Castro 3

For me, the podcast app Castro has flown mostly under the radar1. I’ve given it a try here and there because I really like the idea of building a podcast app around the central concept of a queue.

And yet, in each of these cases I dismissed it pretty soon because of a missing feature2 that other podcast apps offered and that I believed I couldn‘t live without.

According to Ryan Christoffel‘s review over at MacStories there is no need to worry about features any longer:

If an absent feature ever kept you from sticking with Castro 2, that almost certainly won’t be a problem anymore. Castro 3 addresses nearly all of those “one missing feature” requests in a single release. Trim Silence is Castro’s take on Overcast‘s Smart Speed; full chapter support is now present, as is a new Apple Watch app; the player screen has been fully redesigned; Mix to Mono improves stereo mixes that are hard to hear; and finally, there are excellent new per-podcast controls in a variety of areas. Perhaps the only thing still missing is an iPad app.

It is true, Castro 3 has caught up technologically with the more powerful podcast apps like, e.g. Overcast. On the other hand, Castro does have a few tricks up its sleeve that clearly sets it apart from a mere follower.

First and foremost, Castro is built with a focus on episodes rather then subscriptions. This is a, if not the fundamental difference to my currently preferred podcast player Overcast.

If you launch Overcast it displays a list of subscriptions.

If you launch Castro it displays a list of episodes in the so-called inbox.

From there it is possible to easily triage through the list of episodes and make an individual decision for each episode.

  • The episode can be played. This automatically adds the episode to the queue
  • The episode can remain in the inbox.
  • The episode can be moved to the queue, in which case there is the ability to decide whether it shall be added to the end of the queue or at the place below the currently playing episode. The queue is where the actual playing of the episode happens but moving an episode to the queue does not mean that the episode is starting to play in response to the move.
  • The episode can be moved to the archive. The latter has two roles, it represents the list of subscriptions3 and it also represents the back catalog of episodes.

The triaging of episodes does not necessarily have to be done manually. It is possible to decide for each individual subscription4 whether new episodes shall remain in the inbox and await triaging or whether they should be added to the queue (and if yes, whether they should be placed at the next position or at the end of the queue).

It is also possible to decide that each episode of a given subscription shall immediately be sent to the archive. This sounds weird, why should you subscribe to a podcast and at the same time decide to not care and send each episode automatically to the back catalog?

But that‘s exactly the use case: you may be subscribed to a podcast to which you don‘t listen regularly and only now and then skim though the back catalog if your queue is empty and there‘s nothing to listen to5.

Back to Overcast: I have defined only one playlist that (surprise, surprise) goes by the name „queue“. The subscription view in Overcast is segmented into subscriptions that have new episodes (titled “Podcasts”) and subscriptions without new episodes (titled „Played Podcasts“).

The existence of rules for the automatic placement of episodes into my „queue“ aside, I would then tap a subscription and then then decide whether to pick a new episode or one from the back catalog and add this episode to the playlist „queue“.

This procedure would typically be repeated for every single subscription, building up the „queue“ successively. However, my next step would then be to open the playlist “queue” and rearrange episodes in the preferred way6.

That’s right, Overcast does not offer a way comparable to Castro’s approach to influence the position of an episode in the “queue” right at the place where the decision about moving the episode to the “queue” is made.

If I decide to dismiss a given episode it is necessary to apply special care: Overcast uses the same trashcan icon for dismissing new episodes of a podcast subscription as well as for unsubscribing from the podcast altogether.

You have to be aware whether you’re in the list of subscriptions or in the list of episodes of a given subscription. I admit that I happened to confuse one with the other and accidentally unsubscribed from a podcast.

In Castro, you manage your subscriptions exclusively in the archive and there is hardly any chance for confusing the dismissal of an episode with unsubscribing from a podcast.

For someone who is subscribed to a larger list of podcasts the usage model implemented by Castro makes a lot of sense. In my personal opinion, Castro removes the friction in managing a large list of subscriptions according to individual preferences much better then Overcast can ever be hoping for in the current set-up.

Consequently, it should be easy to decide about making the switch and move over to Castro. In reality it is not that easy. And the reason for that is again a technological one.

Castro does not have any built-in sync mechanism7 and there is, as mentioned in the MacStories review, no iPad app. Personally, I use my iPhone to listen to podcasts between 90 to 95% of the time. Currently, I still have Overcast installed on my iPad and I use the ability to play podcasts on my iPad from time to time.

For all intents and purposes, it would not be a big deal to dismiss the lack of an iPad app and go iPhone only for podcast listening. But it still leaves the nagging feeling of missing out on something. Therefore, I’d personally like to see the advent of Castro for iPad.

To summarize, Overcast clearly is where the innovation happens in terms of podcast player technology.

But Castro innovates on its own turf while still providing state-of-the-art player technology.

In writing this article I think I have managed to convince myself to at least give Castro a longer period of time to see whether it sticks.

  1. Admittedly, it took me some time to stop wondering about the name. Maybe that’s becaue the name of most other podcast apps end with cast, and you might expect this pattern to apply of all of them. Castro makes a difference. 
  2. Last time, if I remember correctly, it was the missing support for chapters. 
  3. This is where you have to wrap your head around as a user of Overcast
  4. In Overcast, it is similarly possible to decide on a per-subscription basis whether new episodes of a given subscription are automatically added to a given playlist. 
  5. I subscribe to some podcasts that can have very long episodes of diverse topics. I am typically interested in at most a third of the episodes. But I appreciate the ability to easily access the back catalog and listen to one or the other episode whenever I like. 
  6. The rearrangement of episodes in Overcast can be finicky and I often need more than one try to finally achieve the intended placement. 
  7. There is the ability to create a backup and the app will (unless deactivated) create this backup automatically once a day.