Under each header (or sub-header), Apple features five podcasts. Swipe up and down to scroll through them—tap on any to start streaming the latest episode automatically (tap again to pause). An info button next to the thumbnail brings up an episode listing, just as if you were in the Catalog. You can stream or download an episode or subscribe to a podcast right from the Top Stations interface. At the top of the screen is a toggle that lets you choose whether you’re browsing through audio podcasts or video podcasts.
The Catalog looks more or less like the iTunes Store, including featured podcasts, top charts, a search function, and more. You can also browse by audio or video podcasts. In a thoughtful move, the Podcasts app builds in a little known feature from the App Store: You can actually stream any podcast episode right from the podcast Catalog by simply tapping on its name. Or, if you prefer, you can download the episode to your iOS device so you can play it back even when you’re not online.
Apple’s built robust playback tools into the Podcasts app. By default, playing any podcast looks much like the Music app: a big thumbnail in the center, below which you find forward and back buttons for skipping to the next or previous episodes, play/pause controls, and a volume slider (along with an AirPlay control). In addition, though, Podcasts has buttons that lets you jump back 10 seconds or skip forward 30 seconds, handy for those “what did they say?” moments, or for skipping commericals.
If you need even more fine-grained controls, swipe upwards (or just tap) on the thumbnail in the middle and you’ll get more options, including a full timeline that you can scrub through. There’s also a control for adjusting the speed of playback, both faster and slower. Plus, for those who like to listen to podcasts as they’re falling asleep, there’s now an integrated sleep timer. And an AutoPlay feature continues playing the next unplayed episode of the same podcast after the current one is finished, with no need for user intervention.
Apple didn’t forget to leave out the fun, either: As the podcasts plays, a classic reel-to-reel style tape recorder spins along in the background. Skip rapidly through the episode and the playhead disengages, the left-hand reel despools and the tape mounts up on the right-hand reel. It’s an attractive little piece of detail, even despite the somewhat outmoded metaphor.
Sharing receives a much bigger push in Podcasts as well. You’ll find a Share button on each podcast and episode in your library, as well as for podcasts on the store, inviting you to tweet, iMessage, or email your friends about your newest podcast obsession.