Living Comfortably in the Instacast Ecosystem

After a few years of dealing with shortcomings of various iOS podcasting apps, I can now finally say that I am happily living in the Instacast ecosystem.

(Fairly) Reliable Syncing

If iCloud has shown anything, it is that syncing is hard. After fighting with iCloud syncing for approximately a year, Instacast developer Vemido moved to its own syncing solution for Instacast 3 for iOS[1]. This was a great move. The new sync is faster and more reliable than any other alternative I have seen, including iCloud. Though there are occasional hiccups in the sync[2], I rarely run into problems if I consistently use my various devices. Also, as an added major benefit, the new syncing solution does not result in the battery drain that I felt was prevalent among iCloud podcast syncing solutions.

Instacast for Mac

Though syncing across my iPhone and iPad was a huge feature, it was actually the release of Instacast for Mac that really made me love the Instacast ecosystem.

I admit, when I first downloaded the Instacast for Mac, I thought I would have little use for a podcast client on my Mac. I was completely wrong. I use Instacast for Mac all the time. Aside from Instacast for Mac’s ability to easily play all of my favorite podcasts, what really makes it such a major part of my podcast listening and managing experience is its excellent podcast and playlist management features. In Instacast for Mac, you can easily drag and drop individual podcast episodes from your podcast subscriptions into the various playlists that you have created. This is especially helpful for dealing with feeds like Grantland’s Pop Culture podcast, where I only listen to 1 out of the 3 or 4 shows that are put in the feed. Before Instacast for Mac, I would have to notice when the one show I actually like was added to the feed, and then manually add it to the playlist in the iOS app via a playlist’s “Add Episode” menu. Since the “Add Episode” menu is just a chronological list of all episodes in Instacast, it could be quite difficult to find the actual episode that I wanted to add if I did not get it within the first day or so of it being available. Now, I can just go to the specific subscription, drag and drop a particular episode to given playlist, and I’m done.[3] This means that I can easily create small, custom playlists whenever I want, something that is especially useful when long car drives are coming up.

Adding episodes to playlists, however, is only one of the excellent podcast and playlist management features found in Instacast for Mac. Tasks such as re-ordering subscriptions and playlists, renaming playlists, and even subscribing to podcasts, seem much easier on Instacast for Mac than they ever were in the iOS version. Of course, what makes these features so important, is that the results are synced almost instantly to your iOS devices.

One (Minor) Remaining Issue – Feed Refresh

The one minor remaining issue that I have with the current Instacast ecosystem is feed refreshing in the various apps. Currently, the refresh mechanism takes approximately 20–40 seconds for my 73 podcast subscriptions.[4] Though that refresh can be annoying when it forces me to wait for that new episode of a given podcast that I know is available, the bigger problem is that this refresh makes the Instacast iOS app unresponsive for about 10–15 seconds when it occurs. Now, iOS 7 will alleviate some of this hassle, with its new background downloading APIs[5], but I think that does not go far enough. Instead, I hope that Instacast implements a server-side refresh of feeds, similar to the one found in Shifty Jelly’s Pocketcasts. Obviously, if Vemedio had to implement this type of server side processing on its own, it could be a time consuming, labor intensive, and resouce-costly process. Thankfully, David Smith, creator of Feed Wrangler, mentioned in a recent interview on the 15 Minutes with… podcast that he felt Feed Wrangler could be easily integrated into podcasting clients for a feed refreshing back end. I think adding “Feed Wrangler feed refresh” as an option in Instacast could be a major performance and, possibly, usability improvement. [6]

Conclusion

Ultimately, the combination of custom Instacast cloud syncing and the release of Instacast for Mac relieved almost all the issues I previously had with iOS podcasting apps. At this point, I feel that I listen to more podcasts then I ever have before, but I spend much less time managing them. Consequently, I had no problem signing up to become an Instacast member. I really enjoy Instacast’s podcast ecosystem and I want to do what I can to help support Instacast’s ongoing development.

If you are someone who enjoys listening to podcasts on your Mac or iOS device, I highly recommend giving Instacast a try. If you are already an Instacast user, then I suggest that you at least consider becoming an Instacast member to help support a great ecosystem of podcasting apps.


  1. Affiliate Link (as are other App Store links in this post).  ↩

  2. For example, my iPad seems to overwrite the played status of certain podcasts if I have not opened the iPad version of the app in a few days. This normally means I have to "Mark as Played’ an episode or two that I listened to a few days ago, but Instacast now thinks is unplayed. It does not happen all the time, but it happens enough to be noticeable.  ↩

  3. I have to point out that implementation of the drag-and-drop functionality in Instacast is especially awesome. If you are viewing “Subscriptions” in the left panel, but drag a single podcast episode over that panel, the panel automatically switches to “Lists” so you can drop that episode into a playlist. It’s brilliant.  ↩

  4. I have managed to cut down my number of subscriptions substantially, from a high of around 150. Now, instead loading Instacast with any feed I think I may want to listen to, I put a lot of podcast feeds into a Feed Wrangler smartstream. I then use the amazing HuffDuffer to build up a custom feed of just episodes from those shows that I want to listen to and I put that HuffDuffer feed into Instacast.  ↩

  5. At this point, there is no reason for Vemedio to implement one of those geo-fencing hacks like Downcast has. Time would be better served making sure Instacast works with the new background API.  ↩

  6. I can see at least two ways that Instacast could integrate with Feed Wrangler. One, Instacast could have an option where you log into an existing Feed Wrangler account, select a particular smart stream, and that smart stream is your subscription list from that point forward. This could obviously result in some interesting usability issues (e.g. can someone update his or her subscription list from both Feed Wrangler and Instacast?, does the initial smartstream selection replace your existing subscriptions or does merge take place?), but it would allow for people who have a Feed Wrangler subscription to leverage Feed Wrangler in Instacast, while allowing those who do not have a subscription to still use Instacast’s built in RSS refresh functionality. Alternatively, Instacast’s sole method of feed refresh could be offloaded to the Feed Wrangler cloud, no individual user accounts would be required, and Vemedio and David Smith could work on some kind of revenue split for copies of Instacast that are sold. This would probably take more custom integration with Feed Wrangler than the other alternative. Of course, I am probably missing a much better alternative, and I have complete confidence in Vemedio and David Smith to develop an awesome feed refresh solution, should Vemedio choose to go this route.  ↩