My ideal podcast app/service

Much has been discussed among Windows Phone (and Windows 8/RT) circles about lack of podcast features in the phone and lack of a native app on big Windows.

I am a big podcast listener. Not huge, but I do listen to a few podcasts regularly. In fact, so regularly, that I have formed a nice list of things I would want in an ideal podcast app/service. The reason I put app/service is because we are now no longer in a single device world.

  • Native apps for my devices: I use Windows Phone, Windows 8/RT and Windows 7. I would like native apps for at least phone and “Windows Store”.
  • Catalog: Big enough, and fresh enough catalog so that I don’t have to add podcasts by URL.
  • Easy subscribe settings: Options during subscribe should include auto downloads, number of episodes to keep, episode delete settings, etc.
  • Remember played position: For each podcast, for each episode.
  • Cloud: Sync settings, subscriptions and played positions to the cloud. Configurable setting for syncing on-device episodes to the cloud as well.
  • Refresh/check for new episodes: Check for new episodes when app is opened, automatically. Also, check on a schedule that can be configured and have a default. So if the default is 3am and 3pm every day, I know when I get up and am ready for my commute, there may be some fresh episodes waiting for me. Same, with a 3pm check for the commute home.
  • Playback speed adjustment: Must-have for me, at least 1.5x.

Some bonus territory items:

  • Playback in the cloud: If my subscriptions, settings and on-device episodes are synced to the cloud, I suppose I should be able to play those episodes from the web too. That would take care of machines which don’t have native apps, for example Windows 7 or Macs/iPads/iPhone/iPod.
  • Discovery: Based on what I have subscribed to, and perhaps extending it to my social networks, suggest other podcasts.
  • Live tiles: I don’t care much about getting notified of new episodes, so I put this in the bonus territory. Live tile notifications of new episodes.
  • Usage notifications: Notify (via live tile or otherwise) me about space used being above a certain threshold, or unplayed episodes going above a certain threshold.

Things I don’t care about but I have seen in some apps:

  • Visual niceties: Like the tape player in the iOS app. Don’t care about it since I always lock the phone screen anyway.
  • Social sharing: I don’t share either while listening or otherwise, so I don’t care about that feature.

Too much to ask? Is there any podcast app/service that does this already? I think Downcast on iOS comes very close in terms of functionality but they are only on iOS so far, but have expressed that they may look at WP with no real commitment provided. The iOS Podcasts app does not seem to delete episodes after they are finished which is a bummer (either a bug or a feature, but either way, a bummer for me).

None of the Windows Phone 3rd party apps do auto-download yet. There are some in the process of getting released with promised functionality but none generally available yet.

The native Windows Phone feature does not have a manual check for new episodes, and there is no clear understanding when exactly it checks for new episodes. Besides, there is no corresponding app on Windows 8, and of course, there is no playback speed adjustment.

Let me know if you find any compatible apps 🙂

Cheap labor, and service-oriented culture

It is hard not to observe how much help you get (like it or not) when you have money in India. I am not just referring to servants and cooks and drivers. It is everywhere. I recently experienced some of it:

As it turns out, my company has a tie up with HSBC Bank for savings accounts (equivalent of “checking account” in the US). They have two points of contact dedicated to my company. I sent an email to one of them, asking him to send me the details of the types of accounts they offer and the terms for each of those so that I can apply. What was the reaction? He calls me from his mobile phone and is in the office with the application forms that afternoon! Not only that, he actually filled out the form for me! After putting all the relevant details in the cumbersome-to-fill form, he pointed me to where I should sign and that’s it.

Later I found out that instead of a joint application, I needed to do a sole application. Guess what? He came to my uncle’s house (where we are currently, temporarily put up) to get the form filled out. Oh, one of the things does not have enough photocopies? He took the stuff, went on his motorbike and made copies himself!

It is not just the fact that they want the business. With waiters, I have seen that they not only serve you every single time you need to be served (like for second helping and such), but when it comes to drinks, they actually put the ice, the drink and the mixer in front of you!

I have a habit of picking up my plate and putting it in the sink (if not actually rinsing it too) after I am done with lunch/dinner. The servants here feel awkward when I do that and keep reminding me that I don’t need to do that. Overwhelming.

I am afraid this hierarchical nature of society (waiters have to listen to patrons, servants have to “obey” the boss, etc.) can give a sense of entitlement to people and that would be very, very bad. For example, I saw at Bangalore airport that a guy was shouting extremely loudly at one of the porters. I am not sure what was the issue because I was too far, but I imagine the porter may have not loaded all the bags on the cart properly or some such thing.

We hope that we don’t become like that guy, and given that as more people get educated the less likely they are to do servant-type jobs, it is inevitable that one day we would have to do much of the stuff ourselves regardless. Better to prepare for that and live mostly like how we lived in the US, than Indian-ize in that respect.

Cloud-based services for the win

Two things happened recently which delighted me and I thank cloud-based services (vs. locally installed apps/applications) for that.

When Office Web Apps Preview released recently, I noticed that they were talking about Excel Web App supporting the creation of Forms, but in the preview I did not see that functionality. I was really looking forward to using it because that was one thing I liked with Google Spreadsheets and wanted to see it in Excel Web App. However, last week as I was playing around with Excel Web App, I saw the “Form” entry in the Insert tab! It was greyed out but it was there and I did not even know it. No announcement, no updates to make, just there. Nice.

This morning, when I went to share an article I was reading using the Bitmarklet from bitly, I noticed that they had updated the UI for the same. Whereas earlier there was too much “noise” on the screens within that Bitmarklet window, now it was streamlined and looked much cleaner. Again, I had to do nothing to receive the updated functionality.

Granted, not everyone is comfortable getting stuff updated without their knowing, and granted sometimes functionality could be removed as opposed to added, but still, having a constantly updated “app” in the cloud/on the web is a thing of beauty. I have a feeling the next version of Office is going down that route with the Office 365 subscription and I may be one of the customers willing to pay a small fee for getting seamless updates for my software.