How to manage downloaded episodes on Instacast 3 with Smart Playlists

Exploring beyond the subscriptions view

A lot has changed since I started using Instacast but I simply kept using the app the same way. Sometimes, when new features are introduced you cannot be bothered to try or experiment, which is particularly true with me for apps that are part of my daily routine. Why would you change the way you listen to podcasts?

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Just as a reminder, Instacast is an iOS app that downloads podcasts automatically to your device without the need to synchronise with iTunes, making shows available without internet connection once downloaded on your local drive.

Since the second version of Instacast, which originally included Smart Playlists as a paid-for feature, I never got to adventurous until a couple of weeks ago. All this time I was using Instacast the way I imagine the majority of the people do: adding subscriptions on the main view, rearranging the shows to your preference and use the whole thing as a nested system. If you wanted to listen to the Talk Show, you would tap on the subscription and see a list of all the available episodes. This is the way I was using the app when I wrote my review.

This workflow involving several taps isn't specially annoying. Most of my time with Instacast doesn't involve any navigation or interaction with the interface. After all, this is an app to run while the iPhone is in your pocket. The second most frequent task would be pulling the list of subscriptions to refresh, which triggers the automatic download of new episodes. I do this every morning and it only requires one gesture. So far so good.

Available episodes vs. downloaded content

I only got to explore the Smart Playlists menu after hitting against the same issue over and over. Whenever I would tap a subscription folder and get the message that the new episode wasn't available to be played because it hadn't been downloaded I would get very upset. Naturally, you go to the next folder (subscription) and try to play something different. No chance. And that's how I learned it would be better to use the app displaying the content that is ready for you, not the one that is available but you cannot listen now.

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This method will be particularly useful for those with an ever-growing list of podcast shows as well and individual downloaded episodes that you have downloaded just to try, not yet ready to subscribe.

On Instacast 3, look for the 'Playlist' button right at the top. There are three presets called Unplayed, Downloaded and Favorites. I don't tweak anything here, simply tap on Downloaded, which has become my starting point for using Instacast. There are some differences on this Downloaded menu that shouldn't take much effort to get used to. Every item on the list corresponds to one downloaded episode. Since this is a smart list, the app is putting every downloaded episode on your device directly here — note how they all have the green arrow on the corner to indicate they're available to listen offline. If you keep the default presets, the app will put the newest items on top.

Every episode entry is larger, including the episode title, the first lines of the episode description and the time this was made available to download. The blue ball you're probably familiar with, tells you wether the item has been unplayed or partially played and the "i" on the right allows you to access the show notes without starting playing the episode. From a practical point of view this means you can explore the notes of other episodes while you're listening to something else.

One of the perks of playing podcasts using this view is that once the show has ended, Instacast will automatically play the next one. On the negative side, played items will still be visible although they'll be greyed out.

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I particularly like to manage my downloads manually keeping the storage limit to 1Gb only. To delete played items manually so they don't take up space, I return to the main Playlists menu and tap on the gear cog on the bottom right corner. From there I navigate to Offline Storage, scroll down to Downloaded content. There you can identify the played episodes marked in grey and swipe to right to delete, just like you do on your Mail app to archive emails

I have been trying this view for some weeks now and it's saving plenty of steps, giving more visibility to the shows that post more often and gives me an idea of how stale the episodes downloaded on Instacast are.