Here's a tip for Instacasters to avoid surprises with your phone bill over data usage. I've been using and recommending Instacast [iTunes Link] by Vemedio to any podcasting-loving friend who owns an iPhone or iPad. The magic of the app is that it allows you to automatically download the lasts episodes without syncing with your iTunes on your PC or Mac. This can sound like a pointless feature but for those of us that have stopped synchronising our iOS devices with our desktop machine, it's a life changer.
I haven't reviewed the app on the blog so here's a quick introduction: Instacast acts as a replacement app for the dealt Music (or iPod depending on your iOS version). In addition to managing your subscriptions directly from the main menu, Instacast checks for new episodes regularly and downloads them on the background so they're ready for your listening pleasure. Other enhancements like show notes and streaming make the experience more pleasurable than Apple's own player. If you're really into podcasts, you'll love the app. If you've never bothered much, Instacast invites you to rediscover it with a fresh perspective away from iTunes.
After recommending the app to everyone who asked, I've received the first complaint about it: Instacast blew my cellular data usage plan. If you have a restrictive or expensive plan, please continue reading to avoid extra charges.
Using Wi-Fi or 3G?
Since the app downloads or streams content, this information has to be carried through any type of network available. When you're at home with your Wi-Fi, Instacast will automatically use this connection to download the contact. If you're out and about far from a convenient Wi-Fi, your iPhone will have to use 3G to access the web — this is part of your data plan.
Downloading and streaming over 3G will be slower and probably more expensive too. Those on an unlimited contract don't need to care, although check the terms and conditions since Instacast could use more than the usual 3,000MB fair usage policy limit. Once again, remember podcasts have to be sent to your iPhone over a wireless network and each episode is typically big, something like 40MB.
Obviously the developer understood the consequences of this and built directly in the settings and option to choose the behavior. The first option in the app Settings allows you to limit the use of cellular data (3G connection) to streaming, downloading or both. You can access this from the app itself tapping on the cog on the lower right corner that opens the options menu. You can also enter the menu directly from the Settings app and selecting Instacast on the list of applications installed.
I'm on a pay monthly contract with a very tight data allowance, meaning that I should keep both streaming and downloads disabled at all times. Despite this limitation, I like to keep Auto-Refresh on so I always know if there's a new episode waiting. Once I get home or work and get on a Wi-Fi network, Instacast will know it can start downloading the new episodes on the waiting list.
In addition to this, the Instacast settings menu has plenty of options to customise the experience to your taste. Don't be overwhelmed by the long list and dare to experiment a bit - it's worth it.
Keeping track of the cellular data used
And since we're talking about cellular data usage, I don't want to end the post without mentioning the direct link icons designed by Jeff Broderick. You've probably seen apps doing this on the App Store (see Launch Center) but this is a free and stylish alternative.
Simply visit http://brdrck.me/settings/ from your iOS device and you'll be presented with a web app that allows you to create shortcuts to your iPhone preferences. Since we want to keep track of how much we've spent, why not having a link to that information directly on the springboard? Not only now is easier to access this information, but also acts as a reminder to check the remaining MB for the month. Just remember to reset the counter every time you get your bill and you'll be free to use Instacast without any fear.