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How Apple could turn News into an industry leader

Michael Simon | March 4, 2016
The News app could be a lot better than it is today.

At first blush it seemed like my lengthy, App Store-wide search was over. While everyone else was talking about Apple Music in the days following last year’s WWDC keynote, my attention was squarely focused on News, Apple’s answer to the Flipboards and Feedlys of the world. Before my love of music comes my love of the written word, and the idea that Apple was finally making an app dedicated to the articles I want to read was way more exciting than an overdue streaming service.

Admittedly, my needs aren’t simple—I’m a news junkie who wants to read anything I can get my hands on. I thought that after six years of using an iPhone, I would’ve found my holy grail: something customizable that lets me save and share articles as I go about my day, recommend things I might have missed, and update me on what’s breaking or trending, all in a clean, easy-to-read format. A few of the apps I tried came close, but none got it perfect.

So when Craig Federighi promised Apple News would deliver “beautiful content from the world’s greatest sources, personalized for you,” my interest was piqued. Watching the WWDC keynote, it seemed like it would fill every one of my needs and quickly become my go-to news client, but at launch, News was a victim of its own ambition, trying at at once to do too much and too little, not unlike its relative, Apple Music.

Still, just as with the streaming service, there’s a lot of potential in News. With a few tweaks, it could become it could become the best in its field—and maybe even save the industry.

Easy on the eyes

As with most Apple apps, News looks great. It presents stories with clean layouts, full-screen images, and crisp typography, for one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had on an iOS device.

The pièce de résistance, however, is Apple News Format. A custom JavaScript Object Notation document format that lets publishers present stories in dramatic, engaging ways, it gives Apple News an advantage over every other reader. Like Facebook’s Instant Articles, stories that utilize it are instantly more interesting and appealing.

But all stories are not created equal in Apple News. Peppered between the rich, native presentations of full articles are truncated stories that need to be viewed on the associated website. While the browser that opens may be as optimized for reading as it can be, it still waters down the Apple News experience, interrupting both the physical and visual flow of the app.

And Apple News Format stories are few and far between. When it launched, a few publishers were chosen to showcase the beauty of the format, but things haven’t grown so much from there. Despite detailed documentation being available in the iOS Developer Library, Apple News Format is still marked with a “Coming Soon” tag, and it’s unclear if Apple is expanding it to more publishers, or how the company is (or isn’t) promoting the framework.

 

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