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Podcasting 101: Apple’s way of managing podcasts

Podcasts are the internet’s version of episodic radio or television. The challenge is no longer finding a great podcast, rather it is automating the subscription process on the device you intend to listen to the podcast.  You may be new to podcasting, or not an avid listener. In that case, you may not already have a favorite podcasting app. Trying to master podcast subscriptions utilizing Apple’s(s AAPL) out-of-the-box solutions may be a little cumbersome at first. The following are a few solid techniques that can help you master the art of listening and viewing podcasts, no matter where you manage your subscriptions.

Selecting Podcasts on your Mac

For quite some time now, the iTunes Store has been managing a directory of registered podcasts that you can subscribe to from the iTunes app on your Mac.  In the left column of iTunes under Store, click on iTunes Store. Then locate the navigation bar along the top of the iTunes Store homepage on the right, and select the Podcasts tab.  Browse for a podcast you like and subscribe. Subscribing to podcasts is a way to have your Mac automatically check for new episodes and download them to your Mac when they become available.

Subscribe Download and Sync

Once you have subscribed to a few podcasts, click on the Podcasts entry in the left column of iTunes under Library. At the bottom left of the screen, you will see a button labeled Settings; click it. Here you can establish the rules for how often iTunes should check for new episodes to download, and how long each downloaded episode should be kept in your iTunes Library.  This is the best feature of managing podcasts on the Mac, as it will keep your subscriptions up to date and delete the older episodes so that you don’t fill up your hard drive.  Apple has even put together some tips for podcast fans to help make the process of managing your podcasts on your Mac a little easier.

Syncing via iTunes on OS X

If you use an iPod Nano, Classic or Shuffle, or even if you still sync your music and videos to your iOS device via a tethered connection to your Mac, you can elect to sync your favorite podcasts to your device.  I still find this to be the best way to keep on top of my subscribed list of podcasts, as my InsomniMac is always on and checking for updates regularly.

iPod Classic

Syncing podcasts to your iPod or other iOS device is the same as syncing any other media to your device.  Simply attach your device to your Mac via USB and select it on the left-hand column within iTunes.  Then look along the top of the iTunes screen where you will see a tab labeled Podcasts.  Here you can choose which podcasts to sync to your device.  The only downside to this technique is that all updates to your subscriptions will be downloaded first to your Mac.  In order to get these updates onto your device, you will need to tether it to your Mac and sync again.

Home Sharing from your Mac

When you are at home and connected to your Wi-Fi network, you can access any of your Mac’s podcasts through Home Sharing.  Home Sharing is a way to share your Mac’s iTunes Music Library with any other Mac, Apple TV or iOS Device on your home network.  This technique will allow you to access all of your subscribed podcasts on your Mac without having to tether via USB cable and sync.  To enable Home Sharing from iTunes on your Mac, select Turn On Home Sharing in the Advanced menu in iTunes.  Here you will be asked to enter your iTunes account information in order to start sharing your music library.

Home Sharing Podcasts

Once Home Sharing is turned on from your Mac, you will need to authorize your iOS devices to attach to your Home Sharing.  Using the iOS settings, select the Music setting (or iPod setting in iOS 4.3) and scroll to the bottom.  Here you will see a section labeled Home Sharing where you will need to enter the exact same iTunes account information you used to set up the Home Sharing instance on your Mac.  Once the link is established, launch the Music App on iOS and select the More tab, here you should see a Shared selectable item.  Switch to the Home Sharing instance you created on your Mac and your Music app on your iOS device will be able to access all of the shared music from your iTunes Library on your Mac.  This of course includes sharing of the podcasts you have subscribed to.

This solution is not limited to iOS devices.  You can also access your shared iTunes Library from any other Mac attached to your home network.  This will allow you to download your subscribed podcast episodes just once, and share them with all of your OS X and iOS devices.  And yes, the AppleTV can be configured to access your shared iTunes Library via Home Sharing as well.  There are two downsides to this solution.  The first is that it only works when you have access to your home network.  And the second is that it only works when the Mac you are sharing your iTunes Library from is powered on.

Podcast Favorites

Apple TV’s favorites

On its own, the Apple TV can also browse, view or listen to any podcasts in iTunes directory of podcasts, even when your Mac is powered off.  In fact, you can establish a list of favorite podcasts on your Apple TV so you do not have to keep finding a particular podcast you like over and over again.  This unfortunately is not the same thing as “subscribing” to a podcast, as the Apple TV has nowhere to store your subscribed podcasts.  To save a podcast on your Apple TV as a favorite you must first find the podcast.  Once the podcast has been located, you will notice a save as favorite button on the screen.  This will add the podcast to the list of favorites that is accessible via the main list on the podcast screen on the Apple TV.  It will even keep track of whether or not you have already reviewed a particular episode.

Manually via iTunes on iOS

This is where Apple’s support of podcasting is lacking.  For those of us that no longer sync our iOS devices to iTunes on a Mac, store all of our music in the cloud via iTunes Match, and listen to podcasts everywhere else in our lives except where we are within range of our home networks, there is no good solution.  But there is one trick that just may be manageable in such instances.  And that is to stream podcasts over the internet directly to our iOS devices when we want to listen to them.  The tricky part is to figure out a way to manage our list of favorite podcasts.  One way it to create a folder of bookmarks in Safari using links from the podcasts listing in the iTunes Store.

Create Podcast Bookmarks

To do this, first create a new bookmarks folder in Safari on your Mac.  Open iTunes and navigate to your favorite podcast in the iTunes Store.  From here, you can drag the URL in iTunes into the bookmarks folder in Safari.  The next time Safari on the Mac syncs its bookmarks to iCloud, you will have your list of favorite podcasts accessible via bookmarks in mobile Safari on your iOS device.  Clicking on the bookmark in mobile Safari will launch the iTunes Store on the iOS device and navigate directly to the podcast listing in the store.  Here you can elect to listen to a streaming version of the podcast, or download the podcast directly to the iOS device.

No perfect solution

As you can see, there is more than one way to locate, subscribe, manage and listen to your favorite podcasts using Apple’s products.  Unfortunately each solution has its plusses and minuses.  There really is no one good way to manage all of your podcasts across all of your Apple products as each technique has its own quirks and inconsistencies.  The good news is that there are several different techniques to choose from, and any one or combination of a few can be utilized to suit the needs of most podcast fans.

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