Overcast is a podcast player app that is free in the app store with in-app purchases to unlock additional power features, discussed below. I've been an avid Downcast user across all my platforms but have been using Overcast exclusively for the last month, I doubt I will go back.
Overcast is an app made by Marco Arment, the same guy that created Instapaper (now sold). Marco is well known for creating apps with those features you either didn't realise you needed, or you always said to yourself 'I wish this app had feature x'. Overcast is no different, not so much in the free version but definitely in the additional paid features.
Overcast has an incredibly minimalist and clean design in the spirit of the changes that were derived in iOS7.
The UI is consistent between the iPad and iPhone, note that there is no desktop app. If you wish to listen to your podcasts you can do this via overcast.fm. One of the things I liked about Downcast was the fact it had an OS X app, however, I rarely if ever used it.
Yes you heard that right, you don't need to create one but it sure helps. Why do you need an account? Well, Overcast is cloud powered which offers some distinct advantages most other podcasting apps.
1. Speed, battery life, and data usage*: The servers do the heavy lifting of constantly checking for updates so your device doesn’t need to download each show’s entire feed every few minutes to make sure you get new episodes quickly. The servers send only what’s new to the app, and it only takes a few seconds. This saves substantial battery power and data usage over time.
2. Sync and backup*: Your podcasts and progress are always synced between your devices and overcast.fm. You can log into your Overcast account from a new or restored device and everything’s right where you left it.
3. Web features*: Logging into overcast.fm offers basic playback and will offer more features in the future, such as adding podcasts from your computer.
* text taken directly from the overcast website.
Paid for Features
This is where Overcast starts to stand out from the rest. I was initially skeptical but decided to pay the fee. I can't actually remember how much it was, certainly no more than £3, but boy has it already paid for itself with just a single one of the features! The following list shows the features unlocked by purchasing the advanced features:
- Cellular downloads
- Variable playback speed
- Smart Speed
- Voice Boost
- Per-podcast effects settings
- One-by-one playback option
- Sleep timer
- Unlimited number of playlists
- Unlimited episodes shown in playlists
The two features in bold text, in my opinion make this paid upgrade entirely worth it. Voice boost enhances the audio track to make voices louder and clearer. This is really handy if you listen to podcasts whilst doing something like housework, walking home near a busy street or hearing more clearly over your car engine noise. Toggling this feature on/off really shows how much of a benefit it is.
By far my favourite feature is Smart Speed. Smart Speed removes the pauses between voices to shorten the overall podcast length. As an example this feature saves me on average 6 minutes per Mac Power Users (MPU) Podcast. It should be noted that this speed saving is above and beyond any podcast speed setting you have made. Thus, if I have set my podcast to play at 1.5x the speed the 6 minutes is above and beyond that, so you save far more time than 6 minutes per episode. I have been catching up on 10 or so episodes of MPU recently and have saved 59mins using this feature, almost one episode of the podcast.
A lot of people will not see the value straight away with this feature, but how much do you make an hour in your daily life? I make more that £3 per hour, so the app has already paid for itself in saving me one hour of my life.
Overcast makes it easy to discover new content, simply clicking the '+' symbol at the top right of the app will launch a screen that presents you with a search box to make a direct search. You can also tap a 'Twitter Recommendations' button to get recommendations from those that you follow on Twitter. Whilst I see the advantage of this button, I do personally get a little frustrated with apps that assume we all like Twitter or Facebook, personally I despise both and no longer use one of them.
Below the Twitter button Marco has provided you with a good handful of starter kits, which can be seen in the screen shot below. Ultimately this is how I found a good handful of new shows that I now listen to.
Downloading and Notifications
Your online account at overcast.fm stores your podcast playlists and is responsible for pushing the new copies to your devices. The episodes don't download in the background, you need to open the app. It also appears that if you do a clean install on your device and have to re-download all your pending episodes you will need to leave the app open whilst it does so. The app does not seem to keep downloading whilst it isn't in the forefront, your milage may vary. The online account also acts as an online player for your podcasts, allowing you too play your podcasts in your browser.
There is a control panel in the settings where you can toggle each and every one of your podcasts and whether you want to receive notifications when there are new episodes.
