Pocket Casts 4: Podcast Management Made for iOS 7

As an fan of Apple, I’m sometimes bestowed the label of “fanboy” by some individuals. I often find these incidents to be humorous, as most of the individuals bestowing me the title could in fact be labeled fanboys as well — but for another tech company. I have zero qualms being called an Apple fanboy, as I’m proud to support a company that creates stellar software and hardware. Likewise, I’ve often touted my love for Pocket Casts over all other podcast apps, and could very well be branded a Pockets Casts fanboy.

Since my initial review of Pocket Casts way back in August 2011, I’ve continued to utilize it for all my podcasting needs. When Pocket Casts 4 was initially released for Android over iOS, I was disappointed. When the new app was delayed after the announcement of iOS 7 at WWDC, I was disappointed even more so. With the arrival of iOS 7, Pocket Casts 4 has finally found its way to my iPhone. The question is, was it worth the wait?

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Designed for iOS 7

The differences between Pocket Casts 4 and its predecessor are vast, with the biggest difference being the app’s design and UI. Gone is the dark design and navigation bar, which has been replaced with a bright interface and a singular main view from which you can access all areas of the app. Of the many apps that have been redesigned to fit in with iOS 7, I find Pocket Casts 4 to be one of the best.

Pocket Casts 4's design goes hand in hand with iOS 7's design aesthetics.

Pocket Casts 4’s design goes hand in hand with iOS 7’s design aesthetics.

Each view is sleek and minimal, with a playful color scheme. The player has received a major facelift, as various elements, including controls and the progress bar, change colors to match the podcast’s artwork. Depending on the artwork, the player’s color scheme can look pretty spiffy, but there are occasions in which Pocket Casts 4 samples from an odd color option — creating a bit of a eye sore.

The adaptive color scheme on the left is far more appealing than on the right.

The adaptive color scheme on the left is far more appealing than on the right.

In terms of animation, the app is also very true to iOS 7, but it includes a few oddities. For instance, the animation used to open and close the player by way of a faded zoom is a bit jarring. I’d prefer a slide up from bottom transition to be more fitting, but I can understand Shifty Jelly’s hesitance to do so since it could easily collide with Control Center. An extremely fast, and equally jarring animation occurs in the player when transitioning from the Up Next queue to the Show Notes, or vice versa, by use of the icons in the upper-right. Both examples are relatively minor, and don’t take much away from Pocket Casts 4’s overall experience.

Syncing

Pocket Casts 4 includes support for the iPad — a long awaited feature — and sync functionality, which is handy if you use the app on both devices (sync also works with Android). Because syncing is handled via Shifty Jelly’s own servers, and not the sometimes unreliable iCloud, you’ll need to create an account. Once signed up, your subscriptions, podcasts, playlists and playback progress with sync between devices. Likewise, if you end up picking up a new iPhone or iPad in the near future, you’ll be able to sign in to your account and access all previously stated items.

Creating a syncing account requires only an emaill address and password.

Creating a syncing account requires only an emaill address and password.

Settings, however, are not synced between devices. This decision makes a great deal of sense considering that you may want different settings on different devices (e.g. you may want notifications on your iPhone, but not on your iPad). However, it would be nice if settings synced per device, meaning that if I upgraded to a new iPhone my settings would automatically be set once I logged into my account.

Setting may not sync, but at least they only take a minute to set up.

Setting may not sync, but at least they only take a minute to set up.

While using the app, syncing worked very well in most instances, and was far less error free than in Apple’s first-party Podcasts app. One area that I encountered issues with, however, was syncing playback position. On multiple attempts I began playing an episode on one device, which synced perfectly when I transitioned to my other device. When attempting a return trip to the device I used initially, the playback position didn’t sync with where the second device left off–even after killing and reopening the app.

Auto-Downloads

One of my favorite new features of Pocket Casts 4 is auto-downloads. This feature has been included in competing apps for quite some time, but much like how Apple’s proven time and time again, it’s not about doing it first as much as it is about doing it the best. Instead of determining whether you’d like all of your podcast episodes to download automatically, as it the case in Downcast, you can select individual shows to auto-download in Pocket Casts 4.

