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Apple's new Podcasts app is a testament to the tremendous evolution the medium has undergone since its humble iPod beginnings. Having long outgrown its iTunes tab, it was inevitable that Apple would develop a standalone app to mark the podcast's maturation into a legitimate form of entertainment.
As we've grown to expect from Apple's iOS apps, Podcasts looks great, with large, album-style artwork to accompany subscriptions. Playing a podcast launches a slick reel-to-reel player that's incredibly realistic; flipping a switch literally slows down or speeds up the reels, and you can actually watch the virtual tape run through the machine.
Podcast discovery is the closest thing to a killer feature, offering a clever radio dial interface for browsing "top stations" and a familiar revolving wall that shuttles you off to a dedicated storefront -- where everything is naturally free. The streaming radio selection is somewhat limited, however, merely spotlighting the most popular of each genre, but it's a good way to explore podcasts outside of your comfort zone.
It's a shame that Apple didn't put quite as much thought into the app's real functionality. While podcasts sync well from the iTunes Store, the lack of iCloud integration is a startling oversight; podcasts downloaded on one device don't show up on the other, all but negating any convenience the app would have added. Playback is smooth, but on my iPhone 4 (and even at times on the new iPad) the app was a bit slow to respond and the store was buggy, with the "Subscribe" button often disappearing.
The bottom line. If Podcasts didn't have Apple's signature design, we'd have a hard time believing this first attempt was made in Cupertino.
iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad running iOS 5.1 or later
Fantastic interface. Nice design touches. Good discovery tools.
No iCloud syncing. Limited streaming choices. Some responsiveness issues.