How to listen to podcasts on the road

As the summer travel season begins, a lot of us have been hearing the same question from family, friends, and readers: What’s the best way to listen to podcasts? The timing makes sense: Podcasts, like regular radio, are great company on long road trips as well as daily commutes. So today I wanted to explain one way to listen to podcasts when you’re on the move.

If you asked Macworld editors about their favorite way to listen to podcasts (which I did), the overwhelming answer is “on my iPhone.” The iPhone (and, to a lesser extent, the iPad and iPod) is really a perfect medium for podcasts: It’s portable and there are multiple podcasting apps available for it.

So the first step in listening to podcasts on your iPhone is to go the App Store and download a podcast app. Today, I’m going to focus on just one of those: Apple’s own Podcasts app. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does have some advantages. For one thing, it ties into Apple’s iTunes ecosystem. There are tons of podcasts available from the iTunes Store, so that’s a handy place to find and subscribe to podcasts. It also syncs podcasts subscriptions between multiple devices that use the same Apple ID. So you can subscribe to a podcast on your Mac and listen to it on your iPhone, if that’s the way you want to go. I’ll mention some alternative apps in a bit.

Once you’ve downloaded the app, it’s time to find some podcasts. The Podcasts apps makes that pretty simple. You can start on the Featured tab. That’ll show you some potentially interesting podcasts, especially new ones. Note that you can search by audio and by video; for listening in the car, you’ll probably want to focus on the first.

You can also tap on the Top Charts tab to see which podcasts are most popular with iTunes users. Or you can tap here on the Search tab and look for a podcast by name.

However you find the podcast you want, the next step is to subscribe to it. That’s as simple as tapping on the name of the podcast in whatever list you’re looking at, then tapping on Subscribe.

That done, tap on the My Podcasts link on the left. That’ll show you a list of the podcasts you’ve subscribed to.

You should see a number next to the name of the podcast. That’s the number of unplayed episodes that are currently available. If you want to get more, you can tap on the Feed tab and see other episodes.

You can either listen to a stream of the episode or download it for later listening. For long road-trips, I’d suggest downloading a bunch of them ahead of time, particularly if you’re data plan has a monthly limit or if you’re going to be traveling where cell-phone coverage is sometimes iffy. You can just run through the list of episodes and tap on the download icon for as many episodes as you want.

And that’s all there is to it, really. Once you’ve gotten used to the Podcasts app and the whole idea of listening to podcasts, you can of course customize the experience. Go the Settings app and scroll down to the Podcasts to set up things like syncing podcasts with other Apple devices, refresh schedules, and whether or not you want to use cellular data to get your podcasts.

As I say, the Podcasts apps isn’t perfect. In fact, Macworld editors generally prefer alternatives available on the App Store. Instacast and Downcast are particularly popular, but there are others you can explore if you wish. One advantage of those non-Apple apps: They make it simpler to subscribe to podcasts that aren’t in the iTunes Store—and, yes, there are plenty of those.

Note that, if you’re interested only in the podcast from a particular source, there may be a dedicated app for it. For example, public radio’s This American Life—one of the most popular podcasts—has its own iOS app. So if you’re just interested in that show or another particularly popular one, check the App Store and see if there’s an app just for that.

That should be enough to get you started. This is Dan Miller, Editor at Macworld, wishing you happy—and entertaining—trails.

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