Review of new Apple Podcasts app for MacOS
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
I reviewed Apple's new Apple Podcasts app for their latest MacOS version called "Catalina". The good news: it's better than I thought it would be. The bad news: it has a lots of weird quirks. Let's go!
A Mammoth Called iTunes
With MacOS Catalina, Apple decided to say goodbye to the iTunes app. Once massively powerful, over the years it became a rather sluggish mammoth. By trying to solve too many problems in one app, it didn't solve any problem really well.
On the other hand, the Apple Podcasts app has existed for iOS for a very long time and although most people agree that it's not the best podcasting app around, it is still miles ahead of iTunes.
In the end, sacrificing iTunes meant that Apple needed to replace all the functionalities it provided by splitting it up into smaller, single-purpose apps. This is how Apple Podcasts for MacOS was born.
User Interface & User Experience
When first opening the new Apple Podcasts app you soon realize that it kind of feels like a larger version of Apple Podcasts on iPad. And there is a reason for it: Apple recently released a set of tools called "Mac Catalyst" that allow to run iOS apps on Mac, almost natively with few adjustments.
Yet compared to the iPhone app, I have to say that I find the Mac version so much clearer and logical. One reason I didn't use the Apple Podcasts app on iPhone was the rather confusing menus and navigation options that didn't make too much sense to me.
This is not the case on Mac, where there is a permanent menu bar with a static set of navigation items on the left that helps going back and forth between different areas. I like it, because it makes navigation so much more intuitive and straightforward.
What I don't understand is the ridiculous floating panel on the right. It's supposed to add some additional contextual information such as show notes of the episode or the current playlist. But from a user experience point of view, it's just an annoyance, because when you open it, it hides elements beneath it. This means that you can't keep it open all the time, making the overall experience less pleasant. A weird decision, since we're talking about a desktop experience that has plenty of screen real estate available.
Recently, at Podigee we crunched some data to find out that Apple still clearly leads the podcasting space, at least in Germany. This market share allows Apple to leverage podcast show reviews more than any other platform. When doing podcast discovery, it's actually nice being able to read up on some podcasts to see if they're the right choice for us.
What I liked is that lists are more easily accessible and offer plenty of customization options. You can imagine lists as a filter on the podcasts that you follow. You can create a list of your favorites, a list of comedy podcasts, and so on.
What's ridiculous, though, is how hard it is to manage podcasts that belong to a particular list. Every time I subscribe to a podcast and want to add it to my "tech" list, I need to subscribe first, then go to the list, edit, settings, scroll all the way down, edit podcasts, find the podcast in question, mark it, save. The more podcasts you already follow, the harder it becomes to find the newly added one. Why not offer the possibility to choose the list directly from the podcast overview, when clicking on the subscribe button?
Discovery / Directory
Discovery of new podcasts is solved rather well in the app, the directory is appealing and allows to browse podcasts and get inspired. What's rather annoying is that there are some categories with recommendations of podcasts that haven't even been active for the last 4 years. Some podcasts in the new and noteworthy category are neither new, nor noteworthy.
One thing that is a huge downgrade for the iTunes podcast experience: now you can't change the country in the app anymore. This means that there is no way for a person in Germany to see the US podcast recommendations. I know, Americans often struggle with the concept of people being multilingual, but the reality is that most Europeans speak at least one foreign language fluently, often two and more. So why not allow to choose the languages I understand so I can get more relevant recommendations?
And since we're talking about major annoyances, I find the Apple's insistence on downloading episodes very surprising, even more on a desktop app! I've been streaming podcasts for over 2 years now and only very rarely download the audio files to the device (mainly when traveling without a reliable internet connection).
OK, I get it, some people would rather prefer to download the episodes. But why make it the only viable option on Apple Podcasts? Everywhere you go in the app there is a download icon that invites you to download an episode, instead of just streaming it. There also is an unremovable list with downloaded episodes that shows up even if you don't have any downloaded audio files.
When it comes to generic playback features, you get the basic speed up and sleep timer, but not much more. No voice boost or silence trim, which can be found in other apps. Personally, I'm not a fan of it, but it should be commodity these days.
Cross platform sync
As long as you are an Apple user, cross platform is supposed to be a no brainer. Yet there's a catch: you have to manually activate syncing with iOS by going to settings. I only found it by accident because I was in review mode, but come on Apple! This should be an opt-out, or at least we should be asked when launching the app for the first time.
Overall, the app offers a pretty solid user experience. The app feels more intuitive than its iPhone counterpart, mainly thanks to the static left menu bar.
But when looking deeper, you find a lot of weird decisions and quirky features that do not make much sense.
Of course, it is a first version and it might get better over time. Being preinstalled on all MacOS devices starting with Catalina is nice. And of course, the app is a step forward as compared to listening to podcasts on iTunes.
- preinstalled on most Apple devices
- simple and clean interface
- free cross platform syncing in the Apple universe, yet needs to be activated manually
- directory & reviews
- managing lists is subpar
- no switch between countries / languages
- some podcast recommendations are totally weird
- why does Apple insist on downloading episodes?
- hidden sleep timer and show notes
- the right menu bar blocks the view