Podcasts are audio recordings freely available from a wide range of providers such as hobbyists and professional sources like National Public Radio. The term “podcast” is a combination of the words broadcast and iPod, and is meant to describe the concept of broadcasting audio to iPods. You can actually use any device that plays MP3 audio files to listen to podcasts, it just happened that the first developers of podcasts used iPods and therefore chose that term.
The broadcasting of the audio files is done through subscription to the podcasts that you want to hear. If you have an iPod, you will find an entire section of thousands of podcasts that you can subscribe to in iTunes. After you select the podcasts you want to listen to, the audio files are downloaded to the iPod just like music, and appear in a separate section on the iPod. When new episodes of a podcast are available, iTunes automatically downloads the new episodes when an iPod is connected. The Microsoft Zune and Zune desktop software handle podcasts in the same manner.
Up until recently I have been using an iPod Touch to listen to podcasts and iTunes to manage my podcast subscriptions in the manner I describe above. The problem that I have always had with the process is remembering to connect the iPod to my Mac Mini to download the lastest podcasts. Using a desktop computer as a pass thru to retrieve files from the Internet seems ridiculous in light of the current smartphone age. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I got my Nexus One and installed Google Listen that I found the combination of software and phone that easily manage podcasts.
I am now only using Google Listen and the Nexus One to retrieve and play my favorite podcasts. Once an hour Google Listen checks to see whether there are new episodes of a podcast and when there are, downloads the audio file to the Nexus One. You can configure Google Listen to only download podcasts when the phone is plugged in and/or only when the phone is on Wi-Fi, but I have turned those settings off. If your data service has limits on how much you can download each month as part of your monthly fee, you may want to configure Google Listen to only download when on Wi-Fi.
The wireless and automatic downloading of podcasts to the Nexus One means I don’t have to remember to connect with a desktop computer, and I always have the latest episodes on my phone, ready for me to listen to. Google Listen keeps track of episodes in a Fresh Items list that it sorts with the most recent episode at the top. I have found that Google Listen will automatically start playing the most recent episode.
For example I subscribe to the NPR Hourly News podcast, which is a five minute summary of the current news, published once an hour. Let’s say that I am listening to a longer podcast episode such as the latest This Week In Tech, and pause listening. If a new NPR episode appears, Google Listen automatically queues up that new episode for me to listen to and remembers where I left off in TwIT. After I listen to the new NPR podcast, Google Listen then returns to the TwIT podcast right where I left off. I have found that this behavior works well with small episodes, but is annoying when a longer podcast pre-empts what I am currently listening to.
Using my previous example, let’s say that I am listening to TwIT and pause it. Then a new episode of Buzz Out Load downloads and is put at the top of the list. Buzz Out Loud is about an hour long, which means I have to listen to an hour of something else before getting back to the TwIT episode that I was listening to and by then I might have forgetten what was being discussed on TwIT. I think the ideal scenario would be for Google Listen to allow me to configure this behavior, either to turn it on or off, or better yet, let me designate to only preempt long episodes with short episodes.
I am really enjoying the combination of the Nexus One and Google Listen. It is much easier for me to keep up with episodes, unlike when using the iPod I often fell weeks behind. All I need to do now is find a good car mount for the Nexus One. When is Google going to start selling the car mount the showed off at the Nexus One launch?