The Beauty of (Mostly) Apple-Free Podcast Consumption

Let me begin by saying that I’m an Apple guy. I use Apple computers pretty much exclusively. I have an iPhone and an iPad, both of which I love and use like crazy. I don’t doubt that many of you fine people reading this would probably fall into a similar category, but I wanted to make my stance and perspective clear before continuing. Mmkay? Mmkay.

I love me some podcasts. Before I started working at home, podcasts were what made my 40-minute commute bearable. The iPhone — my primary audio playback device that isn’t an actual computer — has the ability to play podcasts (obviously) and, when synced with iTunes, I was always up to date with the latest episodes of my favorite shows. It was a pretty slick little setup that many of you probably also utilize for your podcasting needs, and one that I made use of for several years. That is, until, I started to find a few little annoyances. The two that irked me the most are:

  1. The inability to subscribe to and update individual podcasts independently of iTunes
  2. Having to wait for iTunes to refresh its podcast feeds for new episodes to show up (even though they’d been released before — many hours before, in some cases).

I have a few shows that I never ever miss and, to the extent I can help it, will begin listening to immediately after they’re released. This is when my second point above became a serious annoyance. A podcaster would announce that he/she’d published a new episode on Twitter and I would, periodically over the next several hours, visit the podcast in iTunes on my iPhone to see if the new episode were available. The thing is, once the podcaster publishes the episode, you can download it immediately — unless you’re waiting on iTunes’ molasses-laden ass to update. This is absolutely a first-world, spoiled-white-guy problem, but it bugged me nonetheless. Until I found Instacast.

Instacast is a self-contained podcast consumption tool for the iPhone. It allows you to manage your subscriptions to podcasts and play back episodes (audio and video) without ever having to dance with iTunes. It also allows you to subscribe directly to the RSS feed that powers the podcast, which means that new episodes are available as soon as the podcaster puts them up on the web. It does all of this with a really spiffy UI and it’s very actively developed; new features are built and released regularly and they’re very attentive to customer feedback. I’d venture to say that this is one of my top 5 iPhone apps *ever*. It’s that good.

Being a Man about Internet, I will also come across random audio files that I’d like to listen to. If the producer offered these files as downloads (as opposed to displaying a flash-based video player on their Web site), my previous workflow was to download them to my Dropbox on my Mac, wait for them to be uploaded to Dropbox’s servers, then download the audio in the Dropbox app on my iPhone (by marking it as a “favorite”). After that, I’d be ready to listen to it, but the audio player in Dropbox doesn’t remember where I stopped listening to a long piece of audio, so I’d be forced to either scrawl down the minute I stopped listening or take a screenshot of the Dropbox player. If this sounds like an incredibly janky process, that’s because it really is (this isn’t a knock against Dropbox, by the way — their audio player is just fine and my whining here isn’t about their product).

Enter Huffduffer, a web site that will create a podcast for you from the random bits of audio you find around the web. If I, say, come across a particularly interesting recording of Martha Stewart doing her best Gilbert Gottfried impression, chances are I’m not going to want to go to the trouble of subscribing to the Martha Stewart Impressions podcast just to hear that one episode. So, I browse directly to the episode’s web page and click “huffduff it” in my browser’s bookmark bar. Fill out a few fields and it’s been added to my Huffduffer podcast which, incidentally, is one of my subscriptions within Instacast. From there, I can listen to it in a bonafide podcast player (which remembers where I stop it) along with all of my other “real” podcasts.

With the discovery of these two tools, I’ve been able to completely eliminate all of the finicky parts of my podcast-listening process (including iTunes) and the whole kit-n-kaboodle set me back a grand total of two dollars and about 30 minutes of setup time.

Some recommended podcasts, since we’re talking about it and everything:

Image courtesy of Colleen AF Venable


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