When the luminaries at Apple first conceived of the iPod, the goal was to start a revolution in the way music was consumed. The device was a success in that regard, allowing people to carry a wealth of music on the go, but Apple didn’t likely anticipate that its little device would cause a seismic shift in radio programming. The term “Podcast” has since become ubiquitous, as programs like Serial have become pillars of modern culture. Essentially talk programs in digital format, podcasts have their roots in the early days of the Internet, when services provided shows to radio stations in digital formats. It wasn’t until the dawn of high-speed Internet and the rise of portable media players, however, that digital radio shows could be widely distributed.
Related: From news to comedy, there’s something for everyone in our top 100 podcasts
The idea of providing talk shows on the Internet may seem mundane, after all, what isn’t available on the Internet these days? Nonetheless, the rise of the podcast brought an unprecedented democratization of programming. Unlike traditional radio, podcast hosts can produce shows in their living room on any topic they choose, without being shackled by FCC regulations. Today there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts flitting about on the Web, covering every topic imaginable, including true crime, history, even gastronomy. And although podcasts are still a niche product, they’ve been steadily growing in popularity over the last decade alongside the smartphone.
For those new to podcasts, though, getting started may seem daunting. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to download and listen to a podcast. And while you could download a podcast from its homepage, there are several apps available for both iOS and Android platforms that allow you to download and sort episodes. Dubbed “podcatchers,” these apps are available on various systems and are generally cheap (or even free).
A good podcatcher ought to do at least two things: it should have a comprehensive library of podcasts, and it should make it easy to listen to them. Such apps will typically have a clean, easy-to-navigate layout. Pocket Casts, for example, offers tabs for finding trending podcasts, featured podcasts, and the most popular podcasts, as well as a search bar so users can look for specific programs.
Selecting the “Top” tab brings up a list of the most popular podcasts among Pocket Casts’ users. One of the most efficient things about podcast apps is that they let you subscribe to a podcast rather than having to download individual episodes. On apps such as Pocket Casts, subscribing is as simple as tapping a button, in this case the “+” symbol next to a podcast’s name.
Once you are subscribed to a podcast, the app will typically alert you when a new episode is available, and give you the ability to manually download episodes, in this case by tapping the download button next to an episode’s name.
Clicking on the button to bring up the options menu — represented by the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner in Pod Casts — will bring up additional options for an individual episode, such as the ability to every episode.
Some podcatchers will also automatically download the latest episodes of podcasts you subscribe to. In the case of Pocket Casts, this is an option that users must turn on from the podcast’s main settings.
That is really all there is to it. Podcatchers make downloading podcasts onto iOS and Android devices far, far easier than the old fashioned way of downloading podcasts from a site and uploading them to a phone’s hard drive. These apps also tend to have extra features designed to enhance user experience, such as the ability to speed up or slow down audio.
There are many podcast apps out there, and some are better than others. Below are our picks for some of the more noteworthy ones, including the aforementioned Pocket Casts.