Apple News

Once upon a time I used Pulse to keep track of the news and reviews coming from my favorite websites. That seems like a long time ago now, as once it was acquired by LinkedIn the Pulse app received a number of updates that negatively impacted the interface and the app’s performance. At that point I abandoned it for Flipboard, which has been my news application of choice on both Android and iOS up until this point. At WWDC 2015 Apple announced that they were creating their own news reader called Apple News, and that it would be launching with iOS 9. Naturally I was interested in seeing how good it was, and if it was good enough to merit replacing Flipboard with it on iOS.

Before I go forward, I have to mention that Apple News is only launching in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. The content is hardly regional though, so I have no idea why this is the case. Until your device is set to one of these regions the app won't even show up, and if you want to get around this restriction you need to go to Settings > General > Language & Region and set your region to one of those three places. This doesn't require you to change your language, but it does change the formatting of dates, currencies, etc.

When you first launch Apple News you’ll be asked to add three of your favorite news sources to the app. The app is intelligent about offering additional selections based on what you initially choose. For example, if you scroll down and decide to add AnandTech as a source the list will begin adding additional news sources related to technology. Once you’ve picked three or more sources you’re ready to start using the app. The first screen you’ll see is the “For You” screen, which aggregates stories from your selected news sources and topics. I’d imagine a lot of users will spend their time reading here, but I personally like to dive into a specific site or topic, which you can do from the favorites tab.

Of course, you’ll likely want to expand your news sources beyond what you initially chose when you’re setting up the app. Apple has two methods of doing this. The first is to go to the explore tab. This section has lists of channels and topics which are selected based on what sources you already have. You can also scroll down to browse news sources by topic, which can be a good way to find a new source about a topic you enjoy reading about. If you already know what you want then there’s no need to go exploring, and you can instead go to the search tab to search for a topic or a website.

At this point Apple News seems pretty good, but it hasn’t really done anything that an existing news application like Flipboard doesn’t already do. The real appeal of Apple News is in the content, and more specifically, how nice it can be to read content designed for the Apple News format. At this point I’m going to switch over to the iPad, as the large display really works great with the formatting of Apple News articles, and in general it’s just a nicer way to read news than a phone.

Most publications haven’t fully taken advantage of the Apple News format, and are just providing the same RSS feed as they would to other applications. This is because the format has only been available to selected sites in a closed beta during the iOS 9 beta cycle. In those cases you don’t get the same experience as publications that have, but you still benefit from the layouts and typography of articles in Apple News. Publications that present articles designed for the Apple News format are a whole other story. As you can see above, CNN has decided to customize their hub with a list of topic sections along the top. When you’re reading news from a particular publication that has done the work to add these things it feels just like being inside a native application, but without the storage usage and clutter on your device that having separate apps for every news source would create.

The experience inside the articles themselves is also better than any other news reader I’ve used in the past. Standard articles still look nice because they’re formatted well, and Apple has made good choices for the fonts and sizes to use for different types of text. When you get into articles designed for Apple News the experience gets even better. Like I mentioned before, it really feels like being in a native application for a publication. There can be animations, parallax image scrolling, Gaussian blur, and special text formatting. These things improve the experience by adding things, but there are also improvements made by taking things away. There are no auto playing videos in the articles, and no intrusive advertisements that scroll along or pop up and block your content. The features involving smooth scrolling and animations are very difficult to do well on the web, and it’s really not something other news apps can compete with if they’re just using standard RSS feeds for websites.

I mentioned that there are no intrusive ads in Apple News and in fact at this point I actually haven’t seen any advertisements at all. I know that they will be coming at some point because publishers need to make money, but I don't know when that will be. What’s great is that the ads won’t be intrusive like the ones you’ll get when you visit many of these publications on the web, which is another win for users.

