Managing your podcast subscriptions on the iPhone and iPod touch while on the go and without having access to your computer is not exactly an enjoyable experience. Last year, Apple rejected Alex Sokirynsky’s Podcaster from the App Store because it duplicated “the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes.” Now, however, Podcaster has returned to the App Store as RssPlayer (iTunes link), which brings back most of Podcaster’s features, though with some frustrating concessions to Apple’s iPhone SDK.
Apple’s own implementation of over-the-air podcast downloads on the iPhone and iPod touch is haphazard at best. Not only do you have to switch between the iPod and iTunes applications, but the iPhone also doesn’t allow you to download files over 10mb, which is a serious limitation given that most podcasts are far bigger than that. The iPod app also can’t go out and download new shows for you without having to go to the iTunes app first.
RssPlayer is a step in the right direction, and we are happy that Apple has finally allowed it into the App Store. The app does a lot of things right, but it also has to abide by Apple’s stringent restrictions.
Compared to Apple’s own podcast implementation, RssPlayer is a major step forward. You can check for new episodes right from the app, stream audio to the device without having to first download the show, and you can even download password-protected feeds. The app also displays show notes and has some other basic functions like marking episodes as played or deleting a download.
The app still has its limitations, however. There is no way to search for feeds, for example. You have to enter the URL of the podcast feed by hand (including the ‘http://’). You can also point the app to an OPML file with your podcast subscriptions. Starting with the next version, RssPlayer will also allow you to simply click on a podcast feed in Safari and automatically subscribe to it in the app.
Far more damaging, however, is the complete lack of playback controls. We don’t know if Alex decided to leave these out as a concession to Apple, but we can’t believe that the developers of an audio playback application would deliberately leave this basic functionality out. According to the developers, this feature will return the next version of RssPlayer.
Because Apple insists that the apps only function within their own sandbox environment, your subscriptions won’t appear in the iPod application and the audio will stop when you exit the application (though playback automatically resumes when you re-open RssPlayer).
In most respects, RssPlayer is a major upgrade over Apple’s built-in podcast player, but the downsides of having no playback controls and no podcast directory make it a bit hard to recommend the app just yet. If you are already frustrated by Apple’s podcast support, however, the $1.99 for the application is money well spent, especially once the Apple approves the new versions that iron out most of the bugs we mentioned above.