Discovering podcasts with Symbian^3's Podcatcher

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Built into Symbian^3's new Podcatcher software is a link into an online podcast discovery system, which I wanted to showcase - it's a step up from Nokia's clunky old manually-compiled directory, but how good (or bad) is it? With examples and screenshots, I try to point out that even if podcast discovery still isn't perfect, then it's easier than it used to be.

The story so far, abbreviated by necessity!

  1. Nokia create Podcasting for their Nseries phones in 2007. It becomes very popular.
  2. Nokia start dropping Podcasting from some phones (e.g. E52/55/72), for marketing reasons. This move is very unpopular. Nokia also don't contribute Podcasting's code to the Symbian Foundation, possibly for legal reasons.
  3. A third party podcast 'catcher', Escarpod, created for the UIQ interface, gets ported to S60, though never really makes it out of 'alpha' status.
  4. Escarpod gets open sourced and contributed to the Symbian Foundation, which renames it Podcatcher and develops it for inclusion in Symbian^3. It will be available for all Symbian partners, though it's possible that some Nokia handsets may still ship with a version of the original Podcasting.

Nokia's Podcasting was an excellent utility that fully automated the gathering of podcast programmes over Wi-Fi, but it's one big weakness was discovery. Unless the podcast you were looking for happened to be in Nokia's manually-compiled, rarely updated and very eclectic selection, you were stuck with having to type in feed URLs by hand or go through a somewhat tortuous copy and paste exercise from 'Web feeds' within the browser. In practice, only die-hard geeks really got full use out of Podcasting, I suspect. Which is fine, but shouldn't more people have easier access to podcasts?

Which is why the creators of Symbian^3's Podcatcher decided to go a different way, integrating an existing third party podcast directory, in this case 'Digital Podcast', right into the app itself. When you tap on 'Add', one of the two options is 'Search for feed':

Screenshot, Podcatcher Screenshot, Podcatcher 

Enter a search word and the online directory will be interrogated - directly, within the app, rather impressively. Tap on a podcast name and you're subscribed. It really is that easy. 

 Screenshot, Podcatcher Screenshot, Podcatcher 

Podcatcher even offers to update the feed and download the latest programme immediately!

Screenshot, Podcatcher Screenshot, Podcatcher 

So a great idea. I'm presuming Digital Podcast was used because its database has an API/search service that's accessible to third party apps, but it's definitely not one of the most complete podcast directories on the Internet. Of my 12 favourite audio podcasts, 7 were in the directory - which means that 5 weren't, including my own Phones Show Chat - sacrilege! 

There are two reasons for the omissions:

  • The Digital Podcast directories aren't kept bang up to date, either by the site owners or by the podcasters themselves. So, for example, Mobile Tech Roundup is listed without Matt Miller, so I'm guessing that it's showing the original cast and never got updated.
  • Other recent podcast hits, e.g. Cranky Geeks and the aforementioned Phones Show Chat aren't there at all, simply because the podcasters didn't know about the directory and never submitted an entry for approval. I rectified PSC's omission, of course, and it will be interesting to see how long the approval process takes. From other content on the site, it seems that updates certainly aren't daily.

Another problem is that the searching isn't very clever. Search matches are only on complete words, so spelling errors or variations from whatever the original podcast entry stated result in a failed search. Add this limitation to the incomplete nature of Digital Podcast's directory and you have a service which shows a great deal of room for improvement.

Still, it's built into Podcatcher, there are no URLs to type (assuming you find what you're looking for), there's no copying and pasting to do, and the number of podcasts on offer is an order or magnitude larger than in Nokia Podcasting's own directory.

Which has to be a step forwards.

Steve Litchfield, AAS, 10th August 2010

PS. The screenshots here were all taken on the Samsung i8910 HD, by the way, not on a Symbian^3 phone (like the Nokia N8). Podcatcher's latest build is usually available in a version for Symbian^1, i.e. S60 5th Edition, so anyone can try it out for themselves.

PPS. On Nokia phones, programmes downloaded via Podcatcher should appear in Music player under 'Podcasts'. On the i8910 HD, they can either be played directly from Podcatcher or (my preferred route on the i8910 HD) from File manager, which I leave open in my E:\podcasts hierarchy.

PPS. Don't go looking for The Phones Show in the 'video podcasts' section yet - a) it's not approved yet and b) some of the feeds in this section are definitely NSFW! 8-)