Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Overcast

Marco Arment has released his much-anticipated new podcast app, Overcast, and Macworld’s Jason Snell is mighty impressed:

I’ve used just about every iPhone podcast app out there, most of them for fairly large amounts of time. Overcast is the one I’m going to stick with—for now, anyway. The podcast-app space keeps changing and is quite competitive, but Overcast best fits the way I listen to podcasts today.

Arment also wrote up a fascinating inside look at the development of the app and the theory behind it:

Podcast adoption has always been driven primarily by ease of listening, which has improved dramatically with the rise of smartphones, podcast apps, and Bluetooth audio in cars. When it’s easier to listen, not only do more people listen, but listeners find more opportunities to listen. There’s still plenty of potential to help people who already like podcasts listen to more of them.

I’ve been noodling around with Overcast since it was released today, and I am absolutely smitten. I’ve made known my disdain for the rambling style of so many podcasts, so I only really listen to a handful, and not on a regular basis.

For a start, Overcast is an exquisitely designed app. There aren’t many apps this well designed in any category. There are the big things, like the excellent typography and the gorgeous directory view. But there are littler things, like the ability to “scroll” the album artwork on the playback screen and see more information about the episode, as culled from the RSS feed.

There’s one notable design oddity: the toolbar at the top is a little reminiscent of a Mac app’s toolbar rather than an iOS app. I understand the limitations of integrating the playback bar into the lower portion of the app, but that doesn’t make it not entirely odd. Not bad, just different.

Your standard podcast app stuff is all here: subscriptions, time skipping, sleep timer, and so forth. But there are much smarter features, too. Most podcast apps have a playback speed control, but it’s kind of “dumb” — it just makes things go faster. Which is what you kind of expect, but perhaps it doesn’t work quite right. Say you’re listening to an episode of the best podcast of all time, and you notice that Merlin Mann talks hella fast, and Adam Lisagor talks hella slow. Mann squishes words together, while Lisagor tends to leave long gaps. Wouldn’t it be awesome if your podcast app could compensate for both? Overcast has a really great feature called Smart Speed which does exactly that. It works by reducing the amount of dead air, and it’s constantly changing its playback speed to compensate. It’s really, really nice.

The real test for me is going to be over the coming weeks: will I listen to podcasts more? Of course, there are a lot of reasons I haven’t been listening to podcasts; a lack of a favourite podcasting app is just one. But I’ve put Overcast on the first page of my home screen (sorry Strava) and I’m going to give it a try.