Of course, there is one downside to Apple News that could force some users to continue using other services, and that’s the lack of support for adding RSS feeds. Thankfully, an extremely large number of publications have added themselves to Apple News, including ones that primarily cover Microsoft and Google which confirms that it's not an echo chamber of Apple related news. That being said, there are a couple of sites that I normally check from time to time that aren’t on the service yet and while none of them are sites I consider essential enough for me to stop using the app, it’s very possible that for the time being a user could be missing a site that they really need supported.

Based on the current support I see, I think it’s clear that websites and publishers are already aware of how necessary it is to be on Apple News, and if a publication isn't on it yet it certainly will have to come sooner rather than later unless it's a publication so specialized and unique that users are willing to visit it through Safari because there's no alternative. Being a default app for an operating system comes with a lot of power because users will choose it based on its immediate accessibility, even when it’s not as good as some third party alternatives. However, in the case of Apple News I honestly feel that it is the best news reading application I’ve used to date, and I miss it a lot when using devices like the Nexus 9 and Galaxy S6.

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  • Speedfriend - Thursday, September 17, 2015 - link

    @melgross I have recently seen numerous tablets being used by businesses (restaurants, delivery companies) that were clearly no-name Android tablets designed for that specific tasks. Why would a corporate that needs a tablet for a single task buy a $500 iPad when they can get a $200 Android?

    iPad is now caught in the middle between cheap single task Androids and multi-task windowns 2-in-1s. Our CEO is obsessed with Apple products but we have gone Windows tablets and it looks like we are going to go full surface range soon (3 and Pros). Why, because an iPad is too limited even as something you just take to meetings with you.
    Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    -- a respected history of hardware-design and innovation..

    really, really now? Apple has always bought their silicon, 99.44% is off-the-shelf. Yeah, I know, the fanbois brag that the Ax chips are somehow blessed by Apple. Fact is: Apple only tweaked around the edges, using industry standard silicon design tools, a bit of cache added here and there. Just look at the BoM from any of the usual teardown sites. You'll see the fact: it's always other people's parts.
    Reply
  • osxandwindows - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    So why is apple not using 8core chips ha? Reply
  • Intervenator - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    I hope that post was sarcastic or it would really be funny. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, September 17, 2015 - link

    ...Because that would be too far a jump. Apple wants to MILK its customers for everything then can hence the small updates. Someone like Nokia committed a mortal sin as they released a 41Mp (36+5mp) camera phone while others are still messing with 20Mp.

    All about the cash.

