Apple leaving podcasts barebones in their music app; even if it leaves a gap in their “cut the cord” philosophy for iOS 5. Even if they improved it, I would probably stay with Pocket Casts simply because it would likely still have many more features since it is dedicated to podcasts only. Well worth the $2 since podcasts are most of what I listen to every day.

  10. Josh says:

    Like you I don’t mind paying for a nice app to help me consume my podcasts…

    But for me as an early proponent of podcasting I was excited about the potential of one click podcast subscriptions (pcast:// links work much like mailto links do but with itunes) that bypass the itunes store but allow podcast consumer to see a link to subscribe on a site and in one click subscribe, and automatically start downloading the first episode.

    For podcasting to be propelled forward and be more accessible to the average consumer a free software like itunes being installed on most machines was something I saw potential in…

    And I dreamed of the day that someone on an iDevice could visit a page in Mobile Safari, click an itunes one click subscribe link, and have a mobile version of the full iTunes software open automatically subscribe them and begin downloading the first episode.

    I wish.

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