Castro, the Lazarus App

It can happen to any piece of software. At some point, the developers stop maintaining it. For a while, it continues to soldier on under its own steam. But then the bugs start appearing, impeding the experience and gathering in numbers. Eventually an API changes or something on the back-end breaks, and it’s game over.

Castro was my favourite podcast app. An app I used every day, a constant companion on commutes and long hikes. Then it too went through the death-cycle of an app left by the wayside to wither.

At first it wasn’t noticeable, and then over time the performance of the app degraded. App features such as side loading became more and more unreliable until they stopped working completely. Subscribed podcasts took longer to arrive until eventually any attempt to refresh the podcast inbox just resulted in a timeout error.

For a while the issue was intermittent but eventually the error became permanent. I could use the app to listen to podcasts I’d already downloaded but essentially the app had died a slow, drawn out death. I couldn’t even export my feeds because that relied on the broken back-end infrastructure behind it.

I emailed their support, but heard nothing back. The app looked for all intents and purposes to be unmaintained, unloved, an ex-app 🦜.

Anyone who’s had their favourite app die on them knows the frustration. I mean, who remembers the fantastic Sparrow mail, killed by Google soon after they bought up the company.

So, I had to go looking for a new podcast app, and the Mastodon community gave me several good recommendations. I eventually gave Overcast a try. It’s a great app even though it didn’t really gel with me. What mattered is it worked reliably.

Then, my email to Castro support received an unexpected reply.

Castro had been purchased by a company called Bluck Apps – the third company to own Castro – and was being given a fresh lease of life. Their blog got its first update in 4 years acknowledging the poor treatment of its not unsizable user base and promising improved communication.

Most importantly, the new owners seem to have a genuine desire to see the app succeed again.

Having given Castro another spin for the last month, I can confirm most of the issues have been fixed. Episodes appear promptly, or promptly enough for my liking. Features such as side-loading – for me one of the coolest features of the app – just work again.

The owners are being transparent about the work left to do. For example, Castro still continues to suffer from infrequent yet sporadic background crashes. It’s not a deal-breaker as often the audio will recover by itself and continue playing (or if not you can just hit play again on the lock-screen or from your headphones). But it’s so refreshing to see this kind of transparency from an app developer on what doesn’t work. I think that kind of honesty pays off when you have a loyal user base.

Most of all, you know the owners are fans of the app and use it themselves. It’s the veritable “us-ware”, a concept I’ve written about before, and that gives me confidence the remaining bugs will get ironed out. I’m not even that concerned with new features as for me Castro already has everything I could want in a podcast app, so long as it’s looked after and kept reliable. It’s just I never imagined we’d see an app so close to the abyss make a comeback.

So with this in mind, I’m ready to go all in again and make Castro my primary podcast app for the foreseeable future. It’s good to have it back again.

If you want to give Castro a try for yourself, you can download it for free from the App Store or learn more at their website. This wasn’t a sponsored post or anything, I’m just genuinely glad the app is back and I’m rooting for it.

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