Overcast First Thoughts / Mini Review

Marco Arment released a podcast player iPhone app - Overcast. Marco has had his own podcast series on 5by5 (Build And Analyze), and now is part of Accidental Tech Podcast. Clearly he's passionate about the podcasting industry. Marco blogged about Overcast's release.

I loved this app immediately. It gets so many details right.

Playback

  • Large buttons on playback. NICE! Nothing's worse than small touch targets.
  • the scrubber displays large, and is a large touch target. Interesting that is doesn't have variable-speed scrubbing (which I meh on anyway).
  • an EQ display in 3 places lets you know what's playing: in the main podcast list view, in the podcast details view, and in the now-playing view. It's definitely eye candy, but maybe it helps draw your attention to the currently playing podcast. I don't know. As long as it doesn't impact battery life.
  • each podcast can have its own playback speed, and I use this feature. It's available in most advanced podcast apps, and I'm happy to see it here.
  • on the play screen, I accidentally scrolled the artwork up, and the notes appeared. Hooray. It wasn't immediately obvious, and I frequently use show notes. You can also tap the image and the notes will scroll automatically.
  • the smart speed feature appears to minimize gaps of silence. The number keeps changing even as I hear people talk. I would love to hear more about what's going on underneath.
  • both the lock screen and control center show your configured forward and reverse skip times. This isn't default behaviour on iOS - the developer has to explicitly include this, and I've seen devs/apps screw up the lock screen displays & controls. Nice touch.
  • notably missing is a volume slider. I sometimes use the volume slider on Downcast, but I'm know I'll get used to the physical buttons on the phone.


  • the main podcasts list screen has a perfect balance of album art and meta info. I prefer to see the art as my main navigational cue, and
  • the mini player is visible at the bottom ALL THE TIME. Nice.

  • instead of buttons, you can swipe from the left, and it's much quicker than the back buttons are.
  • menus animate quickly
  • settings are in the right place where you need them. Allow Cellular Downloads is on the downloads page, not buried in the settings page.
  • The podcast episodes list includes both sort-by directions. Useful for finding as many older episodes as the podcast's RSS feed provides.


Discovery

  • The + (add) button at the top of the screen allows you to add podcasts either by RSS, search, or by a list of recommendations.
  • Twitter integration opens up a bunch of neat features. Once you allow Overcast to read your Twitter following list, it displays those people's favorited podcast episodes as 'recommendations from Twitter'. So as you click the Favorite button, either in the show notes, or via the share sheet, you basically help create good signal for others.

Other Benefits

You can manage and play your podcast playlist on the Overcast website too. Here's where the account creation is important.
Episodes retain their play position. The level of integration and details taken care of on v1 are impressive. It's unbelievably well polished, and sets a really high bar for ease of use. All the other podcast apps look instantly dated and fugly.

I've uninstalled Downcast already after 5 mins of using Overcast. Downcast is stuck in the iOS 6 shiny textured look and feel, and is super-cluttered.

If you're already using an existing podcast app, Overcast can read OPML files from those apps. You won't have to spend 20 minutes doing the wasteful search/re-subscribing to podcast feeds in Overcast. No question the best experience I've had transitioning from an old to a new podcast app.

Background on Overcast

Marco talks a bit about why he develops apps, and the reason he started creating a podcast app.