At the start of the year, I explored the problem of taking notes while listening to podcasts. The solution I suggested at the time—taking screenshots and emailing them with a short note—was crude and cumbersome. I was subsequently contacted by a few people who informed me that they were vexed by this same problem and were developing software solutions to solve it. Two of those individuals recently released their podcast note-taking apps: Airr and Notepal. Given the release of these apps, it seemed like a good time to survey the landscape once more and see how much progress has been made in the podcast annotation space (since I’m an iPhone user, this article is focused on iOS apps but I do indicate which apps are also available for Android).
After exploring the App Store, I found a mixed bag. The bad news is that the available solutions are limited both in number and in functionality; it’s clear that this remains a niche feature. The biggest bummer is that none of the popular podcast players currently offer any note-taking capabilities.
The good news is that the handful of apps that do support note-taking are growing and improving.
What follows is a list of the iOS apps I evaluated that support podcast note-taking. If there are any Android-only podcast apps with solid note-taking capabilities, please let me know.
Apps with in-app note-taking capabilities
Apps are listed in alphabetical order.
Airr (free, iOS)
Airr is an interesting podcast player with tremendous potential. Airr lets you create short audio highlights from podcast episodes called “AirrQuotes.” When you create an AirrQuote, you can add your own comments or notes to the audio-clip. AirrQuotes can then be shared with other Airr users. Friends who don't have the app can view the AirrQuotes with a share link (viewable via web browser); it’s a nifty podcast discovery feature. Of course, you can always elect to keep the audio clip private if you prefer. Some podcasts offer written transcripts which are also made available when you create a new AirrQuote. Having a text transcription greatly aids note-taking.
The discovery angle of shared audio clips is neat, but without a thriving user community, this aspect of the tool is more promising than useful (if Airr gains traction, this will become a major selling-point of the service). I’d also love to see broader coverage of their transcription feature, but I imagine that is constrained by the number of podcasts that offer full-text transcripts and the expense of generating in-house transcripts.
[Update: The Airr founder kindly reached out to me and informed me that it is possible to share AirrQuotes with non-Airr users via links that can be viewed in-browser. I've updated the entry above with this new information. Airr also plans to release more new features very soon (more transcripts and hands-free AirrQuotes), so be sure to keep an eye on this app in the coming weeks.]
Notepal (free, iOS)
Notepal is a bare-bones app that is designed to do one thing well: take notes for podcasts. If you’re looking for a podcast player that provides a polished user interface for discovery and podcast playback, this isn’t the app for you. However, if you simply want an app that lets you write short notes for podcast episodes, this is a decent solution.
While listening to a podcast you click on an “add note” button and record a short comment (the app automatically records the timestamp). Notepal does a good job of organizing your notes for later review. Notepal offers export integration with Evernote which is a nice touch.
The biggest knock on Notepal right now is that the export function is limited to Evernote. On the other hand, this is the only app I encountered that even offers this feature, so props to them. Being able to use notes as bookmarks to jump to an episode playback position would also be nice. As this app is only one month old, I expect future releases will bring significant improvements.
RadioPublic (free, iOS & Android)
RadioPublic is the most polished podcast player offering podcast annotations. While listening to a podcast episode, you can create a bookmark (called a “HearMark”) that marks a time-position in that episode. Written comments/notes can then be added to individual bookmarks. You can create as many HearMarks as you like for a single podcast episode. Navigating back to your HearMarks is cumbersome, but once you do you can review and edit your marks or use them to playback specific parts of the referenced episode.
The biggest downside is that, like other apps, there’s no export option for your notes (i.e. no way to export your notes as a plaintext or markdown file). On top of that, the app interface is particularly clumsy for certain tasks.
There are also 3 paid apps that offer in-app note-taking. Each can be downloaded and used for free with limited functionality, but you'll need to make a one-time purchase or signup for a premium subscription to access each app's complete feature set.
- EXIQ Notecast (iOS & Android): Monthly or annual subscription needed for full feature-set ($4.99 and $49.99 respectively). App uses AI to perform transcriptions. When you encounter an interesting segment in a podcast episode, you can click a highlight button which submits a transcription request to Notecast. The app will then transcribe the marked audio into a text transcription (unfortunately it can take several hours to process an audio highlight into text).
- Podverse (iOS & Android): Annual $10 subscription needed to unlock “premium” membership that offers full range of app capabilities. App allows users to create shareable clips with annotations. The app is currently offering the first year of premium for free. Podverse is also open source under AGPLv3 (view the Podverse GitHub repo).
- Tatori (iOS): One-time in-app purchase of $4.99 needed to remove limitations on number of podcasts available. Free version allows users to subscribe to ONE podcast.
While there are a handful of solutions making progress in this space, I haven’t yet found one that will replace my current method of taking a screenshot and emailing myself a short annotation that I can later turn into a proper note for my note-taking system (I use a zettelkasten, which I’ll write about at some future date).
The overall package I’m still looking for:
- A single app for discovery, playback and podcast annotations.
- A fully-featured and professional-looking podcast player with good user-experience.
- Note-taking is a small, but important feature in the app. It's well-integrated into the overall experience (rather than a standalone solution). The Audible app is a decent example for how this is done in an audiobook app.
- Notes should be exportable as a plaintext or markdown file. I need my notes to be portable from one app to another.
- Full-text transcripts. I know it's still a challenge to generate the transcripts from a cost, quality, and automation standpoint, but text transcripts are critical to better podcast note-taking. I hope hope others will follow the lead of Airr and Notecast to expand on this feature.
In the words of U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” That’s ok; I recognize this is a niche feature. Nevertheless, I appreciate the efforts of the developers highlighted above and am looking forward to how this feature evolves in the future podcast app ecosystem.