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Posts tagged with "podcasts"

Overcast 5.0.2 Adds New Series 4 Complications, More Siri Shortcuts

Following a major update that introduced a redesigned Now Playing screen, extensive shortcut support, and standalone Watch playback, Marco Arment has brought a variety of enhancements and fixes to version 5.0.2 of Overcast, released earlier today.

Overcast 5.0.2 has added new round complications for the Infograph faces on the new Apple Watch; these act as launchers that simply open the Overcast app on the Watch, which I find convenient enough. Furthermore, you can reduce the amount of haptics used by the app to communicate certain actions (I love haptic feedback in Overcast, so this option isn't for me), and there are new options for configuring how the 'Send to Watch' feature works.

New shortcuts in Overcast 5.0.2.

New shortcuts in Overcast 5.0.2.

Most of all though, I'm interested in the new Siri shortcuts supported by Overcast. The app now offers shortcuts to activate or cancel the sleep timer, as well as two shortcuts to copy the current episode's standard or timestamped link to the clipboard. The ability to quickly generate an Overcast link for the episode you're listening to is a perfect use case for shortcuts: it removes repetitive interactions with the app and, with the tap of a button or Siri phrase, it gives you a link you can instantly share with others.

For the occasion, I've turned my original Overcast Chapters widget shortcut into Overcast Controls, an enhanced widget that, besides chapter navigation, now uses the app's new shortcuts to let you copy episode links too. You can download it below.

Overcast Controls

Navigate chapters or copy links for the Overcast episode you're currently listening to. Best used as a widget.

Get the shortcut here.


Overcast 5: Redesigned Now Playing Screen, Search, Siri Media Shortcuts, and More

Overcast, Marco Arment's popular podcast client for iPhone and iPad, received a major update today to version 5. While I've long praised Apple's work on their built-in Podcasts app for iOS – particularly since getting three HomePods and leveraging Podcasts' support for AirPlay 2 – I also recognize the appeal of Overcast's advanced features and powerful audio effects. Sprinkled throughout Overcast's release history are design details and enhancements big and small that make it a sophisticated, versatile client for podcast aficionados who don't want to settle for a stock app. From this standpoint, despite welcome improvements to Podcasts in iOS 12, changes in Overcast 5 make it an even more attractive option that has caused me second-guess my decision to embrace Apple's native app.

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Anchor Launches Listener Support, Helping Podcasters (and Itself) Get Paid

As an app and service, Anchor is a compelling product that I'm personally a big fan of. It's the best way to podcast from an iPad, the most mature and accessible platform for new podcasters, and it includes innovative features like transcribed video generation for sharing clips on social media.

My one area of hesitation with Anchor has been its business model. The service is entirely free, and the company has never before shared its plans for any sort of monetization strategy. Today that changes, however, as Anchor is launching a Patreon-style listener support feature.

Starting now, any Anchor podcaster can choose to activate listener support for their show, which enables listeners to sign up for automatic monthly payments of $0.99, $4.99, or $9.99 to support the show. The implementation here is important, and Anchor is making it very accessible: a podcast support link will be automatically added to the show notes for each episode, making the link available no matter which podcast app a user listens through. This link takes users to the support page on a podcast's Anchor profile, with payments processed by Stripe and available via Apple Pay on iOS and Mac, or Google Pay on Android.

All support funds are subject to Stripe's standard fees, plus Anchor's own 4.5% cut, but the overwhelming majority of funds end up in podcasters' hands.

I think listener support is an interesting development for Anchor in two main ways. First, after working to democratize podcasting with its easy-to-use tools, it makes sense that Anchor now has its sights set on democratizing the payment of podcasters. Any podcaster with a decent following could use a third-party service like Patreon to get paid – and many do. And while Patreon isn't too much more complicated for listeners wanting to pledge support, it definitely brings more complexity to the side of podcasters. Using Anchor, a podcaster can flip a switch enabling any present and future listeners to offer support. Ultimately, complexity is diminished for both parties.

The second thing making this news significant to me is that it's the first sign of a monetization strategy for Anchor. It's very possible the service will still introduce an ad platform in the future, but whether that happens or not, this is a thoughtful first move. It's respectful to both podcasters and listeners alike, and as such it feels like a good fit for the service and its goals.

While I certainly don't want to see podcasting dominated by a single platform, the way video is owned by YouTube, I nonetheless continue to be impressed by Anchor. Whatever the company's future holds, it's a good thing making podcasting more accessible, and a good thing for podcasters to be rewarded for their work.

