First Impression: Apple's new "Podcasts" app

Today Apple released a standalone "Podcasts" app for iOS devices capable of iOS 5.1. While it finally brings the ability to subscribe to feeds directly on your device, it falls short of many other podcatching clients available on the App Store, including my own personal favorite, Downcast.

In recent months, Apple's in-house software developers (led by this guy) have tended to favor skeuomorphism over functionality. The leather calendar app? Skeuomorphic. (Read: useless eye-candy)

Tragically, this is also the case with "Podcasts". Too many nights were spent designing and coding the reel-to-reel look of the playback screen while few were spent implementing features that normal end-users would consider "useful." So, we're left without support for playlists, show-notes, and RSS feeds for podcasts that aren't available on iTunes, to name a few.

It's not all bad, though. "Podcasts" finally brings the ability to subscribe without the use of iTunes on the desktop. Shows can also be streamed directly or downloaded for playback offline. But it's the lack of one particular feature - iCloud support, that really sours me on the entire app. iTunes may not be necessary for subscribing, but no iCloud means you WILL need iTunes for syncing between devices.

Steve Jobs announced iCloud at WWDC just over a year ago (in what would be one of his last public appearances) as the service that would keep all your devices in sync. This effectively demoted the PC to "just another device", instead of "the hub for your digital life". iCloud has since become one of the marquee features of iOS 5 and Mac OS Lion, and support for it has since been baked into Apple's iOS versions of iWork and iLife. Not including iCloud support in the Apple-branded "Podcasts" app, when several 3rd party offerings already do so (including Downcast), strikes me as a sort of slap-in-the-face for Steve Job's vision of what iCloud was supposed to be and what it was supposed to do for our digital lifestyle. Right now, as far as podcasts go, the PC just got re-promoted, since it's once again required for syncing podcasts and playback positions between devices.

I see this "Podcasts" app as the first real evidence that Steve Jobs is no longer around. He would never have allowed such a half baked product to see the light of day, especially when it damages the still fledgling ecosystem that they're trying to create with iCloud.

"Podcasts" is a free download on the App Store, but I'd advise you to stick with one of the 3rd party offerings like Downcast or Instacast.