Look, I’m stubborn, I know that. I’m so resistant to change that despite much much better alternatives I’ll stick with the same crappy process I’ve always done. My podcast regime is no different. I’ve always used the Apple Podcast app (nee iTunes). Why? Why not, it worked fine I guess. I never needed another. But, I finally decided to make the switch to Overcast for my podcast habit, and I don’t think I’ll ever look back.
The Shortcomings Apple Podcast App
Apple has notoriously been slow moving about updating the iTunes Apple Podcast app for reasons beyond my comprehension. They seem to have an abundance of resources, yet despite basically owning the podcast market, never decided to add features or update the user experience.
That is until September this year.
In April, Apple rebranded iTunes to Apple Podcasts and then in September overhauled the app. However, all the new features to the Apple Podcasts app are ones literally nobody was asking for. Yet, my stubbornness kept me using it. I even kinda sorta reviewed the app redesign and if you squint hard enough I almost defend some of the changes.
Let’s see what I wrote:
“The Listen Now is a much-needed feature and a large upgrade over the existing Unplayed tab. Exiting or restarting the app will make it much easier to resume already-played podcasts or simply check out what’s new.”
“The tiles used in Listen Now and Library are more aesthetically pleasing than the listed UI.”
The Podcast app sucks, point blank. It’s lacking in a lot of significant features, user experience, and play’ability (don’t know if that’s a word, but you get it).
Overcast App to the Rescue
As part of my role at Discover Pods, I speak to a lot of podcasters and superfans alike. Without fail, I get the same two-part reactions when someone discovers I’m still using the Apple Podcasts app.
- Really? Why?!?
- You know Overcast is way better, right?
Ok, so I finally willed up the courage to make the switch. Though change is never easy, after I migrated everything over, I’ll never go back.
Migrating Your Podcast Subscriptions
For an Apple user, importing all your podcast subscriptions is likely the most tedious part of switching. Overcast does have a way to import previous subscriptions using an Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML) file, but unfortunately, Apple wants to make this difficult for you. The Podcasts iOS app doesn’t have an export OPML feature, so you’ll have to log in to iTunes from your computer, export it, send the file to your iPhone, then import into Overcast. For the superfans with tons (even hundreds) of podcast subscriptions, you’ll likely need to go this route to save you some time.
I, however, took this as an opportunity to scrub my subscriptions. Admittedly, I hadn’t done a Spring Cleaning of my podcast subscriptions in awhile, so I figured I’d manually migrate only the podcasts I listen to every week and then add new ones in my typical manner.
The Features Apple Never Thought About
Overcast has an abundance of features that can tailor nearly every podcast habit. As I wrote in the aforementioned Apple Podcasts app review, basically everyone’s habits are different and what they want/need from their app will differ. Some people choose to organize their podcasts by priority, some want the newer ones first, some want the older, etc.
The sheer fact that Overcast has a Settings page separates it from Apple Podcasts. However, like nearly everything in this app, it’s thought through this and has a Nitpicky Details section if you want extra customization.
Like I assume many of you, I listen to podcasts during my everyday commute. Mine now happens to be in a car, however, I used to walk through the busy streets of San Francisco. In either case, you don’t want to spend much time on your phone for personal safety reasons. With Apple Podcasts, as the podcast winded down to the closing credits and/or ads, I would skip to the next podcast which usually was a whole different podcast, not just the next one. All in all, it was probably about five clicks (presses?) to jump to the new podcast and play an episode. With Overcast, you have a few options to limit or even remove this burden. As you can see above, there’s the One-Tap Play feature which is fairly self-explanatory. You also have the playlists detailed below which autoplay the next podcast in your queue. With either option, you’re either able to get to your next podcast much faster, or just leave your phone in your pocket — or dashboard in my case — during commutes.
Podcast Subscription Organization
I’ve mentioned a couple times about how I sort my podcast subscriptions, but here it is again. I sort them into two buckets: timely and evergreen. Timely podcasts are those about current events, news, sports, and more. Think Pod Save America, The Daily, The Ringer NFL Show, Exponent, etc. Evergreen podcasts are those with stories to be listened to at your leisure, no rush. Think 99% Invisible, Twenty Thousand Hertz, Heavyweight, and others.
With Overcasts playlist feature, I can sort my podcasts exactly this way. What I did was create two smart playlists based on the subscriptions that fall into one of the two buckets, with the ability to prioritize some podcasts over the others.
I know the current discussion du jour is at what speed you listen to podcasts. Some prefer 2x, 1.5x, 3x or some other odd speeds. Me personally, I still prefer 1x speed though I see the benefits of speeding it up a bit. What I have heard from several podcast listeners is “it depends”. Some podcasts are fairly light and can be listened to at 2x or faster while other denser, more produced podcasts need more attention. What Overcast allows you to do is set default speeds and/or customize speeds by specific podcast.
There are also several intervals of speed changes to choose from. Where Apple Podcasts gives you 1/2x, 1x, 1.5x, 2x, Overcast allows for several more, especially in between the crucial 1x and 2x speeds.
For full transparency, Smart Speed is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me to switch. The idea is pure genius. Like I said, I mostly listen at 1x speed but see the value in cramming more podcasts in a limited time. What Smart Speed does is remove the silences, pauses, and just dead spots inherent in nearly every podcast. These minor cuts add up over time, freeing up considerable podcast time. There’s even a handy counter that shows exactly how much time you’ve saved either from Smart Speed or speeding up your podcasts.
Our good friend Brendan (Podcast Playl.ist) is what many would call an extreme podcast superfan. On a recent podcast, we even joked about holding an intervention for him. Well, the Overcast time saved counter for him shows he’s saved 849 hours! That’s more than an entire month.
If you’re extra interested in the Smart Speed, here’s a great thorough breakdown and analysis on Medium.
I’ve toggled this on and off with a couple podcast so far and can hear a minimal difference. I think it helps more on higher quality podcasts with crisper vocals. Overcast’s website says of the feature “Boost and normalize volume so every show is loud, clear, and at the same volume. Listen in more places, such as noisy cars, and still hear what everyone says without cranking the volume so high for quiet people that the loud ones blow your ears out.”
Things I Don’t Like So Far
Admittedly, a lot of these things are based on personal preference, but there are a couple things I would tweak.
The default player chooses to download your subscribed podcasts. For someone with unlimited data, but limited storage, I was lucky to catch this before the incessant iCloud storage is full notifications and the inability to upgrade apps. For me, I’d much rather stream the episodes and download on the occasions where I won’t have wifi or reliable service.
The social recommendations aren’t transparent. A neat feature with Overcast is the ability to connect your Twitter account and get semi-curated recommendations based on podcasts your followers are subscribed to as well. Relatively cool, and will likely become more valuable as Overcast catches on. However, I’m unable to see which followers are also connected to Overcast, subsequently recommending podcasts to me, I’m going to assume it’s fairly small.
It’s only available on iOS. Of course, this isn’t an issue for me, an iPhone user. However, just today a friend asked for a recommendation on choosing a podcast player for his Android phone. I recommended Overcast only to quickly realize it wasn’t available for him.