Sunday, October 23, 2011

iOS 4 vs iOS 5: podcasts

What was named the iPod app under iOS 4 on the iPad was split into a Music app and a Videos app under iOS 5 on the iPad.  The Music app functionality in iOS 5 on an iPad is SIGNIFICANTLY different from, and inferior to, its former functionality, at least with respect to podcasts.

Having upgraded my iPod to iOS 5, for the
most part I have not noticed any loss of podcast functionality compared to iOS 4.  I think the following is a new iOS 5 improvement:  when playing a podcast while a Passcode Locked iPod is in sleep mode, press the Home button twice to bring up selected touchscreen controls which can be used without unlocking the iPod.  Back, Pause, Forward, and Volume are available.  Back and Forward allow you to move between consecutive (previously downloaded) episodes of a podcast series
, although according to my recollection, under certain circumstances (related to the actual podcast?), Back would start the same podcast over from the beginning.  The iPod's physical volume buttons, which are always active, are often still easier to use than the touchscreen volume slider, at least when starting from sleep mode.

2/8/12: I just stumbled upon what I think is another favorable change in iOS 5.0.1 from iOS 4.  If you have 2 or more podcasts from a single series saved, when the last one is finished playing, the first one starts playing.  According to my recollection, under iOS 4, the podcasts would stop playing after the last one in a series.  This new(?) behavior may not be everyone's preference, but since I mostly listen to podcasts repeatedly for French language instruction, I'm glad for such podcasts to play in an infinite loop.

7/8/12: My blog entry about the iOS 5.1 Podcasts app. Usage of that app may make some of what I've written here obsolete, but I'm not planning to revise this blog entry any further related to that.

If you manually subscribe to podcasts strictly over-the-air (i.e., you don't use pc-based iTunes for any part of such subscribing), getting those podcasts can be more hassle in iOS 5 on an iPad than on any of:
  • iOS 4 iPad
  • iOS 4 iPod
  • iOS 5 iPod
For the 3 (French language instruction) podcasts I follow, I manually download each episode directly over WiFi to my iPod, typically once a week, downloading all 3 podcasts' new episodes at the same time. I keep each episode forever, and have listened to a number of them more than once -- repetition is helpful for learning languages. I suppose I can count myself lucky that I'm manually subscribing to only 3 podcasts on my iPod, and not more, otherwise I'd have more manual downloading work.

Under iOS 4 on an iPod/iPad or under iOS 5 on an iPod:

If you have many episodes of a podcast series within the iPod's Music app (or the iPod app on an iOS 4 iPad), an effective way to get directly to the bottom of the list is to go back to all podcasts (tap the left-pointing Podcasts button), then select the desired podcast. If the list is long, this is faster than repeatedly swiping down a long list of episodes. Make mental note of the last episode's title and/or date; one of those should be sufficient to identify on the upcoming iTunes app screen what the next episode will be. Tap the Get More Episodes... link underneath the list, which will take you directly to the podcast within iTunes, then get your desired episodes.
12/31/11: Under iOS 5.0.1 on an iPod, this technique has worked less consistently than under iOS 4. Doing my usual weekly consecutive loading of episodes from 3 different podcast series, I have periodically needed to explicitly eject the iTunes app from RAM before it will do what I want when I tap the Get More Episodes... link. On one occasion, while downloading the second podcast series' (half-hour) episode, the iTunes app crashed when I simultaneously tried to have it display the new podcasts from the third podcast series. My iPod's total podcast episodes (including some outside my primary 3 podcast series) number around 500 now, but I don't believe that should really have impacted the robustness of this technique.

As usual, you can press the time display (hh:mm) in the top middle of the iPod to go directly to the top of the list.

Under iOS 5 on an iPad:

There seems to be no way to go directly from a podcast within the Music app to its matching section of the iTunes app (the better, perhaps, for Apple to expose you to whatever is being prominently advertised on the "front page" of iTunes). You have to go to the Podcasts section, then type in the name of the podcast for which you're looking, rather a drag compared to what you could do previously.

The visual presentation and handling of podcasts have changed, worse in basically every way:

  • There is no way to see the text that the podcast creator has included! The full text of the One thing in a French Day podcast is included and is visible in the Music app (see my image here) on an iPod (the iPod app in some non-iPod environments), but it's not visible in iOS 5.0 on an iPad!! (Yes, IF you are connected to the Internet, you could go to her website for the text, but why should you have to, when she already included it with the podcast?)
  • There are no options to change the speed to 1/2 or twice normal (6/2/12: This capability was restored in iOS 5.1.). The speaker for one particular (English language) podcast I downloaded speaks very slowly, and doubling his speed was a distinct and totally intelligible improvement.
  • There is no button to rewind 30 seconds (6/2/12: This capability was restored in iOS 5.1.). I rarely used that, but there's always a chance it might have been handy.
  • Tap-hold on the new rewind and fast forward buttons does not seem to work very smoothly. Ah, I later saw that those buttons were there under iOS 4, and I never noticed them. They apparently work similarly under iOS 4 and iOS 5: tap-hold on either one for a longer time and you will skip backward or forward, respectively, by a larger and larger amount the longer you hold.
  • Although I never noticed it before working on this blog entry, iOS 4 also provides an additional, vertically compact (one line per episode), list view of the episodes alphabetized by title (not necessarily the same order as in the vertically less compact view showing the "album art"), showing what # each one is in the list, showing the total time, and allowing you to assign 1-5 stars to an episode. This additional list view is gone in iOS 5. In iOS 5, tap the small album art to the right of the fast forward button, tap on the now-big album art, and the list icon button can be accessed.

In iOS 5.0 on the iPad, Apple is incorrectly recording video storage under the Music app, instead of under the Videos app where it belongs.  I have 23 video podcasts saved according to Settings > General > About, but Settings > General > Usage > Video (spelling is inconsistent with the VideoS name of the app, but icon is the same) shows "No Data", which is incorrect.

An interesting article and subsequent comments about iOS 5 and podcasts:
And a similarly interesting follow-up:

The most exhaustive detail (article and comments) I have seen about the worsened functionality in the iOS 5 Music app on the iPad:

I saw mention there of more lost functionality, which I subsequently experienced myself:
  • You can no longer play episodes of the same podcast continuously.  I used to be able to play multiple episodes of Car Talk or Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me continuously, typically while doing household tasks.  Now I have to start playing each episode separately.  At least those shows are hour-long ones.  Separately starting each of my 3-5 minute French language instruction podcast episodes would be intolerable; fortunately, I normally listen to those on my iPod, which can still play them continuously.


  1. Thanks for your thorough review. First google mail, now iOS5. Who are they testing these changes on? I just started listening to podcasts at 2x. I'm so mad they removed this feature from the iPad. I do like tabbed browsing, but that is it. music is an awful ux.

  2. Along with Safari improvements (I wrote a little bit about Safari's Reader and Reading List here), backup to iCloud was a big plus for me with iOS 5. To have the device backup automatically (under certain conditions) while charging is a big win.

    Aside from Safari and iCloud backup, few of the iOS 5 changes seem to have materially improved my own usage. The Music app was without a doubt the most prominent negative for me from iOS 5, but overall I would choose iOS 5 over iOS 4. I do wish Apple would revert the Music app to its former functionality, but I'm not holding my breath.


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