the candler blog

PodGrasp: The Best Mac Podcatcher (At Least For Now...)

Apps, Review, Technology

I have a confession to make: I haven’t been listening to that many podcasts lately.

Back when I lived in New York City and rode the subway every day, I piled through them. Leo Laporte’s TWiT shows were my gateway drug, and eventually I subscribed to most of the shows on Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 network.

And that’s just the start. Networks like Earworlf, Maximum Fun, Nerdist, 70 Decibels, Mule Radio Syndicate and (of course) Hyperbolic prove we’re in a golden age of the form. Hell, I even bought fancier headphones1 just to block out the city’s bustle and listen more closely to the analysis, rants, jokes and squabbles of my fellow geeks.

When I moved to Austin, though, I bought a car, and it (naturally) became my primary conveyance. Keeping up with podcasts has proven a bit tougher with my shorter commute,2 and getting them to play through my car stereo is in itself an ordeal I’ll have to explain in another post.

I got tired of never finding the time to listen to podcasts anymore, so I set out to fix that. Since I spend the majority of my time at a Mac, I fired up the Mac App Store to see what was cooking in the desktop podcast player department. I found a dearth of options, but PodGrasp caught my eye. It’s an excellent start, but before I get into it I feel I must dispel the notion that OS X actually ships with a podcast player.

iTunes is the Problem, Not the Solution

The iPod’s ascent has been, without question, the biggest contributing factor to the popularity of Web broadcasting.3 So it has always been something of a wonder that iTunes, the application at the center of this aural revolution, is essentially the worst application for managing podcasts.

For one, iTunes is bloated. After Photoshop and Aperture it’s one of those apps I have to sit and wait and wait and wait just to launch. Once it’s open though, things just get worse. Shows are organized in the most convoluted manner possible, by default alphabetically and then by episode date.

Hardly any information that has become de rigueur for podcasts in 2012 (extensive show notes) is displayed in iTunes, and to get to any of it is extremely tedious. Episodes don’t have to be downloaded to be played, but they do have to be downloaded to sync the playhead to your iOS device, and even then you have to do a full sync to get that info to transfer.

Sure, sure, iTunes 11 might (might!) come out this week and date my little whine here. But I’ll bet podcast management will still be a chore, which is why I put my money where my complaint-hole is and plunked down 99¢ for PodGrasp.

Buggy and Brave

According to PodGrasp’s release notes the app debuted on October 31st, making it not even a month old. There is a second update pending review in the app store already, bringing more fixes. This app is clearly in its infancy and has a long way to go, but it’s a very impressive start so far. Better yet it actually does what it says on the tin: it organizes and plays podcasts.

The first thing I did was import an OPML file that I exported from Instacast on my iPhone. When you do the same thing in iTunes it simply prompts you to make sure you want to import all of your podcasts; PodGrasp is much smarter.

Before importing the app displays a list of all of the podcasts and URLs listed, offering you the option to deselect a few if you don’t want to import them. You are also asked whether or not you would like to download the most recent episode of each show. Even better, once you start the import it shows you whether or not a feed was successfully subscribed to so you can amend any bad URLs. Very nice touches.

Once subscribed, the app has two panels. The left panel shows your podcasts with nice big artwork and the right panel shows the episodes for the selected show. If no episodes are downloaded your shows are sorted alphabetically, but once you start downloading episodes they get sorted in order of newest available for listening. Selecting an episode reveals show notes and the ability to either download or trash an episode.

Playback is where PodGrasp is currently lacking. There is no way to pause the current podcast unless you switch to the app. Even then the only way to pause it from the keyboard is with the space bar, and that’s buggy right now as well. If you navigate to a different podcast from the one you are listening to and hit the space bar to pause the current track the app will crash, for example.

While the actual podcast management portion of the app looks great, the playback controls at the top of the window leave a lot to be desired. The play button is awkwardly placed to the right of the playback pane, the playhead is too small to grasp and 30 second forward and backward buttons are barely noticeable. On top of that, the whole upper tenth of the window reminds me of some very old designs, almost like “Classic” mode OS 9 apps. And the icon has to go. It reminds me too much of Howard Stern’s logo which I don’t particularly care for to begin with.

All of that said though, PodGrasp is currently the best option available on the Mac App Store for desktop podcast management. It will only get better and it truly is an incredible start, especially considering there is almost no competition for this right now. Go get it4 so Gary Hughes, PodGrasp’s developer, can make it even better. His FAQ says an iPhone app is planned as well, so it’s not like he’s gonna take your Washingtons and run.

A Race to Spring

This morning Federico Viticci tweeted a link to information about Instacast 3, a brand new version of my iOS podcatcher of choice coming soon. Vemedio’s forthcoming app will be universal and use its own syncing service instead of iCloud. Here’s the bit that got my attention though:

In Instacast 3 we made a lot of internal changes to the very foundation of the app that will allow us to make a Mac version that will be totally compatible with Instacast 3. This is planned for spring next year. Stay tuned.

Gary Hughes, then, has until the spring to polish up PodGrasp before he has a big player competing in this space. Game on.

  1. I sport Etymotics with the biggest foam buds they make. The new model is the Etymotic hf3 Headset (affiliate link). Pricy, yes, but I was spending more replacing crappier sets every few months before I got these years ago.

  2. I know, woe is me.

  3. They don’t call it a Podcast for nothing.

  4. Affiliate link. Buy it and I’ll get a few pennies. Thanks so much.

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