The playlists functionality is fairly straight forward, allowing you to create a playlist name such as 'Gym' and decide which podcasts you want on that playlist. There is also an option to add 'Select Priority Podcasts' allowing those podcasts to play before any others on your playlist. There is even the functionality to exclude episodes, though that isn't very useful if you use playlists like most people, to be automated.
Sharing comes in two flavours, sharing a whole episode or sharing a current time in an episode. Simple really....
The Other Podcast Apps I've Used
The author has used Apple's own Podcast application as well as Downcast. Downcast does have one great feature beyond Overcast, the ability to automatically download episodes based on location. That means you can have it download episodes when you arrive home from work each night. The Apple solution is fairly basic, really only carrying out the core tasks that any podcast player should.
Would we recommend Overcast, it is our podcast player of choice at the time of publishing. The only real limitation of Overcast is the fact it cannot stream podcasts on the fly and needs to fully download it before it will play. You can get Overcast for free but we highly recommend the small price to unlock the advanced audio features, the Smart Speed of which is worth it alone.
Note: Since starting the draft of this article, Overcast has gone on to save the author a further 7 hours of time using the Smart Speed feature.
It has emerged that AOL will soon be shutting down 'The Unofficial Apple Weblog', also known as 'TUAW'.
UAW has been around since 2004 and was acquired by AOL in 2005. It appears the closure is part of larger restructuring plans at AOL.
CEO Tim Armstrong's comments during the company's fourth quarter earnings call in November:
“As we look out to 2015, our strategy and decisions will be driven by the following organizing principles,” said Armstrong. “Number one, we’ll focus our capital allocation resource management and management time against scaled assets and platforms. Two, we will organize our asset portfolio around scaled value and scaled growth assets. Three, we’ll simplify everything that can be simplified.”
Despite the closure of TUAW we still feel that Apple Resource will fulfil a vital gap in the Apple and Mac related sites by providing quality content over rumours and off the cuff quick fire reviews of software and hardware without extensive testing.
One of the biggest issues on iOS and Mail.app for me is the lack functionality to quickly create a PDF. I very often want to PDF a receipt or software license e-mail and file away, this isn't built in as standard.
If you are savvy, you can create some e-mail filters to deal with the return e-mail i.e. forward to Evernote or OneNote, Of course that is another missing functionally on iOS Mail.app.
Now the features don't stop there, you can use different mail to addresses for different functionality:
- email@example.com = makes the e-mail attachments into PDFs.
- firstname.lastname@example.org = full e-mail conversion to PDF, including headers.
- email@example.com = full e-mail conversion to PDF, without headers.
- firstname.lastname@example.org = converts markdown content into PDF.
- email@example.com = converts a weblink in an e-mail to a PDF. For example a link to a blog post will return a PDF of that blog post.
I've included a contact card that you can put straight into your iOS contact app for these addresses.
Apple has released its second update to its Yosemite operating system, version 10.10.2. The update can be downloaded through the Software Update section of the Mac App Store.
The following release notes were included:
- Resolves an issue that may cause Wi-Fi to disconnect
- Resolves an issue that may cause web pages to load slowly
- Fixes an issue that caused Spotlight to load remote email content when the preference was disabled in Mail
- Improves audio and video sync when using Bluetooth headphones
- Adds the ability to browse iCloud Drive in Time Machine
- Improves VoiceOver speech performance
- Resolves an issue that causes VoiceOver to echo characters when entering text on a web page
- Addresses an issue that may cause the input method to switch languages unexpectedly
- Improves stability and security in Safari
The release notes indicate that this update solves some of the long standing Wi-Fi issues that users have been experiencing. This update also includes Safari 8.0.3 which is also available as a standalone update for Mavericks (7.1.3) and Mountain Lion (6.2.3).
Apple has released iOS 8.1.3 which includes a range of bug fixes and enhancements. These include:
- Fix for an issue that prevented some users entering their Apple ID passwords for Messages and FaceTime.
- Spotlight bug which caused Spotlight to stop showing app results.
- Issue that prevented multitasking gestures from working on the iPad.
- Reduction in the amount of space required when performing an iOS update.
- New configuration options for education standardised testing.
The update is available now via the 'over the air' download feature.