The long wait is finally over, today we bring you Pocket Casts 4 for Android, a free update to all our Google Play customers. We can’t tell you how happy it makes us to finally release this version to you all. It’s been at least 6 months in the making, thousands of hours worth of blood, sweat and occasionally even tears. So let’s talk a bit about what’s new.
Syncing and Backup
This has to be the biggest and best feature of version 4 by far. Basically you can (optionally of course) set up an account and store all your podcast subscriptions, playlists & playback progress in the cloud. What this enables you to do is seamlessly sync your progress with your other android devices, and as we update Pocket Casts on iOS and other places you’ll be able to sync to those as well. Even better is that this makes moving to a new device, flashing a new ROM or just starting fresh super easy. Just log back in and Pocket Casts will set you up exactly where you left off, including hooking up any downloaded files you might have on your phone/SD Card from before as well. During development I’d estimate between us we uninstalled/reinstalled the app about 100 times, and this feature worked flawlessly!
Powerful smart playlists
Another amazing feature of version 4 is being able to easily build lists of the kind of episodes you want to listen to or download. You can filter by an episodes playing status, whether it’s audio or video, whether it’s from a particular podcast, its download status and whether you’ve starred it or not. This lets you easily build a playlist of what you want to listen to which you can then sort how you like, and also choose to have the phone auto-download for you. It’s a game changer and I personally can’t go back to the old version because of this feature alone.
Built in variable speed playback
I can’t tell you how painful this was to build (hands up if you love native C++ code?), but the end resulting is amazing. No more expensive, crashy plugins to download to get variable speed playback in Pocket Casts. We’re the first podcasting app on Android to do this, and the difference it makes is huge. You can go all the way from 0.5x to 3.0x. My personal favourite is setting it to 0.5x, aka ‘Drunk Mode’ and listening to your favourite podcast host slur through all their words.
Stunning phone and tablet interface
We heard you loud and clear. Our previous iteration was a messy port of an iOS app built for Android 2.2. Times have changed, and so has our stunning new Holo style interface that works seamlessly on both phones and tablets.
Control your podcasts from the Notification Center, lock screen, headphones, bluetooth, etc. Basically your favourite app is only ever a tap or two away.
There are of course, many more features large and small, but for those you should really just go and grab the app, or find out more on our website! Happy podcasting to you all, from the team here at Shifty Jelly!
A few people were bemused by our decision to release Pocket Casts 4 first on Android. I suspect a few of them even think we may have lost our marbles. I thought I’d take a few minutes to outline exactly why we did what we did.
We’re a small team of only 2 developers and a designer. We realised late last year as we were working on a simultaneous release of Android and iOS that if we were going to have any hope of shipping either of them, we’d really have to choose one to do first. The take-away from this is simple: if we were bigger (say double our current size) we would have just done both.
Pocket Casts on Android has outsold the iOS version historically at about 5:1. That means for every 1 iOS version we’ve sold, 5 were sold on Android. The Android version also costs $1 more, so we’re making more per transaction as well. The reasons for this are a blog post on their own, but it’s a fact.
On Android there is no native podcasting solution, and we see a massive potential to fill that space. There are other apps out there, but we feel we have what it takes to become the dominant podcasting app on that platform.
Team rivalries should be left on a sports field. There’s no reason not to launch on Android first or iOS first in 2013. Both are massively viable platforms full of users who want to pay for great apps. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. The choice of platform all comes down to where your users are, and which one makes more sense for the kind of app you’re launching. It’s no longer a clear-cut ‘always iOS first’ world.
Let’s be honest, 2 years ago Android really sucked. The OS was a mess, the store was a mess, the SDK was a mess and the hardware was a mess. Today all that has changed, and it’s an amazing platform. That said overall the app quality on iOS is still far higher than Android, as developers catch up with all these new changes. There’s a point coming soon when Android will be full of high-quality apps, but there’s a gap in the market right now for small developers like us who are passionate about design to create something a cut above the rest. In short it’s currently easier for a good app to stand out on Android than it is on iOS.
