Apple’s Podcast app – a UI breakdown and comparison

Today, Apple released Podcasts for iOS. It’s a typically Apple-esque move — a simple name, obvious features and a great icon. Here’s my walkthrough of the UI and how Podcasts stacks up against the competition.

Developers shouldn’t worry

Quite often when Apple enters a market which has been popularised by third party developers for some time — think Safari Reading List and Instapaper — there is a great deal of worry that the move will push third part developers out of business. This concern is unfounded. More often than not, Apple’s move into a certain market draws more customer attention to the market and the original apps can end up benefiting from the move. I’m sure this will be the case with Podcasts, too.

Podcast discovery

The most popular third party iOS podcasting apps are Instacast and Downcast. Up until now, I’ve been using Instacast and I’m a great fan of the design decisions behind it. The blue and grey theme is very iOS friendly and most of the gestures and navigation in the app feel natural to me. Apple’s Podcasts offering has a few similarities with Instacast. First of all, the list views of the two iOS podcasting clients are similar — but this is hardly surprising given the list nature of the content — and the layout of the buttons on the app’s launch screen are similar.

It’s great to see Apple promoting new podcasts right on the bottom of the main app’s screen. Instacast has never really promoted new podcasts this aggressively and it’ll be interesting to see if shows (like our own Industry Radio Show) get a greater exposure because of this move.

I find it interesting that Apple decided to ship a dark UI for the Podcasts app, rather than a traditional light grey and blue theme. It’s a more modern look, which I happen to enjoy personally. The dark navigation bar adds to the immersive, “content orientated” approach of the UI.

The ugly

The Industry is a design focused website. However hard I may try to look the other way, there is one majorly ugly part of the app: the stretched typography in the playback screen. Here’s what it looks like full size:

I am by no means suggesting that the general skeuomorphic principles behind the UI are too far or in bad taste, but stretching a font almost always results in an ugly experience. I hope this is fixed with a future update.

Details, details

Whilst skeuomorphism is an extremely subjective matter, it’s worth noting just how far Apple’s talented designers have gone in order to replicate a tape deck on the playback screen. Swipe upwards on the “now playing” page and you’re presented with a fully rotating tape deck, surrounded by various controls. Compare Instacast’s playback UI (left) with Apple’s Podcast UI:

Whilst I find the spinning tape deck whimsical and fun, there is no denying that the controls are difficult to hit. The Airplay icon, for example, is easy to miss — the tap target is extremely small. Some people I follow on Twitter were much more vocal about the skeuomorphic approach to UI than I was:

My favourite minor UI detail of Podcasts is the tape within the tape deck. If you look closely, the tape is actually being transferred from one reel to the next. Amazing.

Each tape reel starts full on the left and slowly unfurls to the right until the end of each episode! It’s all in the details.

More good than bad

Whilst there may be those who disagree with the taste of certain design decisions of Podcasts, or some developers who worry that their businesses could be hurt because of the move, I believe Apple’s entrance into this space is a great sign. Maybe I’m just optimistic, but when Apple takes the time and resources to build a dedicated Podcast app, I think podcasters should feel relieved. We’re certainly happy about this release here at The Industry. I wonder what the next software releases we’ll see from Cupertino will be.

Podcasts is a free iOS app, available for in the App Store. Be sure to subscribe to The Industry Radio Show when you’re giving the app a spin!

Jumpstarting a Design Community

Understand Your Compensation

Designer Monoculture

The State of Design Leadership

The Science of Product Design

Interview with Michael Flarup: Co-Founder and Lead Designer at Robocat

The Importance of Design Conventions