Seriously, what's not to like? iTunes is home to zillions of podcasts -- there's literally something for everyone -- and they're all free.
There is, of course, one downside: podcasts consume space. Not a ton (the average episode of "This American Life" is about 27MB, the equivalent of three or four MP3 song files), but if your iPhone is already brimming with apps, music, videos, and the like, you might not have the necessary storage for all the great shows you want to hear.
No problem: the iTunes app actually lets you stream podcasts rather than download them. It's not immediately obvious how, especially with that big, inviting download button next to each show title -- and no sign of a Play button. Let's walk through the steps.
- Open the iTunes app.
- Tap More, then Podcasts, then find a podcast you want to hear. (Alternately, of course, you can search for a particular show.) If you're a history buff, you can't go wrong with Mike Duncan's "The History of Rome."
- Notice the "Free" button next to each available episode. Tapping that is how you download a podcast, which isn't what we want here. Instead, tap the title of the episode.
Presto! The podcast starts streaming right away. And, thankfully, iTunes is smart enough to resume playback where you left off, even if you stream a different podcast in the interim.
The caveat, of course, is that streaming consumes your monthly data bandwidth, just like streaming from the likes of Pandora or Netflix. But podcasts are encoded at a lower bit rate than music, and certainly don't use anywhere near the bandwidth of video, so the impact should be pretty negligible. And you won't have to devote any precious storage to your shows.
Now that you know how to stream podcasts from iTunes, you might want to consider streaming podcasts from an app other than iTunes -- one that gives you a lot more control over subscriptions and management. Two popular choices: Podcatcher and Instacast; the latter recently updated to a 2.0 version with a bunch of new features.
I've listed some of my favorite podcasts; now let's hear yours. Hit the comments and tell me which shows make your travels infinitely more pleasant.