Holiday travel season is here, and that means visiting for quite a few of us. No matter how you’re getting to where you’re going, odds are you probably want some background noise to pass the time, which means in the middle of packing and adjusting sleep schedules and the like, you’re probably going to have to sit down at some point and make sure you’ve got enough podcasts loaded for your trip. And if you’re an iPhone user, updating your podcasts may be the pre-trip chore you’re dreading the most.
When it comes to hardware, Apple knows what it’s doing. Every new iPhone it releases sells, even as the prices on them go higher and higher. They perform well enough for most, and they’ve never been banned from airplanes because they might explode. What Apple might be even better at is marketing. After all, no one needs a $1,000 phone, but Apple knows how to make you think that you do. Their advertisements are slick, with their iPhone trailers being some of the best in the world of commercials. Combined, these slick ads and fine phones are a recipe for some serious money.
What Apple is not good at is software, and it’s a testament to how good its hardware and advertising is that they’re allowed to get away with such shoddy programs. Books could be written on just how truly awful iTunes is as a piece of software, and every iOS seems to introduce new problems as things get changed for no other reason than to give the company the ability to say, “hey, look at this old thing that’s new!”
Which brings us to Podcast.app. Somewhere in a nice office there are people paid to make an iOS podcast app, and I’m convinced said people have never actually listened to a podcast in their life. It’s the only thing that would make the baffling decisions they’ve made for how the app handles podcasts make any sense.
You open the app and you’re shown a short list of recently updated podcasts. This would be fine if it told you anything about said podcast updates, but instead it’s just the podcast cover images, a bunch of podcast names that are cut off and the date updated. Weirdly enough, if you click the Episodes button, you get the exact same list, just with the titles of the new episodes, also cut off, and first eight or so words of the episode description, which rarely tells you anything about the episode in question. For some reason, Apple assumes the primary driving factor when deciding what to listen to is the cover art, because that’s the thing that gets the most usable real estate.
So you skip that and go straight to the shows list, where every podcast you’ve ever listened to gets a spot whether you ended up subscribing to it or not. Before the most recent iOS refresh, the list put all your subscribed podcasts at the top of the list because clearly you must care about those more, but the new iOS doesn’t have time for that. Obviously you love everything equally.
So you find the show you want to listen to it, click on the big honking graphic representing it and you get your list of episodes. Want to know more about those episodes? Too bad! Enjoy the first 10 words of the description before it gets cut off. The good news is that if you want to know what the episode is about, all you have to do is click on the episode title. You might as well go ahead and do that anyway, because you can’t play the episodes from the episode page list, because why would you want to just play an episode of a podcast you like?
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And here, after going through multiple pages to get where you need to go, that we get to the most baffling decision Apple had made regarding Podcasts.app: Apple assumes that you want to listen to your podcasts in reverse chronological order.
That’s right: when the episode you’ve listened to finishes, Apple’s default assumption is that what you want to hear most is not the next part of the story, but the part before it. It’s enough to make my head hurt, because podcasting has become one of the best storytelling mediums around and Apple seems to have no clue.
The silver lining is that you can change this functionality, but not on a global level. You have to go into every podcast individually and change it. It’s remarkably not user friendly.
Obviously, no one forces anyone to use the default iOS podcast app, and there are plenty of options out there on the marketplace, but it’s just so weird that a company with so much money and so many seemingly smart people turned an app that was never going to blow your mind but at least made sense into something so lame. But maybe that’s why Apple doesn’t charge for iOS updates: because even with their marketing genius, they can’t sell the software.