Marco Arment just released a major update to its popular podcast app for iOS, Overcast. This update brings many under-the-hood improvements as well as a few new major features. Arment is also switching its pricing model entirely as the app is now completely free with an optional patronage subscription.
I’ve been using Overcast for more than a year now, and there are many unique features that make it my favorite podcast app. You won’t find these features in any other podcast app. For instance, Smart Speed speeds up the silences — it makes podcasts shorter without making the podcasters sound weird. Voice Boost fix badly mixed podcasts by leveling the voices.
And yet, you had to make a $5 in-app purchase to unlock these innovative features in version 1. Arment says that around 20 percent of Overcast’s users paid for the full version. This freemium model generated healthy revenue, but also meant that 80 percent of Overcast’s users only had the basic features. In other words, making them understand why Overcast was better than the default Podcasts app on iOS was hard.
That’s why Arment is trying something radically new by removing the in-app purchase and implementing an optional patronage subscription. If you enjoy the app, you can become a patron for $1 per month. To be clear, this purchase doesn’t unlock anything in the app. It’s just a new way to support future development. With this change, many more users will get Overcast’s differentiating features.
In addition to making the app free, There are a few new features in Overcast 2.0, starting with streaming. There are now three settings as you can see in the top screenshot. You can download every episode on Wi-Fi, download every episode on Wi-Fi and cellular or stream every episode. If you choose the last option, new episodes won’t download automatically.
Instead, when you tap on an episode, it will start playback right away and buffer the rest of the episode. Once Overcast has buffered the entire episode, the app keeps the file and it will stay on your phone as a downloaded episode. So it’s a sort of hybrid model between streaming and downloading that works quite well. When you stream an episode, you can take advantage of Smart Speed, and you won’t have to stream the episode again once it’s downloaded.
The other new big user-facing feature is chapters. Very few podcasts support chapters, but the app will now display a bar below the artwork to give you the current chapter name. In the show notes, you will find a table of contents to jump to a particular chapter. Navigating a 90-minute audio file can be tedious, and chapters are definitely a nice feature. I hope more podcasts will support chapters in the future.
Finally, there are a lot of little improvements. Smart Speed and Voice Boost should sound better, the app is easier on battery life and the podcast directory is now powered by the user base. The app also supports the new iPhone and iPad features, such as 3D Touch on the home screen, Split View and Slide Over on the iPad.
Overcast 1.0 was already one of my favorite iPhone apps. The second version adds a bunch of features without making the interface more complicated. Now that everything is free, there is no reason why you should still be using the Podcasts app over Overcast.