Pod Wrangler, Overcast, and The Developer's Voice

I love podcasts. Love them. I subscribe to more than forty podcasts, almost all of which I listen to regularly. I listen to podcasts at work, at home, on the treadmill, and on the train. I'm simply nuts about them.

I listen to most of my podcasts on my iPhone. I've used a number of apps through the years, but have always come back to Instacast, which combines a power user's feature set with a clean, intuitive design. Still, apps like Downcast, Pocket Casts, and even Apple's own Podcasts app have their merits and appeal to different users. They also show how different developers approach the same idea in very different ways.

In the last few days, two exceptional developers have announced their entry into the iOS podcast app market. Marco Arment laid out his plans for Overcast, while David Smith actually launched a podcast component to his existing Feed Wrangler service called Pod Wrangler.

Having not seen Overcast, I can't comment on what it brings to the table. I have played around with Pod Wrangler, however, and find it fascinating. Smith's take on a podcast app is neatly summarized in his blog post:

My goal is for the process of listening to be as follows:

  1. Choose your favorite shows
  2. Hit Play.

There is no step 3.

In that respect, Pod Wrangler succeeds magnificently. It's the barest of bare bone apps. You can subscribe to podcasts, play them, and share them, but you can't drill down into settings in the way that many alternatives allow. The design is clean and right at home in iOS 7, and the whole experience is blazingly fast.

Whether or not you take to it will depend on what you expect from your podcast app. I can't see myself using it full-time, as I prefer a little more granularity in how I manage my subscriptions. Still, I'm glad that it exists and hope that other developers take advantage of its API in the same way that RSS developers have with Feed Wrangler's.

Nitpicks aside, I love what David is trying to do with Pod Wrangler. I also love how he ends his announcement:

Pod Wrangler is an opinionated app. It is built and tailored to exactly match my own podcast habits. I listen to many hundreds of hours of podcasts each year so it is a very informed opinion but my own nevertheless. I’m so happy to be able to share it with the world and see how well it fits. Enjoy.

Marco writes something similar in his Overcast announcement (emphasis mine):

Overcast offers another take on most of the same problems and features by applying my priorities, design preferences, and implementation decisions. You might like it, too, but I don’t expect to “kill” any other apps in this market.

Both Overcast and Pod Wrangler are built to communicate their respective developers' individual visions. We sometimes don't think of software in artistic terms, as its value is primarily measured in utility. But apps communicate ideas as well as any other medium, and a good developers who understands that builds his or her apps with ideas in mind.

Neither David nor Marco is trying to blow away the competition with features or fanciful designs. Instead, they are both trying to make the podcast client that they have always wanted.

This is what great software should be: the focused, confident expression of a singular and coherent vision.

I don't know if Overcast is going to match my podcasting needs perfectly, and I'm pretty sure Pod Wrangler doesn't. But I'm very happy that these two guys are willing to share their visions of what podcasting apps should be.