Cody Fink at Macstories has a nice write up of Instacast 4, the latest version of Vemedio’s podcast app.
After using the app every day since its release last week, I’ve got a few points to add. In short, this version continues the developer’s habit of making bad decisions with good intentions.
The latest is the removal of continuous play. What is continuous play? It’s the idea that when an episode finishes, the next one in the playlist begins automatically after.
Doesn’t sound too complicated does it? And yet the developer claims it was a huge support headache, with people completely befuddled by the concept despite it existing in every other audio app every invented.
Instead, the idea of Next Up has been introduced. What is Next Up? God knows. All I can tell you is that when one show finishes, I have no idea what is coming up next.
It’s modelled on the iTunes feature whereby you can choose items to play next or add to the playing queue. It works well for iTunes where you sit at the computer and scan through songs while one is playing and decide which ones you’d like to hear soon.
With podcasts it’s different. Episodes are longer. You might be listening to a show over two days, during which time new shows will have come out that might take precedence. So the Up Next queue you pick on Monday is obsolete by the time the current show ends on Tuesday.
More importantly, it means you now have two playlists to manage. One is a list of the shows (Playlist) and one is the order in which they will be played (Up Next list). That’s crazy. It should just work its way down the playlist as everyone would expect.
Secondly, the design of the app, while visually pleasing, could be improved.
When looking at a list of downloaded podcasts I assume the most common action is to tap on one to play it. the tap area to play is squeezed into a tiny circle on the right. Tapping anywhere else brings up the show description.
Maybe I’m in the minority and people are reading show notes more than playing shows but that this design should be inverted. Instead of the play button on the right, have an info icon (the i in a circle) that people can tap for more info. And make the rest of the cell, in effect, a huge play button.
The other issue with this view is that too much space is given to description previews. I can only actually play three episodes per page. I’d limit cells to about the height of the artwork thumbnail. It would make for a more efficient view.
Having been critical, there are a couple of key improvements in version 4. The Now Playing screen is beautiful, with all the controls at your fingertips without it looking crowded or cramped.
The implementation of background refresh is also fantastic. Rather than wake up at defined durations like Downcast, Instacast leverages its push notification system to refresh as and when a new episode is released. So far it has worked perfectly and it’s one of the key reasons Instacast is currently my podcast app of choice.