Apple iTunes 4.9 full review

The latest version of Apple’s music jukebox and download application adds support for podcasting, a new type of time-shifted amateur radio. Until iTunes 4.9’s release, podcasts typically have been downloaded through a podcasting client, such as iPodder or iPodderX. Now, iTunes and podcasting are one. Here’s what you can expect when searching for podcasts in iTunes.

iTunes changes
The application now features a Podcasts icon wedged between the Library and Radio icons in the left-hand side Source Pane. Much like the Purchased Music section that houses downloads from the iTunes Music Store, the Podcasts area lists all the podcasts you’ve subscribed to, along with their time, release date, and description.

It’s in this area that podcast preferences can be adjusted – how often to check for new episodes, which ones to download, and how many episodes to keep. For example, you can check for new podcasts every hour, every day, every week or manually. You can also set iTunes to download all episodes or only the most recent one (or do nothing when new episodes are available). You can choose to keep all unplayed episodes, the most recent episodes, a set number of episodes, orall your podcasts. There’s also a button for setting which podcasts are copiedto your iPod.

A major difference with the Podcasts page from the rest of the iTunes Music Store is that the Buy button has been replaced with a Subscribe button. Even though podcasts now dwell in the land of paid-for music downloads, they can still be downloaded for free.

If you want to sample podcasts before subscribing to them, just click on the title of the podcast, much like you would click on an iTunes Music Store song title, to hear a 30-second snippet. The difference here: you’ll hear a stream of the entire podcast episode.

Apple has broken down its podcast offerings into categories – everything from Arts & Entertainment to Travel. There are also podcast-specific categories, such as Audio Blogs, Public Radio, and Talk Radio. Clickingon one of these categories produces the three-pane view of Genre/Category/Subcategories that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any amount of time browsing other sections of the iTunes Music Store.

As with other iTunes Music Store offerings, podcasts are searchable by podcaster or by podcast name; there’s a search field on the left-hand side of the podcast page. The search field in the upper right-hand corner of the iTunes Music Store Window (pictured on the right) only searches for podcast when you’re on the Podcasts page; beneath the field, there’s a “Search Podcasts” description instead of the usual “Search Music Store.”

iTunes 4.9 vs. iPodderX
So how does iTunes 4.9 stack up against some of the other podcasting clients? Well, having used iPodderX, I’d say it’s an improvement, if for no other reason than it eliminates the need for another application. In iPodderX, you had to select which podcasts to subscribe to; when the client updated new podcasts, it would open iTunesto transfer them from Mac to iPod.

iPodderX works well, but it has a very cluttered interface, with four windows across the single application, displaying podcast lists, the list of files to download, the selected file name and a large windowfor show notes. Apple’s effort has a simpler interface, though it could take a page from iPodderX’s book and incorporate the show notes directly in iTunes. Currently, you have to jump to a podcast’s Web page to find the show notes. The only information of a particular podcast that you get is the name, date, and maybe a hint in the description field. However, iTunes lets you preview (or even listen to the whole show) before choosing to subscribe to a particular podcast – a feature iPodderX doesn’t offer.

Submitting a podcast
Adding your podcast to the mix is easy, too. Just click on the Publish a Podcast button on the Podcast page. It will then take you to a page where you can type in the RSS feed to your podcast or a new podcast you’re submitting.

Click continue and you’ll be prompted for your Apple ID. Next, iTunes will cull your RSS feed for information about the author and the description of the podcast that it will automatically enter. You can also select a category for the podcast to be filed under. Then click Publish.

Getting a podcast up on the iTunes Music Store is a big deal for podcasters. Because unlike with iPodderX, there doesn’t seem to be a way for listeners to manually add feeds to the iTunes Music Store. They can only subscribe to the feeds that iTunes already knows about Currently one of the biggest podcast directories is Podcast Alley. It might be nice to see a link to that siteif Apple winds up lagging on updates of new podcasts.

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