Anchor users can activate listener support from their dashboard on anchor.fm.


Castro Adds iCloud Drive Sideloading and Chapter Playback Pre-Selection

Supertop has released another solid update to its podcast player, Castro. In today’s update, Castro adds file sideloading for Plus subscribers, significantly adding to the app’s utility as general purpose audio player. Subscribers can also pre-select the chapters of a podcast they want to play too.

For plus subscribers, the update adds a ‘Castro’ folder in iCloud Drive. Add an MP3 or AAC file into the ‘Sideloads’ folder, and it shows up in your Castro inbox (or wherever else you designate in settings) ready for playback.

Adding audio to Castro is equally simple on a Mac or iOS device. On a Mac, open the Finder and drag in the audio files you want to add. On iOS, use the Files app to add files to your Sideloads folder from any file provider like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.

Once added, audio files show up in your Castro Inbox by default where they can be added to your listening queue like any podcast to which you subscribe. Instead of your Inbox, you can also add sideloaded audio to the front or back of your Queue or Castro’s Archive from the app’s settings.

Sideloading opens up exciting possibilities, especially when combined with other apps. For example, you can add DRM-free audiobooks, audio from lectures or conferences recorded from YouTube or other sources using an app like Audio Hijack, or add downloaded bonus podcast episodes like the AppStories Unplugged episodes that we’ve created for Club MacStories members. Podcasters can also use sideloading as a way to listen to draft episodes before publishing them. With one straightforward feature, Castro has become a far more flexible, general-purpose audio player.

Overcast has a similar feature for subscribers, but it’s web-based and limited to 2 GB of storage. Overall, I prefer Castro’s implementation, which doesn’t require navigating to a website. Though Overcast’s 2 GB limit hasn’t been an issue for me, the lack of a cap in Castro is a definite advantage for anyone who wants access to lots of sideloaded audio.

Sideloading a draft episode of AppStories and deselecting chapters for playback.

Sideloading a draft episode of AppStories and deselecting chapters for playback.

The second feature added to Castro is what Supertop calls Chapter Pre-Selection. In Castro, if you tap on the current chapter in a podcast episode, it displays a list of all the chapters so you can skip around inside the episode. With today’s update, Castro adds checkboxes to each chapter. By default, all of the chapters are selected. If there are chapters in the list to which you don’t want to listen, tap the checkmark icon to deselect the chapter, and only the selected chapters will play.

The convenience of selecting chapters in advance is greater than I had imagined. By pre-selecting chapters, I can, for example, head out for a run or walk without having to fiddle with skipping chapters on the go, which means fewer distractions and opportunities to drop my iPhone.

Supertop continues to regularly update Castro with interesting features. If you haven’t tried Castro in a while, it’s worth another look. The app is free to download on the App Store and you can try the Plus features, including sideloading, free for one week, after which they are $2.99 every three months or $8.99 per year.


Apple Is Building a Media Platform Like Never Before

Have you ever watched the construction of a new building while knowing nothing about what the finished product would be? You track its progress a piece at a time, clueless about the end goal until finally there comes a point when, in a single moment, suddenly it all makes sense.

Apple's media ambitions have been like that for me.

In recent years, Apple has taken a variety of actions in the media space that seemed mostly disconnected, but over time they've added up to something that can't be ignored.

  • 2015: Apple Music and Apple News launched.
  • 2016: Apple Music redesigned; TV app debuted.
  • 2017: App Store revamped with dedicated games section; Apple Podcasts redesigned; TV app adds sports and news.
  • 2018: Apple acquires Texture; iBooks redesigned and rebranded Apple Books.
  • 2019: Apple's video streaming service launches?

Apple already has control of the hardware that media is consumed on, with its ever-expanding iPhone business and suite of complementary products. It has invested significant effort into building the apps media is consumed in, as evidenced above. And finally, it's also building the paid services media is consumed through.

And the company is doing these things at a scale that is unprecedented. Once not long ago, Apple's primary media platform was iTunes. Now, hundreds of millions of users consume media every day through Apple's suite of spiritual successors to iTunes:

  • Apple Music
  • Apple TV (the app)
  • Apple Podcasts
  • Apple Books
  • Apple News
  • And the App Store

Apple has one unified goal, I believe, driving all its media efforts: it aspires to utilize hardware, software, and services to provide the entirety of a user's media experience. If you consume media, Apple wants to provide the full stack of that consumption, from media delivery to media discovery. My aim in this story is to share an overview of how that goal is being fulfilled today.

