Improvements to Apple’s Podcast Application Don’t go Far Enough

Posted on July 30, 2012

Apple has just released an update to their much criticized Podcast application that attempts to address some of the more heavy criticisms.

When we reviewed the application previously, we were rather positive towards the overall look and feel as well as the general UI concepts driving the application. After spending more time with the app, those comments still remain valid. However, what we have noticed has been the application’s habit of freezing, particularly when updating.

So, what are the major changes that Apple has brought with this update. Here is the total list of changes published by Apple:

• Significant improvements to performance and stability
• Podcasts in your library now show the number of unplayed episodes
• Top Stations now show the podcast title if artwork is missing
• Playback speed is now remembered when playing the next episode
• Fix for a problem where the Subscribe button is inactive
• Resolution of an issue where Top Stations artwork may not appear

In our option, there are two major items in the list that are of interest: performance improvements and unplayed podcast count.

Performance improvements are difficult to measure, the application certainly feels faster, but it doesn’t feel fast. It still locks up just after start-up, and periodically afterwards, while it updates. This is not a great user experience. It is understandable that the app needs to update before the user can access it to ensure that they have an updated list of podcasts, but communication to the user that this is what is going on should be much more explicit.

We would suggest an over layer which blocks the user from navigating through the application if the application will stop responding to the user’s touch. In its current state, the application advertises that it is available for use, but it isn’t – it just doesn’t respond.

The second major change to the application has been the addition of podcast count badges. You can tell why they hadn’t been included in the first release, they are just plain ugly, and not really all that useful. In a sense, I want to know how many new podcasts I have. These ugly circles show how many unread podcasts there are available in the application.

Apple could have spent more time here looking for more visually subtle ways of adding the podcast count. Maybe having the circles as being much more grey and embossed, so they fade into the background would have kept the original look and feel much more intact. Intelligent and automatic sorting could be a great way to notify which podcasts have been most recently updated too, or slightly varying the background colour of the badge would be another alternative.

What’s really striking about this is that Apple obviously invested a lot in making a very good application, but stopped short of making it great in some very critical ways. A question is therefore left on one’s tongue: “What’s going on in Cupertino?”