Podcaster for iPhone: It’s Available! It’s Good!

A developer does an end run around the App Store, with a program that's worth the hassle.

By  |  Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 12:33 am

On Saturday, I wrote about Podcaster, the iPhone podcast-listening app which Apple refused to add to the iPhone App Store on the grounds that it duplicated functionality in iTunes. I said it sounded cool. And I now know I was right–because I’ve been enjoying using it tonight.

As reported by Sarah Perez over on ReadWriteWeb, Podcaster developer Alex Sokirynsky has used the iPhone’s “ad-hoc” distribution feature, designed to help enterprises install custom apps, to make Podcaster available outside the walled garden that is the App Store. I’m not clear how he’s doing this–I thought that ad-hoc distribution permitted installation of an app on no more than a hundred iPhones. But I followed Sokirynsky’s instructions and ended up with a working copy of Podcaster on my phone.

The process is very, very far from the simple and seamless experience of installing an application via the App Store, although it wasn’t radically more complicated than many shareware purchases I’ve made over the years. You send Sokirynsky a lengthy “identifier” code that identifies your iPhone (it’s available in iTunes) and make a $9.99 “donation” to him via PayPal. He then provisions your iPhone for Podcaster and sends you a link to the app in the form of a Zip file, which you can then download, bring into iTunes, and sync onto your iPhone. He warns that this could take a few days; in my case, it took a bit under six hours from the time I initiated the process until the time I was good to go.

Sokirynsky’s site includes the following warning:

IMPORTANT NOTE: We are giving it away when we receive a donation of $9.99 or more. The program should work for a minimum of one year but since Apple can turn it off remotely, the 1 year installation is not guaranteed. We will do everything in our power to keep the program working. All donations are final and cannot be refunded.

In other words, he makes no promises. And it’s hard to say how Apple might react to this; I don’t know if Sokirynsky is violating the rules for ad-hoc distribution. Or, if he is, whether Apple can or will do anything about it. I hope to heck that I’m not violating any agreement I made with Apple and/or AT&T by using the app.

Bottom line: The iPhone supposedly has a kill switch that lets Apple nuke any app remotely at any time, so I knew from the start that my ten-dollar investment might be wasted.

It is hard to believe that Apple won’t refine ad-hoc distribution to make it as hard as possible for folks whose apps are rejected from the App Store to use it for end runs, though. And I’m unclear why Sokirynsky is apparently the first developer to go this route.

Okay, enough background. Podcaster’s concept is unquestionably cool: It lets you stream or download podcasts directly to the phone across a cell or Wi-Fi connection, without having to sync them from a Mac or PC. (It also works with iPod Touches over Wi-Fi, natch.) Does it live up to the concept? Yes indeed, for the most part.

The nicely-done interface lets you find podcasts by browsing featured ones, popular ones, recent ones, or top-rated ones, or by importing feeds or opml files. The podcasts and associated data appear to come via Sokirysnky’s Podcaster.fm site; I did notice a podcast or two that’s easy to find in iTunes but which I could get into Podcaster only by adding the feed manually. (You can also import your podcast list from iTunes via Podcaster.fm, in theory at least–I tried with my sizable-but-not-enormous podcast lineup, and it rejected my file as being too big.)

You can download or stream podcasts one at a time, or choose an auto-sync option that keeps the ten most recent episodes of a podcast on your phone at all times. Everything works as advertised, and about the only major quibble I have is that it requires too many screen taps to see the description of a particular podcast episode, which in some cases (such as with NPR’s Fresh Air) is used to identify the episode topic.

Oh, and once you start listening to a podcast, Podcaster sends you off to the iPhone’s QuickTime media player to do the actual playing. It’s very slightly less seamless than listening to a podcast in the phone’s iPod example.

Overall, though, I can’t imagine anyone who loves podcasts wanting, at the very least, the option to choose for himself or herself whether to use iTunes, Podcaster, or both. I think it’s an important iPhone application, since it takes the phone even further in the direction of being an autonomous computing and communications device that doesn’t require a computer.

You’d think Apple would actively like applications that show off the iPhone’s gigantic potential. Even if it doesn’t, I sure do–and I hold out hope that Podcaster will make it into the App Store in some form, at some point. For now, I’m glad I gambled the ten bucks to try it out.

Here are a few screenshots from the app, which do at least as good a job as I can of conveying the look, feel, and functionality:


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2 Comments For This Post

  1. robbothan Says:

    I’m pleased that they’ve managed a switcheroo around Apple – I’m increasingly frustrated with Apple and Itunes. Both for the pricing structure, and the decision to limit what we can do with the products that we’ve already paid a premium for. Regarding the Podcasting – I find that itunes regularly doesnt function correctly on podcasts like the DailySearchCast – and so i’ll miss a weeks podcasts because Apple dont allow app’s such as this! What you’ve shown above is a great app- and i’d pay $10 on itunes for this – giving Apple even more profit….

  2. Todd Cochrane Says:

    This is the second podcast application that was rejected. Another was rejected a week earlier..


    Note: We have stopped our companies development of a podcast application