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Castro 3 Review: The Castro You’ve Always Wanted

Castro has long been one of the premier podcast clients on iOS, and its excellent version 2 – with an innovative triage system and delight-inducing design touches – helped solidify it as such. Those strengths in 2.0, however, were mitigated in part by the absence of a few key features that competing podcast apps tout. That changes with Castro 3.

If you're unfamiliar with the app, Castro's centerpiece feature is a triage system involving an inbox and queue. The premise is that, with the rising popularity of podcasting, there are more great podcasts available than ever before. If you subscribe to lots of shows, the standard episode management tools found in competing apps likely aren't sufficient. With Castro, by default new episodes of shows land in your inbox, and can then be sorted to the top or bottom of your queue and downloaded, or archived if they're not of interest to you. It's an elegant solution to the problem of podcast overload, and, thanks to customization options that allow you to make certain shows populate the top or bottom of the queue automatically, it's a system that works for you, tailored to your listening preferences.

Castro's triage system clicked with me the first time I tried it, and I used the app daily for nearly a year. Eventually though, I became more selective about the portions of podcasts I listened to, and Castro's lack of chapter support sent me elsewhere. I've seen comments from other prospective Castro users who were similarly turned off from the app due to one missing feature – and often, this feature was different for different people.

If an absent feature ever kept you from sticking with Castro 2, that almost certainly won't be a problem anymore. Castro 3 addresses nearly all of those "one missing feature" requests in a single release. Trim Silence is Castro's take on Overcast's Smart Speed; full chapter support is now present, as is a new Apple Watch app; the player screen has been fully redesigned; Mix to Mono improves stereo mixes that are hard to hear; and finally, there are excellent new per-podcast controls in a variety of areas. Perhaps the only thing still missing is an iPad app.

Castro 3 is everything Castro already was, but better. It's the app that Castro fans have always wanted.

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Pocket Casts Acquired

Pocket Casts, one of the most popular cross-platform podcast clients (and among the top ones listeners use to download episodes of AppStories), has been acquired by a consortium of public radio stations and podcast companies. Here's Shifty Jelly's Russel Ivanovic, writing on the company's blog:

Today we’re excited to announce a partnership with some of the biggest producers of podcasts in the world to take Pocket Casts to the next level. We’ve had a lot of companies in the past contact us about acquiring us and or Pocket Casts and we’ve always had one simple answer for them: thanks, but no thanks. In talking to each of them it was obvious that they didn’t have the best interests of our customers or us at heart and as much as cashing out and walking off into the sunset is a nice ideal, it’s a crummy outcome for all of you and in turn for us. You see we care so damn deeply about what we’ve built and our relationship with each and every one of you that we know deep down inside that would just eat away at us. That’s why when a combined group comprised of WNYC, NPR, WBEZ and This American Life approached us with the goal of partnering for the good of the entire podcast industry, we knew that this opportunity was something else entirely. Everything from their not for profit mission focus, to their unwavering belief that open and collaborative wins over closed walled gardens resonated deeply with us. Together we have the passion, scale and laser focus needed to achieve some truly great things. We’re not ready to talk about what those are just yet but we do want to quickly cover some questions you might have.

According to Ivanovic, Pocket Casts will remain a standalone, open, and premium podcast client in the short term. I'm curious to see how Pocket Casts will change over the next several months though. Large radio stations and podcast companies seem to have a certain affinity for locked-in ecosystems and proprietary listening features at the expense of the open nature of podcasting. I won't be surprised if Pocket Casts eventually prioritizes programming by the companies that own the app. However, I also hope that the folks at Shifty Jelly will be able to continue making the open, elegant, and powerful podcast app I've used over the years.

See also: Chris Welch's story at The Verge.

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Microcasting on Micro.blog with Wavelength

Last month I covered the return of Sunlit, the iOS photo blogging app from Manton Reece that works with Micro.blog and blogging platforms like WordPress. Reece is back with another iOS app that’s aimed at bringing microcasting, which is short-form podcasting, to Micro.blog. Wavelength is an end-to-end solution for recording, editing, and publishing audio using nothing but an iPhone. It’s an interesting approach to podcasting designed to lower the barriers to entry by simplifying the workflow, while also creating new uses for Micro.blog.

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