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Downcast

I have tried to get warm with a dedicated podcast client on iOS before but the experiment did not take a happy ending. It’s not that I ended up particularly unhappy with the functionality. On the contrary, there were some nice features that clearly distinguished Instacast from, say, Music.app in terms of listening to podcasts.

However, I also experienced a very unpleasant drainage of the battery on my iPhone and that turned out to be the deal-breaker.

Then, during one of the latest episodes of Build and Analyze Marco mentioned that he was trying out Downcast. OK, so why not try it out as well and see how it goes.

My Instacast experience is not very fresh any longer but it seems to me that Instacast and Downcast are very similar to each other’s in terms of functionality and presentation. Subscribing to podcasts, downloading of episodes, and (of course) playing podcast episodes works similarly seamless in both tools.

Unfortunately, I’ve got the impression that also the battery consumption is quite similar in both apps. I can’t put my finger on specific numbers for the battery drain but it seems that I’m not alone. I have found several comments on the Internet that describe a very similar experience.

However, there are also many people reporting no significant battery drain at all. Advice given by commenters goes to disable everything that may cause background activities in any of the two apps. Contrary to most other iOS apps both Instacast and Downcast can do a certain amount of work in the background.

Needless to say that I have already tried to tweak Downcast’s settings such that to my best knowledge it should not account for battery drainage caused by background activities. And yet, I still can’t help being unhappy about battery life.

The strange thing is that the battery drain does not seem to be limited to the actual playing of podcast episodes but also to periods of seeming inactivity. Over night my phone loses easily more than 10% of battery compared to around the 5% (give or take 1%) that I would normally experience.

This is contrary to my understanding of how background computing works in iOS and also this support article does not give any indication that battery drain is to be expected after the grace period of ten minutes expired.

Here are the settings that most likely have an impact on battery life:

  • Refresh Feeds: set to “Never”
  • Automatically Download: set to “Never”

Despite these obvious low-hanging fruits I have no idea what could be done in addition. I’m curious to learn what options are left. I like both Instacast and Downcast for their rich features but I’m quite frustrated about battery consumption and this issue will finally make me give up either of those apps and return to playing podcast episodes using Music.app.

UPDATE 2012-05-09

I think I have found the solution for the battery life issues I have been experiencing for some time. As far as I can see, Downcast is totally innocent of causing the drainage. Battery life went way up after I deactivated the find my iPhone option in the iCloud settings.

I don’t remember to have actively set this flag but set it was. This should not be an issue since I the location services were entirely off and you’d expect the phone to just ignore find my iPhone and return to business.

It seems that it is not so that easy. Maybe this is a bug or maybe I am misinterpreting how find my iPhone works. As in many other cases, it is hard to get a clear picture from researching the Internet. There are indications that find my iPhone communicates with iCloud even if the location services are switched off and that may explain the additional battery consumption.

Overall, the battery life issue was not dramatic. It was never like I had to switch off my phone over the day to be able to make phone calls in the evening. It was just more drain that I would normally expect and it is no surprise that I tend to be sensitive to that sort of problems. Anyway, it is much better now and that’s the end of the story so far.

The conclusion is that I will continue to use Downcast as my preferred podcast client. I’d happily welcome the ability to continue the playback 30 seconds back after a pause. This is a nice feature of Instacast but it alone would not convince me to switch. I guess I will sooner or later have a look at the new 2.0 release of Instacast but even the new release will probably have a hard time to kick Downcast from my homescreen.

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