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  • Apple News+ Review

    Posted on Nathan Parker Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    This topic contains 0 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by  Nathan Parker 4 weeks, 1 day ago.

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      Nathan Parker

      At its March Special Event on services, Apple released Apple News+, a premium subscription tier to the existing Apple News app focused mainly on magazines plus premium news content from major newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal. I finally had a chance to take Apple News+ for a free trial and spend a solid week with it, so here are my observations on it and if it is worth subscribing to (Apple News+ comes with a thirty-day free trial, after which it is $9.99/month. Canceling the trial before the billing kicks in immediately ends the trial. Apple News+ is currently available for the US and Canada. Apple News+ includes Family Sharing in the single subscription.)

      First of all, I never used Apple News+’s predecessor, Texture, so I cannot compare Texture with it. The only other similar service I’ve used is Zinio from my local library when they offered it, but they ended it shortly after I signed up for it, so I didn’t spend quality time with it. I have also tried e-magazine subscriptions to Macworld through its own iOS app and through Kindle, as well as my local newspaper subscription through its own app.

      Apple News vs Apple News+

      Everyone can use the Apple News app itself free of charge, and the main difference between Apple News and Apple News+ is the Apple News+ subscription simply enables access to over 300 magazines, plus a handful of premium news content such as from the Wall Street Journal. There is still a wealth of general news content and tech news content that can be accessed in the Apple News app free of charge. When Apple News first released the app, I didn’t use it heavily since I wanted services that also worked outside of Apple’s ecosystem. Now that I’m fully in Apple’s ecosystem, I’ve moved the bulk of my online news reading to the Apple News app (even before Apple News+ was released) by favoriting all of the online news and tech news websites I want to read, plus I would daily glance at the featured sections of the Apple News app to see what Apple highlighted (although they generally pull from sources I am less interested in). What I cannot easily access in the Apple News app I’m using email to read, although I may still need to bring in an RSS reader app to supplement some content I cannot get over Apple News or email (I’m considering Reeder for Mac and iOS).

      Using Apple News and Apple News+

      Unlike its predecessor Texture and comparable services such as Zinio, Apple News and Apple News+ is currently limited to the Apple ecosystem. It’ll run on any Mac running Mojave or later, as well as iOS devices (iOS 12.2 and Mojave 10.14.4 or later required for Apple News+). Even PDF versions of the magazines are currently locked to the Apple News app, so they cannot be accessed on non-Apple devices (there is a way to share links to articles, although it’s hit and miss on whether it accesses the article from the publisher’s website or from Apple News itself). Since Apple is dipping more into services, a web interface and possibly Android app would be nice to allow non-Apple customers to get a taste of Apple News+ to draw them into the ecosystem, but it has yet to happen yet (I also wish there was a way to export PDF magazines outside of Apple News+ to be read on devices such as Kindle, but there probably isn’t an easy way to do that without introducing piracy).

      Users can search for “channels” (basically the publisher’s feed) or “topics” (collections of articles from multiple publishers), as well as favorite channels and topics for easy access. Some channels can offer notifications, plus there is a way to save stories for later viewing or view a history of read stories. All favorited channels should sync across devices over iCloud, although I’ve had a few issues with it being slow (re-toggling News under iCloud in the Settings app has helped somewhat). Siri intelligence can also suggest channels or topics as well based on usage. The experience is generally consistent across iPhone, iPad, and the Mac, although the Mac version is likely undergoing some improvements in macOS Catalina, plus I generally do the bulk of reading on my iPad Pro.

      There is a dedicated tab for Apple News+ which shows highlights from a range of magazines, although I wish Apple would let users suggest channels or topics from which to pull content (as some of the featured content here doesn’t interest me one bit). There’s a top bar that allows users to browse magazines by name or by subject, plus a “My Magazines” bar that shows the latest issues of favorited magazines. Favorited magazines also appear in the list of favorited channels (just like free channels). Featured content from the Wall Street Journal appears both on the “Today” page and the dedicated Apple News+ page. Before signing up for Apple News+, content exclusive to Apple News+ is marked as so. After signing up, those tags are removed, and everything feels seamless.

      Apple News+ Exclusive Features

      The heart of Apple News+ is its support for over 300 magazines (a good list is available from Macworld here). Apple demoed stunning, interactive magazines and live covers on the stage during its keynote, and while a handful of magazines support them, the reality is most magazines are either in PDF format (only accessible inside the Apple News app), or a similar text format that is not interactive. This doesn’t disappoint me too much, since I am used to reading printed content and PDF content, and the content is still there. It doesn’t need to “wow” me with much interactivity. Reading the content on the iPad is going to be the best experience. The Mac is a little uncomfortable for long-term reading, and the iPhone is a little cramped for reading PDF magazines, although the interactive content can scale better to the iPhone’s screen size.

