Monday, February 23, 2015

An open letter to Apple - When are you fixing the buggy Podcasts facility?

Dear Apple developers,
In the old days there was a facility in the Music app called podcasts and it worked reasonably well - all-be-it with the odd bug, but it worked.

Then you decided to create a new app called Podcasts and then the fun began. It was buggy. I do not mean buggy as it had the occasional defect that was exhibited under an unusual combination of circumstances, but buggy as in it had numerous bugs which prevented it from actually operating on many occasions. I did become somewhat better with several updates but it is still the most defective piece of release software I have ever used, and I myself work in IT.

First there are the sync issues which are numerous. I will completely play a podcast after which it is correctly marked as played only to have it return to the same device as unplayed. This may happen to single podcasts or can occur to hundreds of podcasts. This is not an isolated occurrence. I may go up to a week without this occurring but it is rare that a week goes by without some podcasts re-appearing and me having to mark them as played again. Usually many per week.

The sync issues are not limited to individual devices though. I will play a podcast only to have it appear as unplayed on another device. A podcast can appear on one device and not appear on another. Or, just to add variety I will play a podcast, it then appears as played on all devices and then will randomly appear later on one or more devices as unplayed. Some podcast episodes are extremely persistent and will come back as unplayed repeatedly and have to be re-marked as played.

But the sync issues do not stop there. I will partially play an episode then it will randomly reposition the played position to another point within the episode. 

Now we come to the download bugs. Some podcasts download automatically as marked and others do not. I then have to manually download. On the iTunes PC or Mac app the download frequency appears to be random. It would be nice to set the download schedule or periodicity, but no, we appear to be completely at the whim of some random process. When I get home form work I have to manually trigger the download of podcasts, and even them it sometimes does not work and I have to download the episode form the store. But if I do that it creates another instance of the podcast in iTunes which may or may not be persistent. Then that leads to quite a different story of grief. I had to delete one podcast and re-add it and then I had the joy of marking about a hundred of about 300 episodes as played and re-download about 200 to my iPhone which I was in the process of playing. This has happened several times. Not an enjoyable experience thank you very much.

Next are the episodes which I can play streaming but refuse to download. Not a problem? Well, yes it is. I cannot stream episodes from the Apple TV. Only downloaded episodes appear on the Apple TV so I must stream to my mobile device and air-play - which has its own set of issues, or I must watch the episode on my computer.

Finally let me address the stability of the whole iTunes Mac/PC apps. They regularly lock up whereby it is not just a process of re-starting teh application. I have to reboot the computer since there is a persistent background process.

I am what one could call a heavy user. I have several dozen podcasts on the go with many that have daily or weekly episodes. So I accept that my experience would not be typical in scale but from what I have read it is certainly typical in nature. All users that I know of experience these bugs, but not many to the same scale due to my heavy usage.

I can deal with these persistent annoyances being IT savvy but if I was not then I am sure that this would be extremely off-putting and turn many users off to the Podcasts system. If there was a useable alternative then I would use it but here is nothing with the power, facility and ease of use. So it seems that I am stuck with Podcasts and my hope is that Apple will put some effort into fixing these numerous bugs.

It is not as if Apple is some small independent company struggling to make a living. They have the resources to fix this buggy programme, there is absolutely no excuse for this. The Apple help system is not much use. Searching the forums is a complete waste of time. There are many people who have reported these bugs but they obviously give up since Apple do not appear to be interested in fixing them.

At best the iTunes podcast system and apps could be described as in beta testing phase. The old podcast system was buggy but not nearly as bad as the new environment. One can but hope that Apple will spend some of that obscenely huge profit in fixing the bugs in Podcasts.