While Microsoft has long supported subscribing to and managing podcasts for its devices through the Zune PC software, last year’s release of Windows Phone 7.5 ushered in the platform’s first steps towards a PC-free future. In this release, you can now search for, browse, download, stream, and subscribe to podcasts over the air, from the device.

As always, there are caveats. On-device podcast support is not available in all markets. And over-the-air podcast subscribing and updating, inexplicably, is available only in the United States for more.

(Looking forward, it’s also worth noting that Windows Phone’s Music + Videos hub will apparently carry forward to Windows Phone 8, making it the only Windows 8-based platform to not utilize separate Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps. This also means, however, that Windows Phone, for the foreseeable future, will remain as the only place in the Microsoft ecosystem where podcasts are officially supported. There is no first party podcast support in Windows 8, Windows RT, or the Xbox.)

To find podcasts on a Windows Phone handset, navigate to Music + Videos, Marketplace, Podcasts. Here, in what Microsoft calls Podcast Marketplace, you can browse through a reasonable collection of podcasts, using Featured, Top, New, and Genres pivots.

podcasts_marketplace

You can also, of course, search for podcasts using the handy app bar-based Search button. Note that search will only turn up podcasts that Microsoft lists in Microsoft’s marketplace, and that results will pivot between podcasts, apps and games, and music, even when launched from this interface.

search

To stream a podcast episode over the air (potentially using your cellular data connection), just tap the Play icon next to the episode button.

podcast-episodes

To subscribe to a podcast, tap the Subscribe button. In the Series Settings screen, you’ll see options related to this subscription, which, in the US at least, will be updated automatically over time. (Tap the Settings button here to determine whether podcasts will be updated over Wi-Fi only if data consumption is an issue.)

series-settings

What’s missing from the device-based support for podcasts, of course, is the ability to find podcasts (using a URL or RSS feed) that Microsoft does not aggregate in its marketplace. You can do this in the Zune PC software, however, and then sync those podcasts to the handset through that software.

If you want to know more about the over-the-air podcast support in Windows Phone 7.5, please read my article Windows Phone 7.5: Over The Air Podcasts, which goes into more detail.