More than just podcasts
I was pretty sure that Downcast was going to be my favorite offering in this roundup. And then I met the $2 Stitcher Radio app.
After creating an account with Stitcher--this lets you sync your playlists and preferences between your iPad and iPhone--the app greets you with a "front page" of audio news stories popular podcasts. (Visually, this looks more like CNN's app than any of Stitcher's audio-oriented competitors; the display is functional on the iPhone but quite elegant on the iPad.) You can click on those stories, or select from a menu of live online radio stations and podcasts for listening. And you can use your preferences to create a Pandora-style custom station.
Stitcher, then, is pretty nearly a complete audio-on-demand app. It's almost, but not quite, perfect: While there is an expansive selection of live radio station feeds to listen to, my local NPR affiliate wasn't on the list. Which means I still must use the NPR app if I want to listen to All Things Considered on my iOS device; Stitcher doesn't do quite everything. It's close, however.
There are other good podcast managers that, for one reason or another, don't quite make my list. Dorada Software's $2 RSSRadio works on multiple devices, but it has a slightly less capable search engine. Stanton's $1 Podcast Pro is a good, inexpensive, reliable podcast app for iPhone--and that's about it.
The very best offerings, though, offer amazing versatility. Stitcher Radio and Downcast top my list--and will be sticking around on my iPhone and iPad.
[Joel Mathis is a freelance journalist and political columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. He lives in Philadelphia.]