Moving Away from Pocket Casts

Posted on March 16, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Music + Videos with 36 Comments

After several days of experiments, I think I’m ready to move away from Pocket Casts, which no longer meets my podcasting needs. That said, this is an app choice I’m going to keep evaluating moving forward, as I believe there are some changes coming that could make me rethink things yet again.

First, let me just get this out of the way: For now, I’ve chosen a solution called Castbox that appears to offer everything that I used to like about Pocket Casts. It’s clean and simple, and it works well. It automatically downloads new episodes and then automatically cleans up—and clearly denotes—those episodes I’ve already listened to. It found all of the podcasts I listen to (where many podcast apps did not) and it syncs them, and my progress, via the cloud.

It also works everywhere that matters, including on Android, iPhone, and the web, key for a person like me who is always testing platforms. (Castbox also works with Amazon Echo/Alexa, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Apple Watch, and there’s even a PWA!)

I know. It seems like most of that—if not all of that—should be true of any podcasting client. And yet, the latest version of Pocket Casts really messes up the basics, and it’s become unbearable to me to use it any further. Plus, there are new bugs, including one that impacts me every single day: The Google Cast/Chromecast icon that lets me play podcasts through a smart speaker just disappears from the Now Playing screen.

And sure, Pocket Cast may eventually get its act together. The latest update to the app notes that the firm has received a lot of negative feedback about the latest version and that it is committed to improving it. But Pocket Casts 7 has been in beta since last Fall, and they should never have shipped the update in this state. I’m happy to look at it again, but like a lot of Pocket Cast users, I feel really burned by the way this terrible update was pushed through despite all the obvious problems. (Just look at all the reviews from long-time users. It’s a shit-show.)

I may also go in a different direction. If Google Podcasts would just pick up automatic episode downloading capabilities, a key and obvious feature, I would consider that. OK, that and support for a Dark mode. And support for iOS; this app is only on Android.

And I will continue testing other solutions. I’m open to changing my habits and using a music-based app, like Spotify or Google Play Music, for podcasts. Readers have sent me dozens of app suggestions, and I’ve tried most of them, and I will keep looking. Plex is a possibility, and I feel like that’s something I should be looking at again anyway.

Ultimately, what this episode has reminded me of is that different people have strong preferences for different kinds of apps, and that, on the flip side, we all tend to get bogged down by what we’re used to. There are plenty of people who have no issues at all with the latest version of Pocket Casts, which still sort of amazes me. And there are plenty of people who don’t—and won’t, know that they’re found out about it—like Castbox, for any variety of reasons. (The big one is that some key features, like the ability to bypass the Discover page and use your Library page as the default view, require a 99-cent-per-month subscription. Which I’m not paying. I don’t mind paying for an app. But I don’t want to pay for this forever.)

But I do appreciate all the feedback. If anything, I was a bit overwhelmed by it: My initial post about this topic received over 100 comments, and I fielded dozens more on Twitter. (I probably missed more still, thanks to the nature of Twitter.) So thanks for that. I know that my choice will be polarizing, because these things are always polarizing, and because of the personal preferences I note above. But this was a healthy reminder to keep trying new things and not just accept that the current way I’m doing things is correct or ideal.

 

So I will keep looking. But that’s where I’m at right now.

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Comments (36)

36 responses to “Moving Away from Pocket Casts”

  1. beatnixxx

    One thing the new version of Pocketcasts does is sync the Up Next to Echo devices, so I can listen at home on smart speaker, then pick it up in the car where I left off.


    I'm not aware of any other app except maybe Stitcher Premium that does that so far.

  2. Jason Pawlow

    The Google podcast app does have auto download. It's the first option when you click on the settings icon.

  3. Travis

    It is kind of funny that one can complain this much about a podcast app. Honestly I hope for more from thurrott.com.

  4. Divodd

    The problem here is not the feature set (which I happen to love), it's the Windows Vista-esque development style where they froze development for 2 years and then dumped a massive, somewhat buggy, and overly ambitious change that users were not prepared for. If they just introduced some of these features piecemeal, there would probably be less complaining

  5. Stooks

    I used Pocket Casts when I had to carry a Android phone and iPhone for work reasons (MDM resposibilties). Now that I have passed that responsibility on and only have a iPhone, the built in PodCast app works just fine.


    For the life of me I do not know why anyone would choose any Android phone, but many do so what do I know.

  6. IanYates82

    I've just set up my new s10. Good time to look at a new podcast app - currently I backed up and restored Podcast Addict's settings from my old phone and that's gone well.

