We heard a few weeks ago that Apple was preparing to remove Podcasts from the iTunes Store and the default iOS Music app, but we didn't expect that to happen until iOS 6 launched. Somewhat surprisingly, Apple has decided to go ahead and launch its new dedicated Podcasts app for the iPhone and iPad today in the App Store. Similar to iBooks, the app features both a podcast playback and management component as well as a "store" that flips around from the back. The podcast looks fairly identical to its previous implementation as part of the iTunes app. You can click a podcast episode to stream it to your phone, or download it to your device — but there's also a nice, new "subscribe" button.

Is that questionable faux-tape deck really necessary?

Once you've subscribed to a podcast, the app's main interface shows either a grid or list of your subscribed podcasts; from there you can stream any episode, or download it to your device for offline listening. The playback screen appears spartan at first glance — there's the basic forward, back, and play / pause controls, as well as buttons that skip ahead 30 seconds and skip back 10 seconds. However, tapping on the podcast artwork reveals a classically Apple skeuomorphic design of a tape deck playing back the podcast, along with buttons to speed up or slow down the playback rate. There's also a standard progress bar you can drag, a button for sharing the podcast via email, iMessage, or Twitter. The app even syncs your playback position between devices — so if you start an episode on your iPad and want to finish on your iPhone, the Podcasts app should have you covered.

Another big new feature is podcast "stations" — this section organizes top podcasts selections under a variety of genres to help users discover new options. There's quite a few main genres, and many of them have sub-genres, each with five podcast selections underneath. If you're new to podcasts, or just looking to find something that you've never listened to before, this feature should make discovery an even easier process. Overall, this new app looks like a much improved solution for managing podcasts, though we do question some of the design choices.