iOS 7’s bold new design convention gave many developers the chance to completely reinvent their apps, free from the shackles the previous constraints of iOS’ stylings. Vemedio seized this opportunity and have recently released Instacast 4, the latest update to their flagship podcast app, which has been completely redesigned with a new look and feel, as well as looking to the future of iOS by making iOS 7 a requirement.
A Giant Leap Forward
We reviewed Instacast 3 earlier this year and found it a great podcast app for iOS. Instacast 4 takes the app into a new direction and the first thing you’ll notice is the totally redesigned layout. It’ll take some time for seasoned Instacast users to get used to this new layout. It’s a layout I already find far more efficient as much of the chrome that adorned previous versions, the enlarged title and navigation bars, have gone in favour of an off-Canvas panel that you slide to access or through the use of the hamburger icon on the top-left. By keeping navigation within this hidden menu, your podcast content remains the focus of the app no matter where you are.
Navigating through podcasts hasn’t changed though starting a podcast has. Unlike many other podcast apps, tapping an episode wouldn’t bring up the show notes, instead it would start playing the episode. With Instacast 4, this has now been reversed and tapping the episode brings up the show notes but a small play button is always present if you just want to start listening. It makes for a much more consistent experience, especially if you prefer to read some of the show notes before listening.
The Now Playing view is much improved and has some subtle visual enhancements. Gone is the artwork reflection, instead the layout is now tailored to accommodate square artwork without any extra padding. To compliment the artwork, Instacast samples the colours within the artwork and uses them to detail the controls. This gives each podcast a unique feel when listening to an episode and, although it serves nothing more than an aesthetic purpose, it’s a really nice touch.
Show notes are much easier to access as what was previously the button to access just bookmarks now brings up all of the episode’s information. In the previous version of Instacast, tapping the episode name in the title bar would bring the show notes though as the title bar wasn’t usually an interactive element, this was never obvious.
By far, the biggest improvement within the Now Playing view is the reworking of the toolbar. Previously, it would be a narrow toolbar that you could swipe to access further controls. Unfortunately, slider controls were placed here which meant it was frustratingly difficult to adjust the play position as the toolbar would often begin to move. Thankfully, this has now gone and, instead, all of the toolbar options are stacked so all of the controls are instantly available. The controls themselves haven’t changed and you’re able to access AirPlay controls, playback speed, bookmarks and more.
Instacast 4 has done away with the continuous feed playback so you can no longer listen to episodes of a podcast continuously. Instead, it’s been replaced by a feature called Up Next. Adding an episode is as simple as tap-and-hold, which brings up a menu that offers you the option to add tracks to a playback queue, think of it as iTunes DJ for podcasts. You can amend the queue at any time and reorganise episodes as you see fit. While some may lament the loss of continuous episode playback, Up Next lets you do this across all of your podcasts.
Lists are still available with the ability to create lists that you can add episodes or shows to, or smart lists that will automatically generate lists based upon the criteria you set. You can also listen to all unplayed or downloaded episodes one after another, as well as favourite episodes.
Syncing and Updates
Instacast’s excellent sync service still remains and offers near-instant syncing between other iOS devices as well as their Mac app. In addition, Instacast’s Directory — a list of popular podcasts — is more prominently featured through it’s own section within the menu as well as using the Add Podcast button.
One of Instacast’s great features has been push notifications of new podcast episodes and this is further enhanced by iOS 7 with background updates. Not only are you notified whenever a new episode is available but Instacast 4 will then download the podcast without the need to launch the app, meaning your podcasts are ready to go as soon as you are.
I’ve been an Instacast user for some time yet still have difficulty with Instacast not deleting older episodes. Despite setting the app to auto-delete played content, I often find many older episodes still remain undeleted, taking up unnecessary space. Every so often I’ll wonder why Instacast is taking up over 500MB of space, only to see that it’s kept a bunch of old episodes that I’ve already played.
Instacast 4 is a huge update to an already great podcast app. By making the app require at least iOS 7, it can focus more on adding some great features going forward than holding it back by supporting previous versions of iOS. Apple has given developers such as Vemedio an opportunity to do this by allowing those who aren’t able to run iOS 7 the ability to download the last up-to-date version of an app that they can run. Instacast 4 is a great first app for iOS 7 and I’m genuinely excited to see where it can go from here.