When a Good App is Still a Bad Idea

I’ve recently become enamored of This American Life. It’s available in several forms, but I’ve been listening to the podcast version on iTunes. The shows have individual themes, and there are usually multiple segments/acts that relate to that theme. In particular, I’ve enjoyed “NUMMI”, “Inside Job” and “Social Contract”.

Some episodes seem to be free, for a limited time after they are originally made available, and others cost $0.99–a perfectly reasonably price for a high-quality piece of entertainment, in my opinion. However, you can also buy an iPhone app for $2.99, and that app provides access to the episodes you’d normally pay for individually.

The app has some nice features: it can stream audio, download it for later consumption and can let you listen live to the broadcast. However, it’s a good example of how each content producer creating their own app is a bad idea. Let’s face it: an independent content producer is unlikely to reproduce the audio player functionality built into the iPod well. For instance, the TAL app doesn’t remember where you are if you pause the audio, leave the app and return later. That’s a big deal, but it’s not the only thing that the iPod app does that the TAL app doesn’t, and you’re likely to miss those things as much.

Even if the TAL app eventually does replicate all that functionality and manages to keep up with the inevitable changes and enhancement to the iPod app, the bottom line is that I still have to go to yet another app just to see if there’s a new TAL to listen to, when I really want to have it appear in my podcast listing when it’s available and downloaded. This isn’t the same paradigm as magazines, where I can see how they want to have so much control over the flow of the reading experience that each magazine might need its own app; I want to listen to TAL the same way I listen to all the other podcasts on my iPhone and I want the same tools uniformly.

I guess I’ll keep up on the latest episodes in podcast fashion and use the TAL app to listen to back episodes as necessary, but it sure would be nice if I could pay my $2.99 and have the episodes appear in the iPod app when I want them.