So there you go, a short and sweet explanation of why we did what we did. Once version 4.0 is out on Android (countdown available here), we’ll be working on the iOS one next. We won’t be starting from scratch since a few months of development has already gone into that version, but there’s still a lot to be done. If you’re fascinated by the Android vs iOS development process, there’s a great interview with me available here.
For the past six months we’ve been working on something really big and, judging by the constant emails and tweets we get, it’s no secret what that something is. Today we’d like to talk a little about the upcoming release of Pocket Casts 4, on Android.
So what’s new in Pocket Casts 4?
- Completely redesigned, completely awesome, modern Android user interface.
- Tablet support. We’ve targeted Nexus 7 and 10, and it looks great on others too.
- Cross-device syncing of your subscriptions, playlists and play states on every Android device you own. We *love* this feature.
- Remote backup. You can now drop your phone in a toilet and not lose your podcasts. Buying a new phone and setting it up has never been easier.
- Actual smart dynamic playlists. Want a list of every unplayed, downloaded podcast? Right here. How about a list of video episodes that you haven’t downloaded yet? Easy. Manual playlists are here as well for the super picky among you.
- A lot more. But we’re not telling the rest until we release it. 😉
We’re going to be shipping it on Wednesday the 27th of February and it will be a free update if you own version 3 on Google Play.
Version 4 for iOS will be out later this year (Hey! We’re a team of just three people. Give us a break!), and yes you’ll be able to sync between iOS and Android, finally bringing peace to the OS wars!
We think its the most powerful and beautiful way to listen to podcasts on any platform. We know you’ll love it and we can’t wait to get it into your hands.
Today Apple released their own podcasting application for iOS. This was widely rumoured, though it still seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise. Naturally a lot of people have asked us about how we feel about being ‘sherlocked’ (a fun term dating back to an app called ‘Watson’ which Apple copied, and bundled into Max OS X as ‘Sherlock’). Our reaction to the rumours was of course trepidation and fear, since Apple can play ‘dirty’ and do all sorts of things with iOS apps that we as third-party developers are not allowed to do. The app that they released today though, made us very happy.
Apple’s app is quite pretty to look at, and it does a nice job of separating podcasts out of iTunes so in that sense they’ve done the podcasting community a great service. Once you play with their app for more than 5 minutes though, you realise it’s little more than that. It’s literally the features they once had inside the Music and iTunes applications bundled into iOS, moved into their own application. As the maker of a podcasting app, we realise this sounds dis-ingenious, so please, allow us to elaborate.
Let’s pretend that I’m a podcast fan (which I am, so that part is easy) and I’m out to find a podcasting application. Logically (for me at least) I’d try the free Apple one first. Here are some of the things that are immediately annoying about it:
- There’s a 50MB limit on downloads over 3G. Case in point Macbreak Weekly came out today, it was 50.3MB. Can I download it?
- When I play a podcast, I like to be able to see where I’m up to. The now playing screen Apple has is pretty, but doesn’t tell me that. You can tap the artwork to get a progress bar but even that doesn’t have times on it, you actually have to start scrubbing to get them. Once you do the times stay, but they don’t update at all…which seems a bit silly.
- I like to be able to skip adverts really quickly. Apple has a skip back 10 seconds, skip forward 30 seconds. That part would keep me reasonably happy, except the buttons are too close together, and I’d struggle to hit them accurately in my car, which is where I listen to podcasts for over an hour a day.
- I also listen to podcasts that don’t come out on a regular basis, and I’d like the app to send me updates when a new episode comes out, the Apple app can’t do that, I have to open it to get it to refresh.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “You’re purposely focussing on all the things you’re app does well, because you want to point out how great it is. That’s not fair”. You’re right, and you’re wrong. We built our app because we’re avid podcasts fans. We spent a long time agonising over all the little details that we wanted in an application to make our podcast experience pleasurable, rather than painful. So yes, the Apple app is missing things our app has, and yes I’ve pointed out some of them, but for good reason: these are all features we wanted, nay, demanded.
