For years I’ve been using Overcast as my primary podcasting app. However, I have recently upgraded my car stereo to an Apple CarPlay stereo and purchased an Apple HomePod. Because of this, I was interested in using the Apple Podcasts app again, primarily because of its Siri integration. So for the last few weeks I’ve been using Apple Podcasts, but this morning I switched back to Overcast. Here are a few reasons why and things I learned along the way:
Siri Integration is Useful
Siri integration works pretty swell with the Apple Podcasts app. If I say, “Hey Siri, play podcast Mac Power Users,” it starts right up and plays the most recent episode (usually … see below). That worked both with my HomePod and in my car. Starting a podcast with your voice is pretty great. I had no instance where Siri played the wrong podcast.
However, Siri got the right podcast but the wrong episode a couple of times. For some reason, it would start playing last week’s episode instead of this week’s episode. The first note on this is that despite talking to Siri at length, I never figured out how to tell Siri to change to a different episode. If I said, “Next episode,” it played the next older episode. But when it started lower in the stack, I couldn’t figure it out. When I checked in the Podcasts app, the current episode was available, and Siri just started one further down in the stack. I never worked out how to fix this with Siri-initiated playback. This happened twice in the two weeks during which I listened to approximately 20 podcasts.
Regardless, Siri integration remains, in my opinion, Apple Podcasts’ killer feature. I sure hope Apple expands Siri to let third-party audio sources, such as podcast players and music services, use this feature. It would make Siri a lot more useful to a lot more people.
The Apple Podcasts App Needs Work
I hadn’t spent serious time with the Apple Podcasts app in several years, and while it is better, the Apple Podcasts app is still kind of a mess. It shows your subscribed shows, but it doesn’t easily let you set playlists. The controls, once you start a podcast, are not intuitive. When I tried to set the play order of multiple podcasts, it gave me constant dialogue boxes. Synchronizing my play position between devices was also slower than I expected for an Apple application.
Apple Podcasts also doesn’t include a lot of the additional features you find in third-party podcast players such as Overcast’s ability to remove dead air between speakers and more granular ability to change the playback speed of the podcast. (The Apple Podcasts app can speed up or slow down just at increments of 0.5x, 1x, 1.5x, and 2x.)
There were also some strange choices made by Apple Podcasts while playing podcasts through a CarPlay device. The next track and previous track buttons on Overcast let you skip forward or backward 30 seconds on the podcast that is playing. If my mind drifts and I miss something good, I like the ability to easily rewind. Apple Podcasts uses those buttons to skip to the next podcast or entirely back to the beginning of the existing one. I realize that is a design choice, but for the way I listen to podcasts, it’s the wrong one.
We Need AirPlay 2
I often listen to podcasts while doing trivial work at my desk. With this experiment, I was spoiled by listening to podcasts through the HomePod, triggering them with Siri. They sound so much better. Switching back to Overcast, I tried to AirPlay from my phone to the HomePod and found it a lousy experience. I don’t mind the few seconds delay in establishing the connection. What I couldn’t stand was the way it would occasionally drop off and cut off the audio. This made podcasts unlistenable from Overcast to the HomePod. It looks like I’m back to the Overcast website on my Mac until AirPlay 2 shows up.
Starting your favorite podcast with Siri is a great feature, and I took to it quickly. However, all the other baggage that came with the Apple Podcasts app ultimately pushed me back to Overcast. While going through the experiment, I asked myself what were the minimum features I needed from the Apple Podcasts app in order to stick it out. I think I could have put up with the loss of Overcast Smart Speed and even lived with Apple’s goofy decision about CarPlay implementation. The real dealbreakers for me were the user interface in the Apple Podcats app combined with the occasional problem with it playing the wrong episode of a show.
Ultimately, what I’d prefer is for Apple to expand Siri for third-party audio apps so we don’t have to make these kinds of choices.