Jared Erondu, January 23, 2012
Podcasting has come a long way from its beginnings near the end of the 20th century. It began to catch hold with people in late 2004 with groups like Dawn and Drew of The Dawn and Drew Show, Kris and Betsy Smith of Croncast and Dan Klass of The Bitterest Pill. However, former MTV VJ Adam Curry is credited with coming up with the concept altogether. His idea? Find a way to automate the delivery and syncing of textual content to portable audio players. Fast forward a few to June 2005 when Apple released iTunes 4.9 with native support for podcasts. From there, things just took off.
For many of us, podcasts make up a good portion of our week. After all, who doesn’t like listening to other people – talk? Whether that be the famous Diggnation by Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht (which just ended), TWiT TV, 5By5, or our very own Macgasm Podcast, there’s always something to watch or listen to. However, there were a few problems in the way we consumed podcasts. Most of us just learned to bear with what we had, but Martin Hering of Vemedio decided he’d make the changes necessary. His answer: Instacast.
Enter Martin Hering, the creator
Before making his way to the App Store, Hering graduated with a computer science degree from a smaller university in northern Germany. ”Lucky for me the studying part wasn’t that hard and so I had plenty of time on the side to develop some shareware Mac apps. It was a great time and the income from selling my apps payed for a lot of fun time.”
He later got his first experience with iOS in 2005 when he entered Equinux in Munich, Germany, as a Mac/iPhone software engineer. He was the developer behind its digital television technology and also created the ‘The Tube’ application and some accompanying products.
[quote]“It was fun and I gained a lot of experience in real hard-core programming. Before that I didn’t know that pushing bits and bytes so close to the metal could be that fun. We started to do some stuff right after the first native SDK was released. Before the SDK we fiddled around with HTML5, but that was not very promising.”[/quote]
Now, Hering wasn’t always into podcasts, mostly because of time restraints and “the lack of real quality talk entertainment.” However, in the fall of 2010, Dan Benjamin and John Gruber of 5By5 restarted “The Talk Show.”
[quote]“The quality of the 5by5 shows got me hooked and I fiddled around with iTunes and listening on iOS. But that became cumbersome and annoying quickly because there are too many steps and there is no integrated way of staying up-to-date. So I looked around a bit in the App Store, but I wasn’t really blown away by what was available. Everything seemed to be over-engineered already and too complicated for a beginner like me. And the apps weren’t very good-looking either. So I decided to start a podcast client project on my own.”[/quote]
So what was wrong anyway?
Not too much it seems. Hering just wanted something simple that worked for him. So he created an app that would fit his basic podcast needs, but he quickly realized that potential users were really demanding “perfection” when it came to their workflow. After all, who’d want an app that required other apps to go along with it? Or an app that broke after the first launch. This fact fueled his ongoing development. ”I wasn’t really hoping for a lot of success,” he said. “I knew most of the apps in the App Store might have some success at the beginning but after some time users lose interest and the project gets kinda stale. So, I was very surprised that this seemed not to be the case with Instacast. Users were sticking with it and recommending it to their friends.” To be specific regarding Hering’s success, Instacast currently has around 40,000 active users.
[quote]“That’s not much compared to some success stories of the App Store, but I think it’s a lot for a niche product like a $2 podcast client when iTunes gives the basic functionality away for free. But it really doesn’t matter that much to me. I just like to make the best podcast app.”[/quote]
Version one of Instacast came out March 1, 2011. This followed a three month period of development. At first, reception was slow, but the first user reactions were both positive and encouraging. “From version to version, from iteration to iteration, Instacast got more users and current ones were not running away anymore. So it’s gotten to a point where I can safely say that Instacast is the most accepted podcast client on the App Store with 4 to 5 stars constantly.”
What exactly is Instacast?
In the words of its creator, “Instacast is a fun application on iOS for consuming radio and television shows in the form of podcasts. It is really easy to learn and master and it provides endless time of entertainment.” The app, along with its beautiful interface, gives you instant access to your podcast subscriptions. You can stream or download episodes wirelessly, follow show notes and enjoy audio and video podcasts on-the-go. Not to mention, there’s an awesome search built-in for finding renowned and upcoming podcasts.
The app gives many features that we often overlook, but would easily notice if it weren’t present. It saves your playback state and syncs it via the cloud so that you can pick up where you left off on any iOS device. It shows you the rankings of podcasts by genre and overall ranking. It preloads over Wi-Fi to save bandwidth and doesn’t download episodes to the device to save memory. The app includes fine-grain tuning and speed-up/slow-down controls for those interesting or long episodes. There’s also a built-in browser for easier following of the show notes and push notification. All in all, Hering took his time in meeting the expectation of the user.
When did he realize the need for an iPad app?
After the successful reception of the iPhone/iPod Touch app, everyone wanted to know if an iPad app was in the works. I, for one, thought the same thing. In fact, I began using the iPhone app on the iPad at 2x resolution, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who did so. After all, the app was great, there wasn’t really a good alternative, and I was done with the built-in music and video app. However, it seemed that for some time, an iPad app wasn’t even being considered.
[quote]“I wasn’t really sure at the beginning if an iPad app was really necessary. But I got a lot of Twitter and email feedback about it and users were demanding it, so I made one. But I realized that simply copying the functionality of the iPhone app wouldn’t do the trick. You want to use your iPad differently than your iPhone. That’s why I put more focus on video and show links.[/quote]
That extra time put into making the iPad app unique took a long time. Hering started the first sketches in June 2011, put the whole project on hold for three months, then restarted it in September 2011. Instacast HD for the iPad was finally released in late November 2011 and the reception was incredible. In the end, “the iPad and the iPhone app share the same basic data model, but on top of that both app technologies are very different.” That’s the story of how this app came to be.
What’s next for Instacast?
For that, Hering had a quick response. “There will be an updated version for iPad shortly and I started work on a 2.0 for the iPhone. Can’t say much about it at this point, only that it will improve a lot of functionality that is kind of basic right now.”
Now from the story of Instacast’s origins, we see again the “get it done yourself” nature of its developer. He wanted something better for podcasting, so he set out to build a product with both him and the consumer in mind. Once again, we can take from this a simple lesson.
Remember this from the Day One interview:
[quote]We often sit around and wait for something to be done for us. In the case of apps, we notice a problem that needs to be addressed. However, we assume that with time someone will eventually build it for us. Why can’t we be that someone? Why can’t we set out to build it ourselves? It’s clear that the app platform is a great place to show your creativity.[/quote]
Yeah. The same applies here. Have a solution to a problem? Want something to work for you? Get out there and build it.Follow @macgasm