Apple's successor to Newsstand in iOS 9 hasn't been officially released yet and it's already a failure
Eye on Apple
By Jim Lynch, CIO
I remember when I first heard about the Apple News app during WWDC, it seemed like Apple was finally going to fix the mistakes it had made with its Newsstand app in iOS. Unfortunately, my initial zeal for Apple News quickly drained away once I’d used the app in the iOS 9 beta.
What went wrong with Apple News? Jeremy Horwitz at 9to5Mac has a great overview of the problems with Apple News and what Apple should do about it. I’ll share my own thoughts about Apple News below.
…the Apple News app isn’t exactly inspiring. You can create a collection of “Favorites” by specifying publications and topics that interest you, resulting in a grid of doorways that lead to Flipboard-style grids of RSS-scraped articles. Apple also lets you “Explore” collections of suggested publications and topics, drill down within some categories, and search seemingly all of the publications using a unified search engine — a non-trivial new feature that has the potential to be great over time. A tab called “For You” assembles a mish-mosh of recent articles supposedly tailored to your interests, and a Saved tab lets you recall either articles you’ve specifically marked for reading, or items in your reading history.
Notably, most of Apple News’s content isn’t available offline, which is to say that you need an active Internet connection both to acquire new content and read most of the content the app previously accessed. This is a major difference relative to Newsstand, which stored issues on your device for reading at any time, and a weakness that shows how News could and should be more.
…Apple News is currently just a glorified RSS reader with the option for news publishers to create and monetize better versions of their web content inside. It’s not terribly exciting, and given what happened with Newsstand, it’s hard to imagine that publishers will be rushing to fund News-formatted versions of most of their upcoming content, particularly if it will just disappear into the ether after a day or two like typical web pages.
My belief is that Apple News, Newsstand, and iBooks should effectively be merged into a single Reading app with the best characteristics of all three of Apple’s initiatives. Most of the pieces have already developed — it’s just a question of unifying a bunch of seemingly different types of reading materials within a single place. Just like TV shows, movies, music videos and home videos all live within a single iOS app called Videos, think of Reading as an app-based version of a Barnes & Noble bookstore (minus the old Nooks and awkward optical disc collections).
I agree completely with Jeremy’s take on Apple News being a failure in its current form. I had such high hopes for it, but I don’t even bother to open the Apple News app anymore. It just doesn’t offer me anything I can’t already get on the Web without having wade through an extra app on my iOS devices.
I disagree, however, with Jeremy about blending Apple News into iBooks. We already have a big mess like that and it’s called iTunes. Mixing more functions into an existing app does not necessarily make for a better overall experience for the user, as many iTunes customers can attest to given that application’s bloat and interface problems.
I’ve included below some of my own pet peeves about the Apple News app.
The Apple News app and scraped RSS articles
One of the first things I noticed when using Apple News was that a lot of articles didn’t appear in full in the app. Instead what I got was an RSS blurb and then I had to tap again to read the Web version of the article. Ugh. Talk about disappointing!
What is the point of having a news publishing platform like Apple News that defaults to showing nothing more than a scraped RSS feed? There are tons of RSS reader apps that I can use instead that offer a much better overall experience than Apple News if I want to find news via RSS feeds.
Bear in mind that Apple’s advertising agreement with publishers seemed quite generous, so I’d hoped that publishers would opt to show complete articles in Apple News. But quite a few sites weren’t doing that when last I looked at the app. Perhaps that will change as time goes by and more publishers adopt the Apple News format, but right now I just don’t want to see a blurb from an RSS feed when using Apple News.
Why can’t I add my preferred RSS feeds to the Apple News app?
Speaking of RSS, another thing I didn’t like about Apple News was that there seemed to be no way for me to add my own choice of RSS feeds to the app. If Apple is going to use scraped RSS feed content, then why not let users add the RSS feeds they want to see in the Apple News app?
Basically, you are at the mercy of the choice of sites presented to you in the Apple News app. There’s no way to add other sites that aren’t picked by Apple itself, and this seems like a dumb idea to me if much of the news selection is based on scraping RSS feeds anyway.
Let me give you an example of what I mean here. My politics tilt to the Libertarian right, but what do I find when I look at the channels listed in the Politics section of Apple News? I see the following sites:
The Huffington Post
As you can see from that list of sites, there’s not exactly a huge range of ideological options being offered by Apple News. Not everybody who uses Apple News wants to see what basically amounts to a list of mostly left-wing sites in the politics section. But there’s no way for me to add sites that I’d like to see in Apple News.
See what I mean here? It’s as if Apple wants to push its own political point of view on me by limiting my choices when it comes to political news. And that certainly makes it less likely that I’d bother using the Apple News app.
And it’s not just politics that’s the problem. You’ll find a limited selection of sites regardless of which section of Apple News you browse. Why should I bother with limited choices in Apple News when I have access to the entire Web via my browser or other RSS reader apps that let me choose which sites I want to read?
The For You feature in the Apple News app is flawed
The “For You” tab in Apple News is similar to the one in Apple Music. It’s supposed to show you news that you are interested in, based on your previous selection of sites and articles that you like by tapping on the heart icon.
Unfortunately, the “For You” feature is fatally flawed in Apple News for the simple reason that it is based on the very limited choices presented to the reader in Apple News. When I tap on it, all I see are articles from the sites that Apple News has allowed me to choose. Since I can’t add my own sites, the “For You” feature really doesn’t offer much that I want to see.
Some iOS users don’t seem to like the Apple News app either
Jeremy and I aren’t the only ones having issues with Apple News, some of his readers on the 9to5Mac site also aren’t jazzed up about Apple News as you can see from this selection of comments from the article discussion thread:
Ali: “As long as iOS lets me place the News app in the folder of things I do not use (unlike it did with Newsstand in iOS6), I am OK with it.”
Chrisl84: “I still never quite understood why a News app was needed by Apple or third party….isnt that what Safari and bookmarks are for?”
Sewollef: “I too have iOS 9 on my iPad and already the News app is gathering dust. I held out great expectations for this since I want to publish a periodical of my own with changing content and thought this might be the vehicle to do it. How mistaken I was.
My newspaper of choice [since I’m a Brit] is The Guardian…. but try as I might, I cannot get the newspaper in my feed, despite an image showing it in the Keynote.
I can’t figure out what this app is supposed to be, and although Newsstand wasn’t great in my view it is infinitely preferable to this new mess. I guess I’ll stick to Zite for now.”
Dibyendu: “For me it doesn’t even launch. It crashes every time it opens.”
On each of my iOS devices I have a folder entitled simply “Apple” and in that folder I dump all of Apple’s default apps that I’m unable to delete and that I don’t use much or really care about. The Apple News app has already been consigned to that folder, and I see nothing happening in terms of its development to get me to change my mind.
It’s sad to have to say this since iOS 9 has not even been released yet, but I think the Apple News app is doomed. It seems to be going down the same road as the Newsstand app but for different reasons. Perhaps the suggestions made in Jeremy’s article might save it, but I don’t see Apple heeding any of his thoughts. It’s most likely that the Apple News app will eventually die a quiet death and end up removed like the Newsstand app.
Hail and farewell, Apple News. We hardly knew ye.
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