What is a podcast?
Podcasts are audio shows, saved as MP3 files, and available on the Internet to download or stream to computers and media players. Originally created as a hobby, in many cases entire businesses are now built around producing podcasts. Podcasts are free but do contain advertisements, which is how the businesses producing them make their money.
- If you are interested in seeing what podcasts are available, here is a directory.
What is a podcast app?
While you can go directly to the web sites hosting a podcast and play its episodes directly within your web browser, it is much more convenient to have the episodes download automatically to your smartphone or media player so that you can listen to them while away from your desktop computer. Podcast apps download the episodes and in most cases provide a way to play and manage the episodes.
Another component fundamental to podcast apps is that they keep track of what you have listened to in an episode. Most podcast episodes are thirty minutes long or longer and the last thing you want is to listen 15 minutes through an episode, have the app crash or restart and have to start listening to the episode all over from beginning because the app lost track of what you heard.
What should you look for in a podcast app?
Podcasts apps are not terribly complicated but there are some functions that I think are very important.
Podcast apps must provide an easy way to subscribe to new shows and automatically download episodes of those shows when they become available. Just about every podcast app that you will try provide some type of catalog of shows as well as a way to manually enter a URL to subscribe to a podcast that is not in its catalog.
Some apps put an emphasis on streaming rather than downloading podcast files, but I personally think it is important to download the files to play locally from the device for the following reasons.
- First, just about every mobile carrier has some form of cap on the amount of data you get with your contract before having to pay additional fees. In my opinion streaming audio when I don’t need to wastefully consumes a constrained resource.
- Second, while mobile Internet access is available for most metropolitan areas, there are still places where there is no or limited connectivity. Obviously, you can’t stream audio from Internet without being connected to it.
Podcast apps should provide a way for you to control whether or not it downloads new episodes via a mobile Internet connection or whether it should only download when connected to WiFi. Most apps provide options to either download via either connection or just WiFi, and they often also provide an option to only download episodes while charging the device.
- I configure my podcast apps to only download while connected to WiFi, which pretty much insures I have the latest episodes on my phone when I leave the house in the morning. If it happens that there are no episodes already on my phone to listen to, I can always manually force a download using the mobile Internet connection.
A podcast app must be able to automatically add new podcast episodes of multiple podcasts to a playlist as they they are available for download or streaming. Otherwise you spend a lot of time managing podcast episodes.
- Regular MP3 players treat podcasts as albums and therefore treats episodes as separate album tracks. Consequently, while MP3 players will automatically start the next episode of a podcast if it is on the device, they don’t automatically start the next available episode of other podcasts, to mix episodes one has to manually create playlist of all the episodes they want to listen to.
Finally, because most smartphones have limited storage space, podcast apps should automatically delete the files of episodes once you a have completed listening to them. Most apps provide the ability to toggle the automatic deletion in case you want to keep episodes on your phone. You will also find that most apps allow you to specify how many episodes it downloads to your device so that if you get behind a certain number of them will queue up.
I mostly listen to my favorite podcasts during my commutes to and from work. Because my car has built-in support for bluetooth, I have found it to be nice that the app is capable of being controlled via bluetooth headset controls. If the app supports headset controls you might be able to pause, and skip forward and back through episodes using the controls of your car’s audio center.
Recently I have discovered another nice to have feature, which is the ability to synchronize playback location across multiple devices. Like many people, I carry two smartphones, one provided by my employer, and my personal device. In some instances I need to connect my work phone to my car’s bluetooth, while other times I prefer to connect my personal phone.
If I only use one or the other phone for listening to podcasts that means I can only connect that phone to my car if I want to listen to a podcast while I drive. By using an app that synchronizes what podcast episodes I’ve downloaded and the location to which I have listened to in an episode, I can start listening on one phone and then later switch to the other phone and pick up listening right where I left off.
Several podcast apps exist for Android and iOS, and I have recently been using Pocket Casts on my Android phones. In my next article I’ll share my experience with using Pocket Casts for the first time.
To see read this article in an outline, click here.