Podcast app roundup for the Apple Watch

sjinsjca

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Oct 30, 2008
2,109
429
Now that I have a shiny new Series 5 watch (absolutely fantastic), I’ve dived into third-party podcast apps a bit. What I think I’ve learned follows below. It’s certainly possible that there are functionalities and workarounds I haven’t discovered, so I hope folks will chime in with tips, corrections and amplifications... and also with comparisons to Apple’s own Podcast app, which I initially eliminated because I could find no way to import non-podcast .mp3 files.

Some of the features mentioned below may necessitate in-app purchases to unlock some functionalities.
  • Downcast’s Watch app, at this time, is a controller for the Downcast app on your iPhone. Currently there appears to be no autonomous Watch-based functionality or storage. This is a pity, as the configurability of the iPhone app has made it my favorite.
  • Outcast is a Watch app only, with a companion but essentially independent iPhone app. It downloads episodes directly into the Watch. But, this process must be initiated manually. There seems to be no way to subscribe to podcasts so that they download automatically. Importation of non-podcast .mp3 files doesn’t seem to be supported.
  • Overcast’s Watch app depends on its iPhone app to pull down subscribed podcasts but makes it easy to mark them for automatic syncing to local storage on the Watch for autonomous play if, like me, that’s what you want (for example, for running without having to carry your phone). External .mp3 files are accommodated by uploading them (using a computer and web browser) to an account page you get with an in-app subscription. This is a platform-independent approach that does not involve iCloud. The sync process for both podcasts and uploaded files is opaque and seems to commence at random times. I’ve found no way to initiate a sync so my Watch is loaded up when I want it to be. You should also be aware that Overcast automatically transcodes podcasts at a lower bit-rate to conserve space on the Watch. Audio quality will, in theory, suffer. But, I have not found this to be objectionable. Your ears may care more than mine. This feature does not seem to be selectable by the user.
  • Castro’s Watch app, like its iPhone app, is gorgeous but infuriating. Like Overcast, it relies on its iPhone app to download subscribed episodes. It lets you optionally store episodes locally on your Watch, but figuring out its palette of inscrutable badges and icons and modalities to get it to do what you want is a voyage into undocumented and poorly discoverable form-over-function. There appears to be no user documentation. Want to know what the difference is between the “inbox” and the “queue”? ...You’re out of luck. A pity, as it has many great features, including some really clever tricks for getting non-podcast content into the iPhone and Watch apps (they call this sidecasting). For example, installing the app on your iPhone automatically enables share-sheet entries to pull audio content from the web into Castro’s Sideloads folder, and your .mp3 files can be simply dropped into a Castro folder that will automagically appear in your Mac’s iCloud file system, and they’ll appear in your Watch’s Castro app... but in the order they were uploaded, which is unpredictable unless you upload them one by one. As with Overcast, syncing proceeds at a time and pace of its own choosing.
For now, I’m finding Overcast to be the best podcast app for my Watch use, but that opinion might evolve with time, and as this thread unfolds!

Comment: Sync frustrations are a recurring theme with the Watch, both for podcasts and also for Audible’s audiobook app. I suspect Apple has some work to do in its iOS and WatchOS frameworks to help its app developers succeed.
 
Last edited:

nickdalzell1

macrumors 6502a
Dec 8, 2019
553
212
There's not one podcast app alive that knows the one I listen to even exists. I only have one Podcast I listen to, and I'm actually going into the archives from 2001 and now am on year 2005. I like listening to all of them. Go Vegan Radio specifically. But Apple's never goes any farther back than 2016, and none of the others know Go Vegan Radio exists. So I just download them as MP3s and play 'em back old school.
 

sjinsjca

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Oct 30, 2008
2,109
429
I just download them as MP3s and play 'em back old school.
You can do so with two of the ones I've reviewed: Castro and Overcast (and maybe others).

You can always play .mp3s with some sort of media player, but things like CarPlay integration, silence elimination, speed adjustments and brief-rewind buttons make podcast apps more usable and convenient for their intended content.

Incidentally, some pretty sizable podcasts are not to be found in iTunes' or other listings. (Limbaugh's is a gigantic example with a massive subscriber base, but totally unsearchable.) Getting a podcast app to subscribe to one of those takes a few arcane steps that are usually not documented. Paid-subscription podcasts can be especially vexing to subscribe-to, but it can be done. Not long ago, apps like Apple's and Overcast didn't support paid/authenticated podcasts at all, but they do now. You just need to know the fussy steps involved.

Related: One of my favorite podcasts, Gilbert Gottfried's hilarious interview series, is not browsable back beyond a certain point in some apps (including Downcast, last time I tried) but is browsable all the way back to episode 1 in Overcast. So your mileage might vary depending on the app you choose, too.


