27/06/2012 12:58 | By Stuart Dredge, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Podcasts: app of the day

Apple takes podcasts out of iTunes and into their own dedicated iPhone and iPad app.

Podcasts is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets (© Apple)

What is it?
Apple has a huge catalogue of podcasts in its iTunes Store, but now they have a standalone app to help you find good shows to listen to - from well-known DJs and amateur podcasters alike.

Coolest feature
The ability to choose whether you want to stream podcasts over the network, or download them for offline listening.

iOS - Free

Many many years ago, podcasts were big, big news. As in Wired-front-cover future-of-media big news. Podcasting was the new rock'n'roll. Something like that, anyway.

That hype moved on, leaving podcasts to evolve into an understated yet important part of our media landscape, from major radio stations and news sites through to individual experts on every topic under the sun.

Apple's iTunes Store has been one of the key sources for podcasts for some time now, but the company has just launched a standalone Podcasts app for iOS, rather than bundling them into the background of its main iTunes app behind music, films and TV shows.

The new app, which is free, is a simple and efficient way to browse through the hundreds of thousands of podcasts available on iTunes, split into categories including Arts, Business, Comedy, Music, Science & Medicine and Technology.

The Catalogue section of the app looks a lot like iTunes, but there's also a Library section that's a bit more browsy, as you swipe right and left between categories and up and down through popular podcasts. In the latter case, tapping on a thumbnail starts streaming the latest episode immediately with no fuss.

Dig into the Catalogue section, and you can subscribe to favourites to ensure you don't miss an episode - they then appear as thumbnails in a sub-section of the Library. The app is flexible too: you can choose to stream podcasts, or download them to your device to listen offline.

There are some neat controls for skipping forwards and backwards when playing podcasts, as well as a nifty Sleep Timer to set the app to turn off in 5-60 minutes or when the current episode ends - aimed at people listening in bed, apparently. The app runs in the background, as you'd expect.

Meanwhile, a sharing button helps you email, tweet and message friends about the podcast you're listening to. Note, the Sleep Timer and sharing button are hidden behind the podcast image on the app's Now Playing screen - you tap on it to reveal them, which is slightly strange.

Anyway, Podcasts certainly isn't the whizziest app Apple has made, but it works well. It would be good to have more recommendation features to suggest podcasts you don't know but might like, based on your listening habits.

Perhaps that will come in a future update. The real joy here is in the content itself - the podcasts - so anything Apple can do to help you find your way to the best (and not necessarily most famous) stuff would be appreciated.

Podcasts is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets