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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  • Morawka - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    your still talking about the 13" ipad pro man? thats what we are comparing here. It's huge, must be held with 2 hands, and is heavy without a kickstand. to do any extensive typing, your gonna need a tablet stand, and then you cant use touch. must have keyboard.

    its just to big (and heavy) to do what your typical use case is on a ipad. sure it's cool for artist, but it's gonna slide around on the table when your drawing unless you have it on some sort of stand.
    Reply
  • ws3 - Thursday, September 17, 2015 - link

    The iPad Pro is the same weight as the original iPad, which I have and use without issue. Reply
  • Sc0rp - Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - link

    "and is heavy without a kickstand"

    It weighs 1.57 pounds. that's only 0.07 more pounds than the iPad 1 or 2. Thats not heavy.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, September 17, 2015 - link

    Sorry but you're miss-informed. The MD here has a Surface Pro 3. The QA guy has one. The H.R. lady has a Pro 2. The sales guys have a mix and I use an i3 SP3 at home. if you add the dock you've an instant desktop replacement.

    ...and yes these guys do heavy Excel work.

    Last year, while waiting in an airport, I use my then pro 2 to launch a VM that holds all my design stuff. I took a picture with my 1020, threw it into the VM, messed around with the picture and uploaded. That VM held my video editing software etc. Why compromise with an ipad? The weight difference is hardly an issue.

    P.s. I also own an Air 2, which I like, but it really is a toy and my fav app is SimCity Builit :)
    Reply
  • robinthakur - Thursday, October 1, 2015 - link

    I agree in that while the Suface 3 Pro is my primary deive, it could really just be any laptop (or Macbook) because I just use it at my desk, and I never use it in tablet mode because it gets quite hot and noisy. Likewise it's not stable enough to use in laptop replacement mode (due to the kickstand design) pretty much anywhere but a flat surface like on the tube, bus etc. Reply
  • Klug4Pres - Monday, October 5, 2015 - link

    "For me, my iPad is my preferred device to check email, browse the web, read, play games, stream movies/music, etc. "

    Maybe I haven't tweaked the setup enough, but I find my wife's iPad very frustrating to use for web browsing. 90% of the time, it is great, but then I try to do something simple like fill in a web form and suddenly it is completely unusable. I cannot scroll text within form boxes, I cannot move the cursor in a reasnable way for editing, there are no arrow keys, hover text hides what I am writing, etc.

    Say what you like about Windows and laptops, and there is lots wrong with them, but as productivity devices they just provide a more efficient experience. Then there is Flash content, handling certain file types, dealing with files in general.

    I also prefer not having to hold the device I am using, and clamshells are just better ergonomically for that.
    Reply
  • Vichy_C - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    "a toy like the iPad"

    That "toy" has more graphical and computational power than ANY Surface devices available. It also has better battery life, better accessories (Apple Pencil) and better hardware design.
    Reply
  • kspirit - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    what. Reply
  • Vichy_C - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    Did I misspell something? I said the iPad Pro is better than the surface graphically, computationally, aesthetically, and accessorily. It's not a "toy" by any stretch of the imagination. Reply
  • xenol - Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - link

    Sure the iPad Pro is better than the Surface. It was running a Tegra 3 which was woefully underpowered for the device to begin with.

    Now the Surface 3, that might be a toss up because it depends on what metric Apple used when claiming A9X is "faster than 80% of portable PCs shipped". For all I know, they were comparing it with all the Atom based tablets and convertibles and by "faster", maybe like 5%.
    Reply

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