last updated: 8 November 2019 (approximate reading time: 4 minutes; 763 words)
You can find and listen to podcasts on the web—every podcast has its own site (or a least a page) where you can find the episodes and the associated show notes.
However, an app on your phone and/or tablet may offer features that give a better podcast listening experience.
What is a Podcast App?
A podcast app is a tool specifically designed for managing your podcast listening experience. Most podcast players offer features to make finding and listening to podcasts a more simple and enjoyable activity when compared against the experience of podcasts through a web browser.
Works on Your Device
One of the most immediate advantages of a podcast app is that it will have been designed for, and will work on, your phone. The entire functionality will be designed to work on the screen size of your device (so you won't be navigating around a desktop website on your phone).
Search and Subscribe
Finding new podcasts in a dedicated app is simple: you search and when you've found a podcast that interests you, you can subscribe immediately.
If you search for podcasts using a regular web browser, you'll have to separate all the unrelated search results before you can find a podcast that may interest you—with an app, you only search podcasts. Also with a web browser, you can't then subscribe; instead you have to come back and regularly check for new episodes.
Notifications and Playlist
Once you have subscribed to a podcast, your app can notify you when a new episode is published. This function may be particularly helpful if you subscribe to a number of podcasts with irregular publishing schedules.
The app can then automatically add any new episode to a playlist and automatically download the associated audio file to be ready for you.
If your hands are otherwise occupied so you cannot select the next episode, for instance, if you're driving or if you're cooking, then you'll appreciate having a playlist so that as one podcast finishes you can immediately listen to the next show on your list.
A podcast app will allow you to download an episode and listen offline. Once the episode is downloaded, then you don't need to worry about spotty coverage when you're out and about, and you will not be using any data allowances to download/listen.
When listening to a podcast, most apps will allow the playback speed to be increased meaning you hear more in less time.
But perhaps the most useful function that an app will offer is remembering your position so that you can stop listening and then pick up again at the same place. Many apps will allow for you to stop listening on one device and pick up on a different device, so you can stop listening on (say) a tablet, but then pick up where you left off on your phone…or maybe pick up on a smart speaker (such as an Amazon Echo, Google Home speaker, or Apple HomePod).
Apps can run—and play your podcasts—on a variety of devices. As implied under the previous headings, many apps have some sort of integration with smart speakers so you can say: “Alexa, play my podcasts” (or similar) and your podcast it will play. The playback position can then be synchronized from a smart speaker back to your phone.
Also with a playlist, you don't need to remember the voice commands to load up the next episode when one finishes.
Finding a Podcast Player
Some phones (particularly iPhones) come with a default podcast player. If this works for you, that's great—you can stop reading here. If you don't have a podcast player—or you don't like the default choice—then head over to wherever you get apps and search for “podcast”. You should find a range of apps to choose from.
If you're wondering which podcast app to try first, then have a look at PocketCasts which is the app I use. I like it and use it because it's moderately straightforward while offering the features I want (and all of the features I talk about above are available on PocketCasts).
PocketCasts is free (it is supported by NPR), although there are paid options. It is available for both iOS and Android.
As you will find at your app store, there are many podcast apps to choose from. At their core, all podcast apps do the same thing. Choosing a different app won't make your podcast better or worse. The only significant difference between apps is how intuitive the app feels in managing the tasks that matter to you.