UPDATE: I went to Go Vegan Radio's site and tried both their iTunes and RSS links in Overcast. Both worked perfectly and allowed browsing back to July, 2016 as you say. Previous episodes are downloadable from their site but are apparently not hosted as podcasts at this late date. But they're easily addable to either Overcast or Castro. You will need to pay to enable this feature either way. The cost is small, fortunately.

One nice thing about using a podcast app is that episodes will play one after another, if you wish. If you have a pile of them in a folder, Overcast is probably the better choice, as the resulting uploaded files will be in alphabetical order in the podcast app, versus ordered by whatever time their upload completes to Castro's iCloud sidecasts folder. So if you have a long drive, flight or hike, you can listen to several episodes in sequence. But the sequence is determined by the order of the files, which gives points to Overcast.

FURTHER UPDATE: On a whim, I typed "Go Vegan" into Overcast's search field. And, poof, there it is. So whatever discovery back-end it uses does indeed know that podcast exists. But, the resulting subscription shows only the most recent episode. I don't see episodes stretching back to 2016 as I did with the RSS link I tried earlier.
 
Last edited:

NME42

macrumors regular
Sep 15, 2019
238
73
  • Overcast’s Watch app depends on its iPhone app to pull down subscribed podcasts but makes it easy to mark them for automatic syncing to local storage on the Watch for autonomous play if, like me, that’s what you want (for example, for running without having to carry your phone). External .mp3 files are accommodated by uploading them (using a computer and web browser) to an account page you get with an in-app subscription. This is a platform-independent approach that does not involve iCloud. The sync process for both podcasts and uploaded files is opaque and seems to commence at random times. I’ve found no way to initiate a sync so my Watch is loaded up when I want it to be. You should also be aware the Overcast automatically transcodes podcasts at a lower bit-rate to conserve space on the Watch. Audio quality will, in theory, suffer. But, I have not found this to be objectionable. Your ears may care more than mine. This feature does not seem to be selectable by the user.
I listen to podcasts when I am running and love Overcast. Working (almost) perfectly.

As for the syncing, I found a way to enforce getting the podcasts I want to my AW. The trick is to start both Overcasts app on iPhone and AW at the same time. Then you can see that the transfer will initiate (also a percentage display). Sometimes the AW app crashes and transfer halts, just restart it then. Most of the times, the playlist on AW ("on watch") does not show the synced podcast on the AW. In such cases, terminate the Overcast app and restart. Termination is with holding the button pressed and when the emergency dial is coming up, press the crown. Enjoy!
 
  • Like
Reactions: sjinsjca

ManicMarc

macrumors 6502
Jul 1, 2012
435
114
I listen to podcasts when I am running and love Overcast. Working (almost) perfectly.

As for the syncing, I found a way to enforce getting the podcasts I want to my AW. The trick is to start both Overcasts app on iPhone and AW at the same time. Then you can see that the transfer will initiate (also a percentage display). Sometimes the AW app crashes and transfer halts, just restart it then. Most of the times, the playlist on AW ("on watch") does not show the synced podcast on the AW. In such cases, terminate the Overcast app and restart. Termination is with holding the button pressed and when the emergency dial is coming up, press the crown. Enjoy!
What I really want is a screen like iTunes circa 2003. Let me drag and drop stuff over to the watch from the phone and see a progress bar and a sync/cancel button.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Craiguyver

NME42

macrumors regular
Sep 15, 2019
238
73
What I really want is a screen like iTunes circa 2003. Let me drag and drop stuff over to the watch from the phone and see a progress bar and a sync/cancel button.
From what I understood (not tested myself), Castro could be something like you described.
 

sjinsjca

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Oct 30, 2008
2,109
429
What I really want is a screen like iTunes circa 2003. Let me drag and drop stuff over to the watch from the phone and see a progress bar and a sync/cancel button.
That would be pretty wonderful.

Note the design goals: transfers happen when you command them, and you know what is going on at all times. Right now, transfers to the Watch happen unpredictably with all the apps I've tried.
- - Post merged: - -

From what I understood (not tested myself), Castro could be something like you described.
Almost!

With an in-app paid subscription, iCloud transfers are enabled. Drop files into the Castro sideloads folder on your Mac, and they appear in your Castro app on your iPhone.

So far, so good. Quite slick, actually. But, two problems: (1) If you dragged a bunch of files into your Castro sideloads folder, they'll appear in your Castro iPhone app in the order they completed uploading. That is probably not the order you want them to be in for display and playback. There are no options for changing the display-and-play order. The only workaround is to upload each file, one by one, in the order in which you wish them to appear in the app. (2) I can't figure out how to get sideloaded files onto the Watch!

