What would make you upgrade to Instacast 3?

A third take on the podcatcher comes at a premium

There's always some disappointment when you just bought something and a new version comes out that makes your new toy feel outdated. Apple customers know their bit about it. Less that a year ago I wrote about the changes included in Instacast 2, a 'podcatcher' app that downloads podcasts wirelessly without any need to sync with a desktop computer.

In my review I noted that charging with in-app-purchases for extra features watered down the user experience and felt like fold PC shareware. I also mentioned that the welcome navigation changer could eventually make everything simple but Instacast had a lot to learn. Despite these concerns, I kept using the app religiously. It now has a prime spot on my homescreen along other apps precious to me but not without its kinks.

Developer Vemedio puts it this way: "Switching from Instacast 2 to 3.0 is like buying a brand new car. While everything looks quite familiar, you have a much better experience. Everything just smells fresh and feels great in your hand. And this car has been rebuilt completely with modern technologies." Would you buy a new car when yours is still working with no maintenance costs?

More than a visual revamp

Instacast 3 is a paid upgrade sold as a separate app. From the App Store screenshots the most evident change is the user interface. Now it ditches the blue and sports a lightly textured grey that mimics Apple's typical polished aluminium. The difference is subtle but it's not the iTunes white you see in the native music app or the ivory tones in the Audiobooks HQ app that I reviewed recently.

Along with the new theme, there are some interaction changes, nothing radical, but that could potentially confuse early adopters. Tapping on an episode will immediately launch the player instead of opening the description window. To access this information now you need to tap on the lowercase 'i' on the right. Usability working to reduce the amount of taps needed. Unfortunately this also unmarks episodes as new, as you start playing the accidentally.

If you're in this very same situation, using version 2.0, why would you pay again to get this upgrade?

Some of the big changes are in how you manage the downloadable content. According to the developer, an 3.1. might change this so I won't elaborate much. Instead of setting up complex rules, now you can allow Instacast to use a certain amount of data, say 1Gb, and it will manage the content automatically. To teach the app which are the podcasts with priority, every subscription has its own preferences. This is useful to avoid deleting that old episode you never got to listen to and make room for a newer one.

The developer has traditionally struggled to convey what is archived and what is deleted. I'm not sure what the difference is. The trend seems to be to hide old episodes from the user, whether they are played or not. The option to recover deleted episodes is buried in the settings, making more difficult to discover great new podcasts. This was the case for me with Myke Hurley's CMD+SPACE, which had a lot of excellent episodes to catch up with as I only discovered the show a month ago.

Under-the-hood improvements

Whatever that has changed in Instacast 3 means it doesn't support devices running anything older iOS 6. The clunky iCloud sync has been changed to a proprietary solution that should be more reliable syncing between devices. This sync is now even more important because Instacast 3 is now an Universal app. Notice how Instacast HD has also disappeared from the App Store.

When you first launch version 3.0 you'll need to setup your preferences again. For users of version 2.2 you probably have saved your subscriptions to iCloud — do this before you delete the app! Incacast 3 should be able to download the database from there but not the podcasts. This is a bummer for people that use the app everyday or are subscribed to a lot of shows as they will have to be downloaded again — use Wi-Fi to avoid cellular data charges.

Is this all really necessary?

I completely understand users happy with the old product that don't want to upgrade for the sake of upgrading. I also see how others will explore the competition (see Downcast) instead of paying the upgrade fee. My recommendation here isn't based on the monetary cost, as I'm all for supporting independent developers and supporting the apps I use daily. No problem with buying the app again whatsoever.

The evolution of Instacast over the years

Users hesitating to upgrade should be aware that the initial setup can be tedious and that the offline storage micro-management seems like a work in progress. On the positive side, Instacast 3 comes with no in-app-purchase experiments, ditches old technology to take advantage of the perks of iOS 6 and is potentially a more future-proof edition. For a regular podcast listener, this is a no brainer. We've gone a long way since the first edition and paying this toll is the way to say "yes, I want more of this".