acim has been a popular medium for listening to radio and internet broadcasts for years now. The concept is simple: every time you plug your MP3 player into a computer, load it with the latest episodes of your favorite podcasts and listen to them later, when you’re out and about. However, many phones now act as MP3 players and many MP3 players are now internet-enabled. Shouldn’t it be possible to load the latest podcasts without a connection to a computer?

That’s where Podcaster comes in. Podcaster was the first feature-rich podcast download client to appear for the iOS platform, first as a jailbroken app, then in reduced functionality in the App Store as RSS Player, then finally as the full-fledged legitimate Podcaster iOS app. Read on to find out just how well it works.

I’m going to stray from the standard review here to get into Podcaster’s tumultuous history as I understand it. Podcaster was originally written in the early days of the App Store, but was summarily rejected by Apple. Apple’s excuse for this was that Podcaster violated App Store policies by duplicating features included with Apple’s operating system.

While it’s true that the iTunes app then (as it does now) had the ability to downlaod podcasts directly to the device, it was a very cumbersome process that involved looking up and downloading podcast episodes one at a time, every time you wanted to grab new ones. This was a horrible solution. Believe me, I tried it for a while. I eventually got fed up, and this was one of the things that led me to jailbreak my own device, but I digress. After failure in the app store, Podcaster’s author released it as a jailbroken app, and there it remained for a long time. Eventually, the author developed another app called RSS Player.

RSS Player was an app designed to track internet RSS feeds and allow audio content in those feeds to be played on the device. It is important to note here that a podcast is defined (in technical terms) a list of audio files encoded into an RSS feed; the author had found a sneaky way to get a podcast player into the app store by redefining what the app was intended to do. However, RSS Player was not pretty. It was such a stripped-down version of Podcaster that often it barely functioned at all. It went through several update cycles, but while those updates fixed some of its issues, they always introduced more. I wouldn’t have recommended RSS Player to anyone but the most die-hard podcast fans.

Then after what seemed like forever, the day finally came that Podcaster was allowed into the App Store. The author had to make a few compromises (one of which I’ll explain later), and the app got rejected a couple more times before it was finally accepted, but things have been much better ever since.

Some of Podcaster’s interface has a bit of a learning-curve to it, but once you figure out the basics, it can be very easy to use. The first thing you’ll likely want to do is add your favorite podcasts to the feed. To do this, tap the directory icon on the bottom of the app. There, you have several options to find your podcasts, but the most useful are ‘Search by Title’ and ‘Import’. Search by title searches a directory of podcasts. This directory is incomplete and sometimes contains unreliable information.

This is not the fault of Podcaster’s author; the podcast directory had to be set up in a way that does not violate Apple’s App Store policies, and a directory maintained by Podcaster’s author is one of Podcaster’s few remaining intended features of which Apple does not approve. Therefore, Podcaster draws upon a directory generated by the app’s users, hence the flawed information. If you find yourself unable to find a podcast there, or need to access a password-protected feed, use the ‘Import’ section.

Reliability has been historically sketchy with Podcaster, and while it is worlds of improvement over its predecessor RSS Player, there are still plenty of bugs and hiccups to be had. While the app tries to save the place you were at in your podcast when you close it or get a phone call, it doesn’t always succeed. The download errors from previous versions seem to be long-gone, but there are still some persistent corruption bugs that you can get. I’ve gotten stuck into a mode where Podcaster would play every audip file really fast, making everyone sound like chipmunks.

I had to reset the settings to default to fix that. I’ve gotten stuck into a mode where it wouldn’t advance to the next episode after one finished unless I did it manually. I couldn’t fix that without reinstalling the app. Updates always seem to fix some bugs, but introduce more. And every once in a long while, something will go wrong with my podcast list, which again requires me to wipe everything and start from scratch. The lesson: Podcaster is a great tool, but if you use it, back up your podcast list regularly using the Backup icon (in the ‘More’ section).

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