In 2007 I wrote a piece outlining the features I wanted to see for a podcast player device. I didn’t feel that the iPod of the day was good enough. For some reason I wasn’t thinking of the iPhone as a podcast player, even though I had one. (Might have been the non-standard headphone jack.)
The three requirements were:
1. Be able to download podcasts on its own, without having to connect to a laptop or desktop. In other words, it synchs directly, not through an intermediary.
2. Be able to record podcasts as well as listen to them. If you get an idea you should be able to quickly communicate it. All good platforms are two-way.
3. Be programmable. The user shouldn’t have to buy a new device just to get a feature, they should be able to either buy software that does it, or even better, write it themsevles. Ideally the device would be user scriptable.
So, I’ve been using the Droid for about a month and Eric Neu asked a great question. Does it fit the description I outlined in 2007? I don’t know the answer, let’s figure it out together.
When I first got it, a bunch of people recommended I try the Google-supplied app called Listen. I did, and at first I was pleased with the way it worked. It’s really good at finding podcasts. I quickly searched for a half-dozen of my regular feeds, and added them to its library. I expected it to automatically check the feeds and download podcasts so I could listen to them even when I didn’t have good net access, but it doesn’t seem to be doing this. Okay, at least read the feeds regularly and let me browse the new stuff in a reverse-chronological river? Doesn’t seem to do that either. So what does it do exactly? I don’t know.
This is something the Droid itself suffers from. There are no tutorials. No clear English explanations showing you how to use the thing.
When I wrote about Stewart Alsop’s problems, a bunch of people called him names because he had probably maxed out memory, accounting for the slow performance. Maybe so, but how do you tell if memory is maxed out and how do you get apps to quit using memory? There are no docs that I can see that inform a user about the most basic things about the Droid. Google should get to work quickly to fix this.
As a further aside, my own Droid gets ridiculously slow sometimes. I notice it now that their ads claim that it’s like being strapped to a SCUD missle. That’s laughable. It’s like being hit by a SCUD missle. (Before iPhone users gloat, it gets unbearably slow too.)
Back to podcatchers.
To answer the question posed by this piece — no — the Droid is not at this time a good-enough podcatcher, at least not with the software I’ve been using. However with different software or with an upgrade to Listen, it should be able to do #1, even better than my initial spec envisioned. I assumed it would need wifi to be able to do it, and of course Droid has wifi, but it can also download podcasts over the Verizon network.
Can it record? Yes it can. I have Qik and Ustream recording software on my Droid, and both work very nicely. I don’t yet have audio recording software, but I generally use Cinch for that, and since the Droid is a phone, that’s really all that I need.
It would be great if there was system-level scripting on the device so that users could build custom functionality. But that seems a long way off. However where the iPhone loses points for having a closed platform, that they used to famously keep “third-party” podcatchers off the iPhone, the Droid has no such barriers. Long-term that may prove to be the most significant advantage of Droid over the iPhone, at least until Apple loosens up and lets developers route around them.