I've been a podcast consumer since before they had a name. While this is not quite as outrageous a statement as recent Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's claim to have invented the internet (which, ironically, is almost true), I used to commute 120 miles, each way, 3x a week. At that time, podcasts were the exclusive property of Audible.com, using DRM-wrapped MP3's, but I consumed programs like the WSJ, Car Talk, and more. With the podcast revolution, the landscape has exploded with amazing timely content, and I bask in the glory of CNET's Buzz Out Loud, Bill Maher's Real Time, and more.
As my biking has ramped up, I have relied heavily on podcasts to keep me company. As I am loathe to have multiple devices, I use my Treo 680 with Pocket Tunes, streaming wirelessly over Bluetooth to my Motorola HT280 headphones. All good, but updating podcasts on the 680 with QuickNews has proved to work, though much slower and more cumbersome than is really practical. On the other hand, the best podcast manager application, in my opinion, is Apple's iTunes: subscriptions are easily managed, new subscriptions easily browsed and found, and Smart Playlists allow rules-based playlists (i.e. 5 most recently updated podcasts). The downside: it lives in the Apple ecosystem, so it syncs only with iPods. So, how to get iTunes to manage podcasts on my Treo?
Enter the Mass Storage Synchronizer, a small macro-based program that does just this...sorta. It allows you to define a playlist in iTunes, named "Treo smartphone," and add the content of your choice. Yes, it can also be a Smart Playlist. Now, here come the useful, if not slightly kludgy, step. Got an SD card reader? Good, you need it. Pop your SD card in, and make sure there's a folder named Audio on it. Double click the Mass Storage Synchronizer icon, and up comes a window, suspiciously DOS-looking. It protests a few times; just keep clicking Continue. Finally, it quietly thinks for about 10 seconds, and the alerts you everything has been updated. Yep, the contents of your playlist are now on the SD card.
Note I said "contents." That means that the actual playlist did not transfer, so you are left to your own devices (ahem) to create the Playlist on the Treo. For me, I use this tool to get podcasts on my Treo, so it's a simple matter to use Pocket Tunes to just create or edit a playlist on the Treo and add in all the content with the genre "podcasts." Then a little reordering, and I'm good to go.
Overall, this solution has a lot going for it. For one, it works, which is more than I can say about Pocket Tunes' Windows Media integration (works once, but never again). For another, it's fast: mere seconds to transfer big podcast files. And finally, it's got the magic price point: free. Who can argue with that?
Personally, I think Apple's got to eventually expand iTunes to non-Apple devices to continue adoption of their leadership role in digital content. I'm not saying this year, or even next, but as NBC recently showed, without critical market mass, the whole inexpensive content supply dries up. Apple can sell as many iPods and iPhones as they can, but if they want to continue dictating pricing and terms to big content providers, they have to show they are the only game in town. That means playing nice, at least in a limited fashion, with Zunes, Sansas and the like, or risk Amazon or Microsoft stealing their thunder.
For now, I'm happy with this workaround. That iPhone keeps looking better and better...but, for instance, this is just one of many blog entries written entirely on my Treo. I'll stick with the keyboard...and the poor man's iPod for that alone.