iOS 6 audio playback buttons

I noticed two nice changes to some audio playback buttons in iOS 6. First, if you’re listening to a podcast or an audio book and the display goes to sleep, double-tap the Home button to bring up basic audio controls right on the lock screen. That’s not new, but what is new are the buttons that let you jump ahead or back 15 seconds at a time.

Likewise, you can double-tap the Home button while the display is active to reveal the list of running apps. Scroll to the far right to find the audio playback controls. Again, they aren’t unique to iOS 6, but the 15-second jump buttons — back and ahead — are. Neat.

My favorite free audio dramas in iTunes

I love hearing a story. Maybe it’s some pre-adolescent hang-up from when I was read to, but I enjoy hearing a story even more than reading one. A good audio book mimics the experience of being read to, and a full-on audio drama builds upon that to create a fantastic experience.

Fortunately, there are many wonderful, free audio dramas in iTunes. From zombie horror to creative short fiction, I listen to all of it. Here’s a list of my favorite audio dramas. But first, a brief history.

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Apple’s Podcasts app needs work

Apple has released Podcasts (free, universal), a new standalone app for finding and listening to podcasts. It’s very nice-looking and is similar to the iBooks app for iOS, in that you “flip” it over to switch from your library to the store.

Overall it works well and looks nice. Subscribing to a show is easy, and a download icon clearly identifies episodes that are stored locally and those that aren’t. The playback UI resembles a reel-to-reel tape player, which is cute and perhaps a questionable choice.

There are thoughtful animations, too. The tape “jerks” with each stop and start, and the bulk of the tape moves from the left reel to the right as you listen to your podcast. Both are very Apple-like touches that enhance the experience. If you don’t like the tape player’s look, you can swipe down to hide it with the show’s cover art.

I do have big problems with the app, though. First, links in the show notes are not clickable. This is inconvenient for listeners and problematic for sponsors. Apple has taken away a listener’s opportunity to click a link on his or her device as he listens. Now, sponsors must hope he will remember to do it when he gets back to his computer.

Also, the way the store is laid out makes it look like the “top stations” are the only shows that exist. For instance, “Sports and Recreation: Professional” only lists five shows. “Games and Hobbies” lists two. “Education: Training” lists seven. It’s true that customers can flip the app over to visit the complete store, but what’s the motivation to do so when Apple is saying here are the best shows in each category?

Finally, it doesn’t sync subscriptions between devices. I imagine iCloud could handle that.

It’s a nice-looking app and it does what it’s supposed to do, but I can’t recommend it until Apple fixes these problems.