Hands-on with News in iOS 9: Apple's response to Facebook and Snapchat's content platforms

News is a flashy and fast reading app, but more publishers need to adopt Apple News Format before it can truly shine.

Like Facebook and Snapchat, Apple has partnered with news publishers to deliver a beautiful and fast-loading editorial experience on its home turf. 

News is a completely new app on iOS 9. Similar to Flipboard, News uses RSS feeds to deliver stories from different publishers together in a magazine-style layout. News, however, doesn’t have Flipboard’s built-in social capabilities, like incorporating a feed of just links shared by your Twitter network.

Previously, iOS devices had a Newsstand folder that served as a hub for newspaper and magazine apps. Newsstand is gone in iOS 9—all your Newsstand apps are still there, and any newspaper or magazine subscriptions remain active, but the apps are placed in a regular (read: deleteable) folder instead.

Here are some other notable reading features of News in iOS 9. 

Personalized app that ‘learns’ what you like to read

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To get started, News asks you to select at least three “channels” from a list of content publishers. You can also select some of your favorite topics like “Tech Industry” or “Android (Operating System)”—both of which had interesting source images attached to the topic, as several Twitter users pointed out. The image for “Tech Industry” was a profile image of Taylor Swift (which may not actually be a joke). And the picture Apple used to illustrate “Android”? Just a photo of Tim Cook laughing. LOL, indeed.

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Once you select some of your favorite channels and topics, News creates a custom magazine for you with articles pulled from different sources. Apple took inspiration from Apple Music and included a “For You” section for News, which serves as your homepage, if you will—it gets updated continuously whenever one of your favorite channels posts an article. As with Apple Music, News keeps “learning” about which types of articles you like reading so that it can surface similar content. Simply “love” a story by pressing on the heart icon.

The “Favorites” section is where you can view, manage, and edit the channels and topics you are subscribed to. “Explore” has a list of suggested channels and topics for you to consider adding. And if you can’t find your local newspaper or favorite website, you can always “Search” for it. (It’s worth noting that if your favorite blog isn’t in Apple News, you can’t add its RSS feed on your own.) Lastly, “Saved” is akin to the Reading List in Safari, a place where you can store all the articles you wish to read later. It also includes a History tab, which you can clear if you ever spend too much time reading US Weekly.

Apple News Format brings flat content to life

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Apple has recruited a select number of publishers to be launch partners for News, including Wired, CNN, The New York Times, The Atlantic, ESPN, and Slate. These publishers worked directly with Apple to format a few feature stories in what Cupertino is calling “Apple News Format.” This new format incorporates large images, video, slideshows, pop-up text, and other multimedia features to create a dynamic and immersive reading experience.

At launch, Apple has pre-selected all the publishers who have articles in the Apple New Format as part of your custom magazine, presumably to show off the stylish, new format. Here’s how Wired’s recent cover story with actress Rashida Jones looks like in Apple News Format.

 

Furthermore, all articles that have adopted this format can be easily found under the Apple News Selections channel.

Apple News Format also uses its own tagging and category system to surface similar reads once you reach the end of an article. These tags are still a little funky, however. After reading an article about vintage cars in Cuba, News suggested I read an article about entrepreneur Mark Cuban. The suggested story had nothing to do with vehicles, nor the country in question.

Apple will be setting up more publishers to adopt the new Apple News Format in the coming months. Hopefully, News will have a wider selection of cool-looking articles and get better at categorizing these stories over time.

So far, the selection of articles in Apple News Format is limited. Even though Wired is a News launch partner and has its cover story in this format, the rest of its articles look like they would in just about any RSS reader, with a main image and a two-sentence description before being prompted to read the rest of the article on Wired.com.

Swipe up and you’re instantly taken to the publisher’s website to read the entire article. Thankfully, most full articles load surprisingly fast, since they load right in the News app, instead of taking you out of the app and launching in Safari. 

Cupertino’s first foray as a content platform

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News can be seen as a Newsstand replacement, a Flipboard competitor, or just another pretty RSS reader. But the fact that Apple has developed its own format for publishers to adopt makes News more reminiscent of other mobile content initiatives by Facebook and Snapchat.

Articles in the Apple News Format load very fast just like an Instant Article in the Facebook app, and they incorporate video and animations similar to Snapchat’s Discover stories. Publishers are increasingly being courted as content providers for tech and social platforms. As more readers flock to these platforms to read stories and get breaking news, a publisher might not even need its own website, just strong partnerships with wide-reaching distribution channels.

While we didn’t see any advertising on News, once we were taken to a magazine’s own website, all of its associated ads surfaced, including a full-screen pop-up on Wired.com. Apple is using its iAd platform to sell ads on News. Publishers earn 100 percent of the revenue of ads they sell themselves and 70 percent of the ads sold by iAd.

This story, "Hands-on with News in iOS 9: Apple's response to Facebook and Snapchat's content platforms" was originally published by Macworld.

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