Overcast, one of the best and most popular podcast apps for iOS, has a new update out that lets you send individual podcasts to the Apple Watch so you can listen to them even when you're not in the vicinity of your phone. Apple's own Podcasts app doesn't let you do this, although you can send a playlist of audio files from the Music app.
The Apple Watch is the closest thing to an iPod that Apple really makes these days, so its lack of official support for podcasts has always been a little odd. And Apple is slowly making it more appealing to use the Watch away from your phone — AirPods are by far the most convenient earphone solution yet, and the Series 2 watches have features like GPS tracking and waterproofing that are designed for running and swimming, both examples of situations where it may be impractical to have your phone nearby.
I like to listen to podcasts when I run, because I otherwise find it pretty boring. If I'm going to focus my attention on music, I'd rather be comfortable and use equipment that's going to provide a better experience than whatever Bluetooth buds I've brought to the gym. Podcasts work much better for me when running because although sound quality doesn't really matter, I still have to concentrate on what I'm hearing — it's a good way to take my mind off things and make the time go faster.
Overcast now fills a big gap in the Apple Watch’s functionality
That's why this Overcast update is great news for me: it makes running outdoors a lot more practical and fun because I can leave my phone at home. (I have an iPhone 7 Plus, which does not feel great strapped to an arm or loose in a pocket.) It fills what feels like a big gap in the Apple Watch's functionality.
I just went for a quick 5-kilometer run to test out Overcast, and it mostly worked well. Once you've transferred the files to the watch, they appear in a secondary "Now Playing" interface that you can access with a left swipe. You can copy over multiple files at once, and they can be switched between via a simple menu. Playback controls are responsive and easy to press, unlike older versions of Overcast built with the first version of Apple's Watch software developer kit. I didn't run into any problems switching between apps on the Watch, either; I could start playing a playlist from the Music app and later carry on where I left off in Overcast, all with a laundry timer running in the background.
The implementation isn't without its flaws. Copying over each podcast took several minutes, in my experience, and there's no indication of how far along you are in the process — it just says "Transferring" until it's done. Your play state doesn't seem to sync back to the phone properly once you get home, even if you finish the whole podcast, tap the trash icon on the watch, and select "Delete from Overcast." At one point I somehow ended up with two versions of the same file playing over each other, and it was only possible to pause one from the watch itself — I ended up having to stop the other by taking out my AirPods and reconnecting. And at one point, the app just crashed altogether in the middle of my run, forcing a restart.
Apple Watch apps aren't exactly known for their stability, however, and Overcast's quirks are easy to look past for the functionality it provides. It was already my favorite podcast app for the iPhone, and now it's just made my Apple Watch quite a bit more useful as a fitness tracker.
Overcast is a free download, with a $9.99 annual subscription that removes ads and adds some minor features. This update also gives subscribers the option for a new app icon that matches the dark theme, for example.