    Castbox looks great. However, I'd really like Google Home support. They've got Echo / Alexa. Would really clinch the deal from my perspective, even paying a subscription fee for it!

  7. wocowboy

    What do you get for your $.99 per month FOREVER subscription? Is it syncing across all your devices or something like that? The ability to use your podcast library as the screen that appears when you launch the app seems to be a totally ridiculous thing to charge for, not to mention something I would pay for, which I would not. Like you, Paul, I do NOT like at all some of the recent changes to Pocketcasts. I have really enjoyed using Pocketcasts for years, but the new version completely grunked up the Archiving function to where I just hate the app now, and am quite interested in what you have found as an alternative. I have declared that I will no longer be paying any more monthly fees for ANY software, as this trend has gotten completely out of hand, and it stops now. I will be watching your research with great interest, thanks very much for these articles.

    • mattbg

      In reply to wocowboy:

      0.99/mo is probably to support the sync functionality and ongoing development.


      It's not really tenable to expect to pay once for an app and never pay again - especially if there's a sync service involved. I know Pocket Casts offers that currently. I didn't even have to pay for this recent major upgrade. But there'll be a point where they need to move to a subscription as well.

  8. C0rk

    I've been rocking PocketCasts for awhile and would normally be open to playing with alternatives. However, PocketCasts coming available as a Sonos connected service has been a game changer for me given my investment in that ecosystem of speakers. Syncing of in-progress allowing me to move between phone based headphone listening to my Sonos is awesome.


    Unless there is some easier solution or alternative for podcast mgmt and listening between Android and Sonos... I'll prolly be sticking w/ PocketCasts for the time being in spite of the UI updates in the app which I haven't found problematic.

  9. dkrat

    I just don't see the issues with the new PocketCast app. It is not exactly intuitive and lacks explanations, but once I figured out the changes, I liked the improvements, to include archiving, the queue system, and the player controls.

    • robincapper

      In reply to dkrat:

      Agree, yes it is different but have found it fine apart from occasionally the play screen is slow to refresh after podcast changes. I turned off auto-archive in profile, suspect the way it behaves might be responsible for some of the 'confusion', but also had that (autodelete or whatever it was) off in the old version

  10. harrymyhre

    I tried using Spotify for podcasts but quit right away. Didn’t like the idea of mixing music with podcasts

  11. Willenator

    I stopped using Pocket Casts recently myself. I thought I could roll with the punches and just adjust how I was using it, but the changes have annoyed me to the point that I no longer enjoy using the app. Uninstalling it from my phone was a hard decision.

  12. wright_is

    I'm starting to like Pocket Casts, a little. Now that it is automatically downloading and lining up my podcasts for me on the playlist.

    It is odd, I set the defaults to download and add to playlist, but it didn't work. On Friday I went into the settings for each podcast and changed them from defaults to individually set them to auto download and automatically be placed in the playlist, it now seems to be working.

    Maybe the default settings are somehow borked.

  13. ben55124

    I placed a negative review and dropped my rating to one star on principle. They had a perfectly good ui and messed it up. However I'll stick with pocketcasts. I still get the podcasts I want to hear. I just sigh now when I see the app. Their widget started working again, so between Android auto and widget I rarely see the app.

  14. mattbg

    I don't think the newer PocketCasts UI is an improvement, but to be honest I haven't found it to be an impediment. The status of things seems clear and I'm able to find and play/resume what I need to.


    I've only used it on iOS, where the new UI has been available for awhile. Is it worse on Android?

  15. cseafous

    Thanks for the update Paul. I will check it out.

  16. Richardsona39

    I was interested to try the new version (in particular for the ad hoc episode listen without subscribing feature), but thankful that I'm still on v6 and have auto-update turned off on my phone... Will just hang on to that and see if they revisit the new version, which seems like a massive own-goal for a company that has done such good work.

  17. gardner

    It is unfortunate there is no standards based way of putting podcast state somewhere in the cloud and then have the option to use the best podcast client for each platform.


    Or perhaps there is work here that I am unaware of?


    I would love to use Overcast on iOS, and something else on my mac, and yet other choices on my windows and android devices, and not have to limit myself to one vendor that provides a "good enough" solution across all my devices.

  18. the_real_entheos

    More articles on the best apps to use please. It is painful to wade through the app stores, reading endless and pointless reviews, and paying money for something you can't return after an hour or so. Windows phone had that one right! App stores have almost completely eliminate piracy, yet they still don't let you remove the app in exchange for your money back.


    That and app cost hyperinflation through subscriptions make me puke.

