Correction: The price of the app has been corrected from the original post.
Apple has told Alex Sokirynsky that he cannot distribute his Podcaster app for iPhone via the Apple iTunes store since, he reports, "it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes." This is a crime that Apple is perpetrating on iPhone users, and it is a lie, since Podcaster does something iTunes doesn't do, and it adds real functionality to the iPhone that lots of people, like me, really want.
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Podcaster lets you sign up for podcasts from your iPhone. You can then stream them, or download them to your phone for later listening when you are offline (like on an airplane). Apple's own iTunes software (which runs on Windows and Mac PCs, not the phone itself) lets you subscribe to podcasts, but the only way to get them onto your phone is to sync it with your computer. If you're out and about without a computer (or, like me, your travel laptop doesn't have your installation of iTunes), you can't update your podcasts. And that, my friends, sucks.
Podcaster is the solution to Apple's oversight. It works well, even if it isn't all that pretty. You can search for podcasts by name, and the system will download the titles of recent episodes. If you hit play on an episode, the product streams the podcast from its source. (It uses the YouTube player, so the interface rotates to landscape mode whether you like it or not.) Or, as I said, you can tag individual podcasts for downoad--but not a whole series.
The app is "sandboxed" on the iPhone, so it has no knowledge of podcasts subscribed to from your iTunes account. Nor can you play your Podcaster podcasts from within iTunes. And it's not nearly as pretty as iTunes is. It's also got a few bugs. But it is highly functional, and useful.
And although Apple doesn't want you to have it, you can still get it, at least for now. Sokirynsky is sending it to people using a workaround Apple created to let developers distribute iPhone apps to testers. Go to www.nextdayoff.com for an e-mail form. You will eventually need your phone's UDID number, which is easy to get: See these instructions from TUAW.com.
The app is $9.95 (via PayPal donation). Sokirynsky notes that Apple has the capability to remotely disable apps, though, and I would not be surprised to see Apple turn this app off considering that it's being distributed outside of Apple's own marketplace. I also have heard that there may be a cap on the number of copies of an app that can be distributed with this workaround.
I'll spare you the paragraphs of righteous indignation I could write about how Apple is dealing with this. I'll just say: Apple, I'm very disappointed. You should do better.