Set up auto-downloads from the Podcasts view or in the settings.

Set up auto-downloads from the Podcasts view or in the settings.

By default, auto-downloads only work on Wi-Fi. However, you can turn on an option that allows you to use mobile data. For those of you that are very conscious of your data consumption, this may not be the best option. However, I found that without use of mobile data, the feature wasn’t really all that useful since I don’t have Wi-Fi access at work.

Filters & Playlists

The Podcasts view, which displays all of your subscribed podcasts in a gridview, is still accessible from the main view. The Episodes view from the previous version of Pocket Casts, however, has been replaced with dynamic episode filters. Episodes automatically appear in episode filters based on each filter’s settings. For example, the Unplayed episode filter displays all episodes you’ve yet to begin playback of, while the Video episode filter displays all your video episodes (regardless of if they’re unplayed or have been downloaded).

Episode filters is an odd title, but makes for a very good feature.

Episode filters is an odd title, but makes for a very good feature.

Most of the default episode filters were already present in the previous version of Pocket Casts, just not in this new context. What’s really new, though, is you can edit the settings of each episode filter, and even create new episode filters. You can also create playlists, but I find them to be less useful than creating an episode filter; simply because playlists require you to manually add episodes.

Playlists require manual steps, which isn't as convenient as episode filters.

Playlists require manual steps, which isn’t as convenient as episode filters.

Player

The player is no longer delegated to it’s own view, which I was always a big fan of. Instead, Shifty Jelly went the route of a mini-player that’s located at the bottom screen (a common design trend found in audio-centric apps like Rdio, Spotify and Xbox Music). In the mini-player format, you’re limited to pausing and resume playback, and accessing the full player is achieved by tapping the mini-player bar (swiping won’t work).

The Show Notes and Up Next queue can also be accessed by swiping left or right from the player.

The Show Notes and Up Next queue can also be accessed by swiping left or right from the player.

Comparatively, the player’s UI is familiar and different in Pocket Casts 4. All playback and function controls have been moved to the bottom section of the screen, and includes a new sleep timer and a great deal more speed playback options (0.5x – 3x). One feature that I’m disheartened to see go are the large, invisible skip controls on the podcast artwork.

Podcasts Directory

The podcasts directory, which is where you can subscribe to podcasts, is more fully featured in Pocket Casts 4. Instead of being condensed into a single view with multiple list options, the podcasts directory feels more like a store within the app (e.g. the book store in iBooks). Accessible by tapping the + icon in the upper-right while in the main and Podcasts view, the directory is divided into five tabs — Featured, Top Charts, Search, Networks and Categories. Each tab is uniquely designed, and combined, makes it easy to find new podcasts.

The podcasts directory offers a far more pleasing browsing experience compared to the previous version.

The podcasts directory offers a far more pleasing browsing experience compared to the previous version.

The Bottom Line

Initially, I was taken aback by just how different Pocket Casts 4 was compared to the previous version that I had used day after day for nearly two years. But then again, I felt similarly after transitioning from iOS 6 and iOS 7. In both cases, though, I quickly grew accustomed to the new experience, and, ultimately, I’m extremely pleased. The new design is beautifully done, and in terms of navigation, Pocket Casts 4 is far more intuitive than its predecessor.

As for accessibility, I was disappointed to discover that Pocket Casts 4 doesn’t quite make the grade. The app’s downfall is improperly labeled buttons–generically referred as “button” when using VoiceOver–making the app unusable for individuals with vision impairments.

While I don’t fault any developer that goes the opposite route, I was quite pleased by Shifty Jelly’s decision to release Pocket Casts 4 as a free update for previous owners–though I would, without hesitation, purchase the app again for a measly $3.99. Compared to the other major podcasts apps (Downcast, Instacast and Podcasts), I find Pocket Casts 4 the be the best overall podcast management app for iOS, and a perfect way to usher in the dawn of a revisioned iOS.


Summary

Download, stream and sync your favorite podcasts.

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