  19. jgraebner

    I'm still genuinely confused by the complaint about having difficulty telling played and unplayed podcasts apart in the new PocketCasts interface. It is visually obvious to me, with unplayed items showing in a much bolder font. I wonder if this is a phone-specific issue or something. I'm using it on a Pixel 3XL.


    Otherwise, part of the reason why the new interface doesn't make much of a difference to me is that I almost exclusively listen to podcasts in my car using Android Auto. That interface is largely unchanged.

    • beatnixxx

      In reply to jgraebner:

      I'm wondering if he's talking about the unplayed episode badges issue. On most of my podcasts I had to go through and at the last played episode, long press and say archive from here, to get the unplayed badge number to match up. It was a minor hassle. Some glitch with the update I think, but once done it's been fine. I honestly don't know what the strong reactions are all about, but everyone's entitled to their opinion.

    • captobie

      In reply to jgraebner:

      I wonder if his played podcasts are auto-archiving. If you’re only seeing unplayed podcasts it could give the illusion that your played podcasts aren’t graying out.

  20. bill_russell

    Ok, so it wasn't just me. I knew it was in beta I guess but it just seemed like the redesign was too overly complicated. Also quite buggy.

    So I just tried out a couple others, preferring something that is cross platform if possible.

    Thanks for the recommendation of Castbox, I'll try that but when on Android I'm happy enough with google podcasts I guess, although not cross platform.

  21. Vladimir Carli

    is there really someone that likes pocket casts 7? It looks like they committed suicide with the last update. A perfect app ruined (for which I paid on several platforms), amazing...

    V.

  22. derylmccarty

    When Jeff Bezos reads this, what is to prevent him from buying or coding a "cast" app a la Audible and use the same delivery approach as the latest Tom Clancy? Or, as is now the case, the latest WSJ. (Truth in advertising, I only listen to/watch: you and Brad, and your competitor Dan on my computer, all else including books I listen to in the car so will "try out" Castbox.) Thanks for the review.

  23. dcdevito

    Meh, I don't like the new PocketCasts UI/UX but I have gotten used to it. At least the Android Auto UI stayed the same, which is where I listen to most of them anyway.

  24. dogzilla

    I've used Pocket Casts for years, my most frequently used app on my phone. I loved it, the new version I rated a 1 star review. In my review, I suggest this new version will appeal to Windows 8 fans. Everything happens by some sort of secret magic. I think just having some sort of user manual might help a lot.


    Thanks for your post, I hadn't heard of the podcatcher you mentioned, I'll look at it. I've been so happy with Pocket Casts for years that I haven't kept up.


  25. datameister

    Normally I like the latest and greatest of anything, but it is somewhat annoying that a lot of developers seem to feel like they are never done. So they keep "improving" a product until it fails to do it's task properly, whether from feature bloat or from always following the latest fashionable look.


    Potential design and technical mistakes are then made more aggravating with the popularity of app stores which make it hard to ignore or roll back updates if they aren't wanted.

  26. Thom77

    I knew the writing was on the wall when NPR bought them out. It started going down hill since then. I had used Pocketcast for years. I have abandoned them too a couple months ago. Podcast apps in general have become bloated and complex to use. I dusted off my Ipad and tried some podcast apps out when my phone started having charging issues and i was amazed to find out how unintuitive and complex the main podcast apps are. Add to that that developers like Marco are now openly bragging and virtue signalling about censoring feeds that they feeeeeeeeeel are (insert subjective weaponized label here).


    The whole podcast scene in general has been hijacked by NPR mainstream PC drivel and advertising $$$ that don't even know the audience of the podcasts. FOX Sports (Ben Maller Show) now has advertising for a Women's fashion podcast on an overnight radio show that barely has any women callers. Also, the Database of podcasts are now basically NPR shows at the top, with Serial being in the top 5 for years now even though they only release content for 2 months a year. I'm calling bull on that.







  27. noelbruns

    A Pocket Cast save (at least for me): I've been a Pocket Cast user for several years and like Paul, was ready to bail, based on confusion related to the new interface. For me, the big problem was the result of seeing many archived podcasts, not knowing what I'd viewed, and being irritated that I was going through this, unnecessarily. I've since tripped over some settings that have resolved this for me. I am now a happy Pocket Cast user, again.


    Within the selected podcast, set the following settings: Auto download: ON, Auto archive: on, with episode limit set. Then, outside of settings, but still within the podcast, you will see a bar that shows "nnn episodes * nnn archived". Click the vertical ellipsis (kind of) to the right, and you will see more settings. There, you can "Archive all" (to hide all the old episodes), and the key - turn off "Show archived episodes".


    If this helps only one person, my life will be complete. Happy podcasting.

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