Unfortunately the mystery is one of many with this app. While the app is beautiful, it's festooned with icons and jargon that are not defined or documented anywhere. What does that blue circle mean? How does the "inbox" differ from the "queue"? ...And so on. I'm sure it's possible to configure Castro to do what I want it to do, but it's not readily discoverable.

Why it's so hard for programmers to document their products is a real puzzle. I'm not a stupid person but neither do I have limitless time to figure-out this stylish but mysterious stuff.

Also, while I rely on a Mac for my daily computing, many folks don't. An iCloud-based solution might not work for them.
 
Last edited:

jhfenton

macrumors 65816
Dec 11, 2012
1,015
554
Cincinnati, Ohio
I use iCatcher, which sounds like it handles transferring podcasts to the Watch similar to Overcast. I mark how I want each podcast to be handled (streamed, downloaded, transferred to Watch, or any combination of the above), and it just happens. I mostly mark fiction and long-form podcasts for transfer and just listen to the short daily stuff (like international news) from my phone.
 

sjinsjca

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Oct 30, 2008
2,109
429
I use iCatcher, which sounds like it handles transferring podcasts to the Watch similar to Overcast. I mark how I want each podcast to be handled (streamed, downloaded, transferred to Watch, or any combination of the above), and it just happens. I mostly mark fiction and long-form podcasts for transfer and just listen to the short daily stuff (like international news) from my phone.
Thank you-- trying iCatcher now. Overcast's spotty Watch sync behavior is making me sad.

UPDATE: Wow, transfers are slow. They seem to proceed only when the Watch is on a charger too-- no progress in transferring at all until I put the Watch on a charger. Unfortunately, this won't do for my usage. So I'm still sad, and still looking for a podcast app for the Watch that will do what I want to do: store and play podcasts locally on the Watch.
 

jhfenton

macrumors 65816
Dec 11, 2012
1,015
554
Cincinnati, Ohio
Thank you-- trying iCatcher now. Overcast's spotty Watch sync behavior is making me sad.

UPDATE: Wow, transfers are slow. They seem to proceed only when the Watch is on a charger too-- no progress in transferring at all until I put the Watch on a charger. Unfortunately, this won't do for my usage. So I'm still sad, and still looking for a podcast app for the Watch that will do what I want to do: store and play podcasts locally on the Watch.
Transfers are slow, but they progress without being on a charger. I usually don't even watch them transfer. They're just there when I go to run.

Unfortunately, I think the APIs for transferring content to the Watch are still lacking.
 
  • Like
Reactions: sjinsjca

DontGetTheCheese

macrumors regular
Nov 22, 2015
151
96
There's something about podcasts that screws up developers minds. I don't know if it's a lack of consistency in archiving, development, or what, because they all seem to have some problems dealing with how I seem to think about them and I know it's not me, no way.

It's not the devices, per se, or at least I doubt it, it's the apps that manage them and the underlying structure that I can't see.

I've been using four approaches across my devices.

Apple Watch
  • Apple Podcasts: Really hard to sync across OSX, IOS and the Apple Watch. Also, I have no idea how it decides what podcasts to download to the watch, except, it never does the one's I want. I will say that I've kind of reached detente with it and have been using this a lot more recently for everything but the watch.
  • Overcast: Was by far the best, but screwed the pooch my last run. The app froze, and it didn't download my usual Saturday run podcast after being told to, several times. Overall, it was the cleanest functioning of any option that I tried, until it wasn't, and if working, is my preferred option for the watch.
Garmin Fenix
  • Spotify: which is inconsistent across platforms, slow to transfer, and you can't jump 30 second increments in the app. Spotify is kind of a clunky app to begin with, something that doesn't change when you use podcasts there. I deleted it from my watch.
  • OSX Cable from Apple Podcasts: Works OK, but I've had podcast get stuck in limbo, forcing hoops to remove them from the downloads option.
 

perezr10

macrumors 65816
Jan 12, 2014
1,087
429
Monroe, Louisiana
I’ve found Downcast to be the geek app of them all. The configurablity is out of this world and it’s a good all around podcast app. As mentioned, it’s achille’s heel is no onboard watch app.

I’ve recently switched to the Apple Podcasts mainly because of one reason. The iOS Sync is rock-solid. It doesn’t matter what features are available on those fancy 3rd party apps if sync between the watch and iPhone doesn’t work quickly. Thus far, I’ve found the Apple Sync to be the best by far. I can come in from a run and switch to my iPad and all of my podcasts are right where I left off on my watch. Bliss.

I tried using Overcast about a month ago but quickly ditched it because it wouldn’t do video podcasts. It’s okay if you only want to use it for your watch but I didn’t want to use separate apps for my watch and iPhone/iPad. So anyone who watches video podcasts and wants to use only one app, steer clear of Overcast.
 
  • Like
Reactions: scmill