Sync, Again

If your app deals with user’s data, building cloud sync into your app should not be a feature you bolt on to an app - it is the feature. It’s why you will beat competitors or lose hard to them. It’s what will make your app feel effortless, thoughtless, and magical. It’s what will gain a user’s trust, and once you have that, they will sing your app’s praises and never give it up. But to earn that trust, you have to account for sync at every step of the design and engineering of your app.

True. True. True. The ability to sync is the number one reason for me to switch from a liked app with inferior syncing capabilities to a not-so-much-liked one that does the syncing well enough.

At least, that is another way to describe my experience with the two podcasting apps that I keep switching back and forth between. I went with Downcast for a while now but then I started to also listen to podcasts on my iPad and, naturally, I wanted to pick up on one device where I stopped on the other.

With Downcast, the implementation of precisely this simple idea is nothing less than a royal pain. As a showcase example of Steve Streza’s argument, Downcast uses iCloud for syncing between devices.

In practical day-to-day usage, the level of unreliability that comes with this syncing solution is unbelievably and (for the most part) unbearably high.

I like Downcast. I really do. I would prefer to keep using it for a number of reasons, mostly related to usability1. However, I can’t stand how it fails to properly address this particular issue. Bummer.

The closest contender, obviously, is Instacast. The recently released version 32 now comes with a built-in, home-grown syncing solution that allows to sync between devices. No iCloud, no Simperium, everything done by Instacast’s developer(s).

And guess what, it works. Most of the time, that is. If I had to quantify the difference I would go for two orders of magnitude between the reliability of the syncing in Downcast and the syncing in Instacast. With the better end for Instacast, obviously.

As much as I hate to admit, Instacast’s proprietary solution does a better job. If only that would make me like the app better.

  1. Simple example: in Downcast it is possible to manually edit the order of episodes of a specific in a playlist. I dearly miss this feature in Instacast.

  2. Instacast 3, like Downcast, is now a universal app.