Bring out your dead

Speaking of toxic hellstew, I gave Apple’s Podcasts app another try. I lasted nearly 24 hours.

Podcasts app icon

While I admit it was a foolish thing to do, I had my reasons, which have to do with listening to podcasts as I ride my bike to work. I don’t like riding while listening to my iPhone. Even back when I had a nice armband for it, I felt uncomfortable using it. Part of it was how the iPhone would shift around during my ride, part of it was the impossibility of controlling playback through a touchscreen while on the move, part of it was the annoyance of moving the phone into and out of its pouch, and part of it was my fear of damaging the phone during even the lightest and spottiest rain. After my wife borrowed the armband on a permanent basis, I rode with the phone in a pocket of my bike shorts, and that was even worse. The earbud cords would occasionally catch on flap of material as I was riding and pull the buds out of my ears.

So I decided to return to using my old 5th generation iPod nano. That meant resubscribing to podcasts in iTunes and syncing the iPod via cable, Not a big deal, but because I still intend to listen through the iPhone, I thought it would be better to switch away from Overcast and use the Apple’s Podcasts app to take advantage of its integration with iTunes.

This shows how out of touch I am with the current state of the software I have hidden away in the “Apple Junk” folder on my last home page. (You know that folder; I bet you have one, too.)

Apple Junk folder

Anyway, my ignorance was such that I didn’t realize the integration between Podcasts and iTunes was effectively zero. Oh sure, when you plug your iPhone into your Mac, you can sync the podcasts in iTunes with those in Podcasts, but they don’t stay in sync over the air the way Contacts and Calendars do. At first I thought there was some iCloud setting that I’d forgotten to turn on, but no. Both Podcasts and iTunes will use their internet connections to download episodes but there’s no coordination between the two.

So the one feature that Podcasts could have that would set it apart from third-party podcatchers, the integration of devices and services that Apple touts as its great differentiator, isn’t present. It’s not that it’s poorly implemented, like some other Apple audio service I could mention, it’s not implemented at all.

Which is kind of a relief, because after listening to one and a half podcasts through the Podcasts app, I knew it’d drive me crazy. The overall interface is fine, and the sleep timer is actually quite well done compared to other podcast apps. But it’s missing one feature I find essential when I’m listening in my car: the ability to skip forward and backward within a podcast by turning the Tune knob on the dashboard. This knob works like double- or triple-clicking the center control on a set of earbuds, and most podcast apps have a setting to switch those functions from “next track” and “previous track” to “skip forward X seconds” and “skip back Y seconds.” This is essential when you need to repeat that jumble of noise when everyone was talking at once on The Incomparable. Or, more commonly, when you’re not in the mood to hear again the story of how the guys from Harry’s bought that razor blade factory in Germany.

So I deleted everything from Podcasts and returned to Overcast. Podcasts didn’t even get out of the Apple Junk folder.

But let’s end on a positive note. My 5th generation nano, six years old, worked perfectly with iTunes 12 and is now set up to be my biking iPod. In fact, even my 2nd generation nano, which I grabbed by mistake and plugged into my Mac before I realized it was the wrong one, synced up fine. Its select button is kind of wonky—that’s partly why I got the 5th gen—but otherwise it runs just fine. And it’s nine years old. The only hitch in syncing them was that iTunes didn’t recognize either nano immediately because their batteries were dead dead dead. Once they got a little juice in them, everything went fine.

On the current episode of Upgrade, Jason Snell told how he revitalized an old classic iPod by installing an internal SD card reader to replace the hard drive. Myke Hurley said it was magical how iTunes just updated the iPod’s system software and synced all of Jason’s music to it when the iPod was plugged in. It is magical, but it isn’t surprising. The code that does it was written back when Apple occupied the functional high ground.

Update 7/28/15 11:40 PM
Well, fuck me. Via Twitter, Kyle Seth Gray points me to this Apple support page that explains how to get the syncing I just said doesn’t exist. I had actually done what’s necessary on the iPhone side,

Podcasts sync setting

but I didn’t have it worked out on the Mac. I was sure the setting would be in the iCloud part of Settings, but it’s actually in the Store pane of the iTunes preferences.

iTunes Store preferences

Why the hell would a sync setting be there? Now I have to decide whether syncing is worth the loss of skip forward and skip back.