For me, the most problematic app change in iOS 6 was the new Podcasts app. The new design made it harder to find which podcasts had episodes that I hadn’t listened to, required more tapping for me to change speeds, and, most unforgivably, didn’t give me a way to see the episode notes for JapanesePod101 and ChineseClass101. Which is really a problem: I spend maybe a fifth of my podcast listening time studying foreign languages, and not being able to read along while I listen is a noticeable handicap.

So, after putting up with it for a few weeks, I looked around for other alternatives. I suppose it’s a bit late to hope that posting this will help other people in the same boat, but: I ended up using Downcast, and I wish I had switched earlier. Nothing super fancy, but it shows me my podcasts in the organization that I wanted, it remembers which ones I like to listen to at 2x speed (basically: all the ones not done by professional radio) and which ones I want to listen to at 1x speed, it restores the episodes notes (really, what on earth was Apple thinking when they removed that?).

But none of that is the big difference compared to the pre-iOS 6 version of the Podcasts app (though remembering the speeds is nice). The big difference is something that I was reluctant to do, namely severing the linkage between podcasts and iTunes. I was reluctant because all my feeds were stored in iTunes and because its interface for managing a bunch of new episodes within a single feed is relatively useful. But really: iTunes is not a good piece of software in general, and it has a long standing bug (inappropriate quadratic algorithm is my guess) causing it to freeze for up to a minute when trying to determine which episodes of a podcast with a huge RSS feed are new. (Maybe you haven’t run into that bug, but the paid feeds for JapanesePod101 and ChineseClass101 trigger it.) So, not having to plug into iTunes every day is rather more of a relief than I expected.

Of course, not plugging in every day meant that I wasn’t backing up my iPhone every day. Which wasn’t a super big deal—I don’t store critical information on the phone itself—but I figured it was an excuse to look into iCloud backups. And there, too, I had a pleasant surprise: iCloud backups work great (and they now mean that my iPad is getting backed up regularly), and, despite the warning when you switch to iCloud backups, it is possible to backup to both iCloud and to iTunes. (The secret is to control-click on the device when it’s plugged into iTunes.) So the upshot is that (with my current regime of plugging into iTunes once a week) I have backups in two places, one of which is offsite, which is a much better practice.

So: yay for cutting cords! (Things Cloud has been a nice surprise in that regard, too.) Boo for the iOS 6 Podcasts app! Yay for Downcast! I mean, Downcast isn’t perfect—there’s a little less space to see liner notes than I’d like, the way you control per-podcast playback speeds makes one slightly weird choice, and in general it doesn’t exactly ooze elegance—but it’s never unpleasant, and is solidly and helpfully functional. And they’ve even fixed one other quirk that was on my initial list of disappointments (rotation lock and turning the phone upside down), so it’s improving. Definitely worth the switch; many thanks to Steve for recommending it.

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