Posted by: Frank | November 22, 2008

Close But No Cigar

Podcasts are free audio and video files that you can download from Internet sites and listen to on portable media players. They have often been compared to Tivo for radio. The name is associated with iPods (the “Pod” version of Podcasts) because it has been the most popular portable media player, but because most podcasts are standard MP3 files, you can play them on any digital media player.

If you google podcasts you will find that there are a variety of different audio and video “channels” from mainstream broadcasters and hobbyists. It started with hobbyists, some who have turned their podcasts into a full time business, and spread to the likes of NPR and network TV. I really don’t listen to the radio on my way to work, instead I listen to one of a variety of podcasts that I download to my iPod Touch. Most of what I listen to is tech oriented, but I do listen to a few music oriented podcasts.

The problem with listening to podcasts is getting them to the media player. While there are automatic ways to download pocasts to personal computers, there aren’t similar ways to download podcasts to my iPod.

I use iTunes on my Mac to subscribe to the podcasts that I like (which means iTunes automatically checks the podcasts for new episodes and downloads them to my Mac) so I have to connect my iPod to my Mac to download the podcasts. Now, this is such a simple task but it is something I have to remember to do, and with the Wi-Fi capabilities of the iPod Touch, there has been no reason why you should have to connect it to a PC or Mac to download podcasts.

Apple has just released an update to the iPod Touch and iPhone that provides the ability to download podcasts directly to the device without having to connect it to a computer. This feature has been rumored to be coming for weeks, so I have been greatly anticipating it. I have just updated my iPod and while it does in fact provide a way to download podcasts directly to the device, it is a manual operation. There is no way that I can tell (I have checked settings) to have the iPod automatically download the podcasts that I subscribe to whenever it is connected to my Wi-Fi network.

So, I still have to remember to download the podcasts I want to listen to, which means this update is no better than what has already been available. In fact it is worse, there isn’t even a “download all podcasts” option so you have to go into each podcast individually, check to see if there are new episodes, and select them for download.

Close, but no cigar Apple! I will still look for a way to have my podcast subscriptions automatically update to a portable device, and it amazes me that I have yet to find a good solution. There are Windows Mobile solutions, but they also require me to manually initiate an update because they don’t automatically initiate a Wi-Fi connection, and I don’t want use the data service with my cell provider to download these files. There is a program for Android that handles podcasts, but I haven’t tried it because I was anticipating the iPod update.

Apple has made improvements to the iPod Touch to make it a better podcast player. It now automatically starts playing the next episode in a channel where it originally did not, which was a pain when I was listening to a podcast than ended while driving, requiring me to fiddle with the iPod to select another episode. So, I am hopeful that Apple will finally get it, though I am amazed it is taking them this long!

If Apple is listening, this is what I want. I know that one of the problems is that the iPod does not run processes in the background, but you figured out how to work around this for push updates for email and notifications of updates to iPod applications. I would like this same updating capability for podcasts. Ideally, it should automatically download new episodes, but I will live with a simple notification that there are new episodes so long as all I have to do is tap a button to download them. I also want to be able to configure the iPod to automatically delete episodes once I have listened to them so that I don’t run out of storage space.

Because the iPod Touch, along with the iPhone, is supposed to be running a version of OS X, I see no technical reason why these features cannot be provided. It is just a matter of time for Apple’s programmers to build it into the iPod. Now, there is no reason why a third party developer couldn’t provide a podcatching program, but for some reason Apple does not want to allow anyone but them to provide that functionality. All the more reason why we should look to the open environment that Android provides rather than stay in Apple’s walled garden. For now I am going to try out DoggCatcher on my G1.



  1. Let us know at if you run into any problems with DoggCatcher…or if you have any suggestions. We’d be happy to help.

    We don’t yet have the automatic podcast updating working properly but we should be releasing an update shortly that resolves this.


  2. […] Podcasts on the G1 I’ve written here of my disappointment with Apple’s latest release of the iPhone/iPod Touch software’s […]

  3. We released a new version on 11/29 that fixes the automatic podcast updating problem we were having.

  4. This is not a responce. Just some ideas I would like to have on my new g1. 1. To be able to play my mp3 player through my bluetooth headset. 2. Tethering. 3. Record phone conversations. Could you help a brotha out? Thanks

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