Keeping iTunes podcasts up to date

The problem is that I still like to use my iPod nano. Or that I’ve come to rely on Downcast so much. Maybe I should just blame Apple and iTunes. Yeah, that sounds right—it’s Apple’s fault for making iTunes think it knows what I want better than I do.

I like listening to podcasts while I ride my bike, and when I do, I use a nano because:

  1. It’s smaller and lighter than my iPhone.
  2. I already have an armband for it.
  3. It has a click wheel (5th gen) that’s easier to operate than a touchscreen while riding.
  4. I can use it during a drizzle without freaking out.

For years I subscribed to podcasts in iTunes, synced them to the nano (or its predecessor, a 2nd gen nano, or its predecessor, a 2nd gen mini), and all was right with the world. Then things got complicated with the iPhone.

For quite a while, the iPhone wasn’t a complication. It synced through iTunes, too, and I seldom went more than a couple of days between syncs, so everything stayed up to date. Then iOS 5 came along and iPhone syncing became untethered from iTunes. Then apps like Instacast (which I used for a while) and Downcast (which is what I’ve used for the past year) cropped up, breaking the podcast link between the iPhone and iTunes. The iPhone became my main podcast listening device because it could download shows any time, anywhere.

The nano accepted its reduced status dutifully, but iTunes has balked. If I delete several episodes of a podcast from iTunes without listening to them on the nano (because I listened to them on the iPhone through Downcast), it pouts and refuses to automatically download any more. The little button that tells iTunes to check for and get new episodes turns from a curved arrow

iTunes podcast controls

into an exclamation point, and when you click on it you get this passive aggressive reply:

iTunes being helpful

It’s almost like having a teenager in your computer.

There’s no setting in iTunes’ Preferences that turns this presumptuous behavior off—no doubt because iTunes is such a spare, minimal application that Apple couldn’t bear to clutter it with another option—and my Googling for a defaults write setting came up empty. So I complained about this on Twitter this morning, hoping that someone out there knew of a solution. The answer came from the improbably named h1ro,1 who pointed me to this script from the great Doug Adams and his collection of AppleScripts for iTunes. I should have known Doug would have figured this out already.

The script is called “Update Expired Podcasts” and it does exactly what you’d think from the title.2 As good as the script itself is, what’s even better is that Doug also provides a Launch Services plist file that’ll run the script periodically so I don’t have to do it by hand. I still have to manage episodes on each device separately, but at least my nano’s episode list won’t go stale anymore.

I suppose I could drop Downcast and use Apple’s own Podcasts app. That would, I think, keep episodes in sync with iTunes and my nano. But despite the recent update, Podcasts is still subpar. Until Apple puts some effort behind turning it into a decent app, I’m sticking with Downcast and Doug.

  1. People who use pseudonyms on the internet are weird, don’t you think? 

  2. I’m really tired of Americans saying “it does what it says on the tin.” Stop adopting Britishisms, you wankers.