It Burns Your Battery, Kids

There’s a lot of iOS apps available from the App Store sporting the prefix “insta”, like Instagram, Instaflow, Instaminder, and (last not least) the beloved-by-many Instapaper. It is safe to assume that there is no conceptual connection between all those beyond the idea that the name helps marketing the app1.

And then there is Instacast, an app for downloading, administrating, and playing podcasts on an iPhone2. I have had this app loaded onto my iPhone for ages and never did more than casually launching and browsing through the preferences. After all, my podcasts were in good hands as I used to sync my phone with iTunes several times a week anyway.

Now that the dust has settled after the introduction of iOS5 and iCloud my syncing habits turn gradually towards less syncing with my Mac. That’s where I figured it was probably about time to give Instacast a try. And so I did.

I was mildy surprised to learn that the creator of Instacast actually lives more or less close to my place, maybe I could just shout if I had complaints and wait for a fix …

After I manually subscribed to my usual collection of podcasts (which was very conveniently possible by using the search function in Instacast) I read the FAQ and realized I could have made my life much easier by exporting the list of podcasts from iTunes and import this list into Instacast.

This is how the list of subscribed podcasts looks like

Using the app is more or less straightforward. You just pull down the screen and the update executes. This works both in the list of podcasts and in the list of episodes of a particular podcast. I have experienced unusually long download times (yes, on WiFi) for episodes of “Build and Analyze” or “The Talk Show”.

At least, iTunes does the download much3 faster but I finally have no idea whether iTunes and Instacast source episodes from the exact same server. I don’t really care whose fault this may be or whether the comparison between iTunes and Instacast in terms of download times may be fair, it is annoying to have to wait that long. Period.

I understand that Instacast gets a 10 minutes grace period to continue downloading when sent to the background, but still.

This is how the list of episodes of one podcast looks like

So far, I have the impression that listening to podcasts in Instacast burns battery faster than using the Music app for the same purpose. I could not quantify the difference precisely, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not confusing the effect of Instacast on the battery life with other .

In terms of functionality (maybe I should start shouting now ;-), the main complaint is is that sometimes the Instacast player doesn’t kick in after I plug in the headphone jack and press the pause button on my headphones.

That is, instead of listening to podcasts Music app would start playing a random song from my music library. This happens about every five or sixth time. I have very occasionally experienced a similar behavior in Music app such that it started playing music instead of a podcast after hooking my iPhone to my headphones.

But again, the number of times this happens was nowhere near the experience I’ve got from Instacast so far.

This is how the custom player for podcast episodes looks like

If the issue described above does not show up, Instacast goes back in time a couple of seconds if the current episode was paused and then resumed. This is actually a nice feature (Music app does not have anything similar) because it becomes easier to remember the context of the conversation and get back to listening.

Interestingly, this only happens if the headphones where unplugged from and then replugged to the iPhone in between pausing and resuming. Otherwise the episode continues right at the point in time where it was paused. This behavior demonstrates both attention and commitment to detail and is much appreciated.

The bottom line is that I have mixed feelings about Instacast. The app has some nice features (like the rewind for a few seconds when a podcast is resumed) but it also burns battery faster than Music app. For me this is the point where I stop using Instacast and go back to Music app.

  1. Incidentally, Marco Arment of Instapaper talks about the usage of the prefix “insta” in episode 59 of the Build and Analyze podcast. But hey, I swear that I wrote this before I listened to the podcast.

  2. While Instacast is dedicated to the iPhone, Instacast HD is the equivalent app for iPad.

  3. A podcast episode that is downloaded in less than a minute on iTunes often takes more than 8 minutes in Instacast.