Apple's latest version of Podcasts adds some much-needed features, including a simplified UI and the ability to make playlists. It's not bad for listening to podcasts from the iTunes Store, but there are other third-party apps that manage podcasts better.
Editors' note: This review was updated March 25, 2013, with information on how to subscribe to third-party podcasts.
Apple's Podcasts (for both iPhone and iPad) gives you a standalone app that lets you subscribe to, play, and discover podcasts from any category. The app got off to a very shaky start with several missing features, but a new update might give podcast fans some relief.
The Podcasts interface is easy to navigate. You have a Store button in the upper left where you can search the iTunes App Store for podcasts by category, most popular, and other criteria (the same way as if you were searching for podcasts in iTunes). But if you just want to see podcasts for audio or video, or just the most popular podcasts, you have buttons across the bottom to switch between each type. When you select a podcast, you can see the latest downloadable entries or subscribe to your choice, and either stream it or download it for later listening offline.
It's important to note Apple's Podcasts app is designed for finding what's available in the iTunes Store and not third-party offerings. In order to subscribe to podcasts from third-party sites, you're required to go to the My Podcasts screen and enter the link to the feed in the search bar, complete with the "http://," then the app will ask you if you want to subscribe to that podcast. This is clearly extremely unintuitive, as there is no way to know how to add third-party podcasts unless you know to take these steps. This is something that Apple definitely needs to fix.
The app has a couple of extras that podcast fans will appreciate as well. You have the ability to skip forward or back 15 seconds in a podcast using buttons for each. You can sync your podcasts, so even if you switch iOS devices, you can pick up right where you left off. In my testing, syncing to another device wasn't always reliable, particularly with playlist syncing.
In the most recent version of the app, Apple has removed the tape-to-tape interface during playback (a controversial interface choice when it launched), and added playlist management tools. The playback interface now looks similar to when you play a song in the music app, with a large logo that takes up most of the screen, skip forward and back controls, and a button for sharing a podcast with your friends via e-mail, the Message app, Twitter, and Facebook. The playlist management tools let you queue up several podcasts in a row (called Stations), defaulting to oldest episode first, but you can rearrange podcasts on your station to play in the order you like. These stations are stored in Apple's iCloud, too, so they should stay synced up across devices.
Apple's Podcasts app got off to a rocky start with power users because it didn't have near the same feature set that many third-party apps have. But with the recent update and a few more useful features, it might be worth another look for casual Podcast listeners. The fixes won't bring it on par with the feature sets of popular third-party options, but it's a step in the right direction.