So why would you buy our app over the Apple one? Do you even need to? If you’re a person who listens to only a few podcasts every now and again, you can probably get by with the Apple app just fine. It’s very capable, it’s nicely designed, it’s clean, it’s minimal. But if you want more, here’s the things you’d get with our app:
- Push notifications when new episodes comes out, handy if like me you can’t keep track of when new shows are meant to come out:
- Giant skip buttons (hidden by default, come up when you tap them) for easy skipping in the car. Also handy is the amount back and forward is configurable. Personally I prefer 45 seconds forward, 10 back. Two taps when Tech News Today starts gets me straight to the content every time 🙂
- Server side podcast parsing. Now this is something as a user I wouldn’t think I’d need, but being able to update all 30 of my podcasts in 1 second, vs 1 minute for Apple’s app saves me bandwidth and time. We’re also the only app in iOS to do this.
- Being able to play a video podcast, as audio. All to often I download a video podcast, but then want to play it while doing something else on my phone. The Apple app stops the video the second you back out of it or press your home button. Pocket Casts automatically switches to playing the audio from the video file, allowing you to keep listening.
- Being able to play a podcast while it’s downloading is also very handy, it means you get the best of streaming and downloading. So this morning I was dropping my son off at school, and a new Macbreak Weekly came out. I was out on 3G, so I just tapped download before I hopped back in the car, about 20 seconds later it’s ready to play, and I get to keep the file afterwards so I don’t need a network connection next time I go to play it. Update: I’m told Apple’s app actually supports a slight hybrid of this mode. Where it will stream and download at the same time, then switch to the downloaded version when the download is done. I can’t confirm this, but you’d still be out of luck if it’s over 50MB and you’re on 3G, just like I was in the example below.
I could literally go on all day, but here’s a few more of my favourite features of our app:
- Variable playback speeds (1x, 1.2x, 1.5x, 2x) – Apple has just slow, normal and fast.
- Playlist, choose the order in which you want to play your episodes. Handy when you’re on a plane. Queue up some episodes in the order you want, put your headphones in and your phone never needs to leave your pocket.
- Show notes, one of the most crucial parts of listening to any podcast, and yet as far as I can tell Apple has left them out completely.
- Handy Settings: want to delete a podcast automatically when you’re done. No sweat. Want to configure how your headphones should work with the app, Pocket Casts can do that too. Apple’s app is locked into triple tap to jump back 10 seconds, double tap to skip to the next podcast. In Pocket Casts we have the more sane default of having double-tap skip forward, which is a lifesaver for skipping adverts when you’re phone is in your pocket and should you choose you can have the headphones skip whole episodes instead.
- Manually add shows: every now and again you’ll come across a podcast that isn’t in iTunes. In Apple’s app your out of luck but in ours you can paste in the feed URL and be on your way.
The 3.2 update for iOS is out, go grab it. Highlights include:
- Added variable speed video playback, tap fast forward to speed up, rewind to slow down
- Filter buttons on the episodes list page are now configurable, hold down your finger on one, and choose what you want displayed. You can even bring back the old Everything I Haven’t Downloaded view 🙂
- Settings for stopping the app initiating downloads and streaming while on 3G -> Handy for those with small data caps
- the app will now auto-switch to downloaded episode if you’re streaming or progressively playing when a podcast finishes downloading
- configuration option for whether you want your headphone/bluetooth/lock screen controls to jump through a podcast, or control the playlist
- Enhanced podcasts with many images per chapter are now supported
- More information sent to stereos for your viewing pleasure
- Many performance improvements, bug fixes, and other smallish enhancements (were’s the fun if we tell you what they all are!)
- Bonus 1000 points if you read all the way to here. Points are redeemable for more points in future.