    P.s. Android NEEDS more cores as it runs like a bag of crap.
    Reply
  • calden - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    Actually Android runs just as smooth as iOS. The problem is skinned, custom versions of Android, i.e. TouchWiz. When I replaced TouchWiz with CM 12.1 on my Note 4, the system took up only 580MB, where as TouchWiz took up more than 1.5GB before a single app was even installed. I also installed the launcher SmartLauncher 3, the whole experience is lightning fast. Even when running multiple apps in the background, something iOS still can't do. I think it is ridiculous that a modern OS in 2015 cannot do something as simple as stream a movie to your TV and still allow you to use the device, iOS simply pauses, even disconnects the stream in some cases if you want to do something as simple as look up an actors name in IMDB. With my Android tablet I can not only stream a film to my TV but play a game like Modern Combat 5 at the same time. As a programmer I need to run a terminal app to stay connected to my firms server during trading hours as I have monitoring tools. IOS has terminal apps as well but I can't run them them in the background the entire day without iOS terminating it's connections. Again, I find this to be absolutely ridiculous as who wants to stare at a terminal the entire day, especially when I need access to my tablet or phone to do other tasks. Apple adding Pro behind the iPad doesn't automatically make it a pro device. IOS still has one of the worst document, file management systems on the market today. My Nokia 9500 from 2004 is light years better than what iOS provides, apps should never be allowed to manage their own files. Default apps, I still can't change the default apps in iOS, why? I have no use for Apple's included apps, if I had the choice I would immediately delete them from the system, as such I need the ability to select my own browser, email client, messenger, media player, etc. as the default applications. I find this tactic of not being able to select my own default apps in iOS highly anti-competitive. The EU went after Microsoft for including Internet Explorer in XP, even though the user had the option of choosing another browser as their default. Why hasn't Apple be scrutinized about this? Reply
  • calden - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    I'm aware of those few audio and GPS apps that can run in the background in IOS, but this is a far cry than allowing any app that the user needs in the background. No, this has nothing to do with battery life, if it is than Apple really needs to rewrite iOS. My BlackBerry Passport, running three apps in the background, easily lasts the entire day on a single charge, actually it lasts a day and a half with moderate to heavy use. Android has the ability to select how many apps are allowed to run in the background, you can even set it to 1. So if people feel like their apps are eating up their battery they can control the amount of running apps. Apple could easily implement such a feature, they don't though, which means they have all the control, they dictate how the user uses their own devices. iOS is a wolf in sheep's clothing, looks pretty, inviting but once you start to do real work you encounter a brick wall a 20 stories high. How many times have you iOS users logged into iCloud on your device, I had to do it over 25 times to cover every app. Why, why do I need to log in even twice, once should be enough, in Android upon setting up my Google user that was it, from that point on every app that could communicate with Google Drive would automatically be setup. This is because the apps talk to the system at the lowest level, iOS requires spaghetti API's, a spiderweb of tunnels trying to pass info to each other. The Share TO function in iOS works only if the app dveloper has created a share profile. Why can't the system just dynamically create these Share To lists like Android 5.1.2, SailFish 2.0, Windows Mobile 10, BlackBerry OS 10.3.2 by looking for every compatible app that is installed and than listing. No, instead iOS uses this half ass API system. What about mult-user support, will never happen in iOS because of the way it handles files. To support multi-users in iOS each user would have to reinstall each app over again to distinguish each users. They could embed the users info in the file's metadata so the app can distinguish each user but that is just hacky at best would and how would these modified files react when used on other systems. IOS is definitely not a pro system and anyone thinking differently is either lying to themselves to protect their beloved Apple brand, aren't professionals themselves so don't reall understand the meaning or are working around these limitations, fighting the system at every point to get their work done which falls in line with point one, their lying to themselves.

    I'm not saying that iOS devices don't have their uses, they do. They make great consumer devices for media consumption, social media, gaming, drawing and other artistic apps, music and music creation, etc. However as a productivity tool these devices are highly limited and can't compete with the likes of a Surface Pro 3 or even Surface 3. Even an Android tablet would be a better option. With my Nexus 9 I can log into the LDAP and gain access to all my allowed users NAS storage, mount it as a local asset. Set file extensions to open up certain apps, etc. Trying to do this in iOS is like trying to put a round peg into a square one. You can do it with a bit of force but your going against it's designed purpose. Apple needs to completely rewrite iOS, combine many functions found in OSX before I would ever consider using another mobile device from Apple.
    Reply
  • mikhapop - Monday, September 28, 2015 - link

    you really nailed it, i am a web developer and i often fail to tell my friends how the ios is very limiting for even the basic stuff (my basic stuff). android is far better as far as the os go. Now i am using a surface pro 3 and never looked back, very good in meetings, and it is now my main machine for 98% of my work. Reply
  • blackcrayon - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    Sounds like you know close to nothing about the Ax chips. They are custom Apple designs, and they also optimize their OS for them. I bet you thought Intrinsity and PA Semi were just marketing facades that didn't actually do anything before Apple acquired them years ago, right? Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    Apple spent billions acquiring semiconductor companies and is one of the few companies along with Qualcomm that has a license to make ARM chips. Anand himself highlighted this while showing that Apple's custom designs matched or exceeded Intel's Bay Trail.

    You really think their custom designs are something to be dismissed just because of the name on the package? The fanboy is strong in your posts
    Reply

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