      When favoriting a magazine’s channel, new issues from that magazine will automatically download when new issues are released. There are ways to also manually download a magazine without favoriting its channel. The only issue with downloading magazines is once they are downloaded, there is no current way to removed downloaded issues. Downloaded issues are supposed to automatically remove around thirty days after downloading them. I have plenty of storage space on my devices to download a range of magazines, but those with iOS devices with smaller space should be aware of this limitation until Apple adds a manual remove downloaded issues button in a future update. Downloaded issues can be accessed without an Internet connection.

      I tried out a handful of magazines from a range of topics over the past week, from gardening magazines such as: Birds and Blooms, Gardens Illustrated, tech magazines such as: CNET, Digital Photographer, MacFormat, MacLife, Macworld, PCMag, and PCWorld, and other general magazines such as: Consumer Reports, Food Network Magazine, HGTV Magazine, and Martha Stewart Living, plus accessing the Wall Street Journal on the “Today” and dedicated Apple News+ pages, as well as favoriting the channel to access the full range of content. Depending on the magazine, I enjoyed some magazines and content better than others (I thoroughly enjoyed Gardens Illustrated, Digital Photographer, MacFormat, MacLife Macworld, PCMag, PCWorld, and Consumer Reports, although MacFormat and MacLife share similar content. I believe MacFormat is the UK variant of MacLife). Both the featured content and content accessed through the Wall Street Journal channel have been beneficial as well. A handful of magazines I’d likely read through cover-to-cover (especially the tech magazines). Some magazines I’d likely skim new issues on and only read highlights that interest me. Some magazines I previewed this week I may not be interested in reading regularly, but one benefit with this service is if there is a magazine I try out reading for a month or two and decide I’m not interested in it, I can switch to another magazine without being locked into a single magazine subscription that doesn’t interest me that I’d rather have run out.

      I’ll never read all over 300 magazines in the platform, but there is good handful of magazines I am interested in, the tech magazines for starters (reading through the tech magazines have kept me up-to-date on both Mac and PC news so I can better contribute here). Some of the other magazines (Consumer Reports, Gardens Illustrated, and Digital Photographer) had some interesting and educational content which I both learned from, as well as after spending hours of the day involved in reading academic journals and intensive academic reading (I’m in a PhD program), reading through a few articles in an Apple News+ magazine that’s outside of my academic studies has been a great way to relax, as well as still productively learn instead of putting my brain totally into idle. The Wall Street Journal content has also been interesting to read each day. I’m more of a casual reader of its content, but it has some interesting news and tech news that I’ve learned from during the past week I’ve been testing Apple News+.

      I also like the Family Sharing feature in Apple News+. My mother is on my iCloud Family Sharing account, so I can easily have her read an article in Apple News+ (I had her read some articles in Consumer Reports on grocery stores and appliance brands that would interest her) without jumping through a ton of hoops to share content with her.

      Bottom Line

      Will I be keeping my Apple News+ subscription when my trial is over? It’s possible. Originally, I didn’t believe I’d find enough content in Apple News+ I’d read to justify the $9.99/month subscription, as I’ve generally not read many magazines in the past that weren’t academic journals that aren’t a part of my PhD program. However, the tech news content in Apple News+ alone has been nice to access in Apple News (it also allows me to cancel my separate subscription with Macworld and have access to Macworld plus all the rest). The other handful of magazines I’ve previewed so far have been interesting, educational, and relaxing to read after a long day of academic studies. Additionally, with over 300 magazines to choose from, if there are any magazines I decide I am not interested in, I can simply swap them out for others without being locked-in to a single magazine subscription I wouldn’t want. For those who want access to highlights from the Wall Street Journal, Apple News+ is the most cost-effective way to access the content, so it may be worth $9.99/month for it alone. Throw in Family Sharing included, and the deal isn’t too bad for what all is included, and all fully integrated into the Apple ecosystem experience.

      With that said, there are a few rough edges with the service. Users need the ability to manually remove read issues of magazines, especially for those with lower-space iOS devices. Additionally, no web interface option locks Apple News+ fully into the Apple ecosystem, and only devices that can run iOS 12 and macOS Mojave (or later). I’m generally OK with the PDF versions of magazines, although more interactive content as demoed during the keynote would be fun, and reading magazines on devices besides the iPad are not as great of an experience. I also wish there were ways to customize some of the featured screens in Apple News+ to hide featured magazines that simply don’t interest me and highlight the ones that would. Additionally, if one’s local library already provides free access to Zinio or a similar magazine service, one may be able to access similar content to Apple News+ with their library card, just not in the Apple News app (although my library discontinued Zinio access Once Apple offers Apple Card, moving the subscription to Apple Card would be nice for the cash back). Also, it would be nice if Apple News+ added more premium news content in addition to the magazine content in there, although I can access a wealth of news content in the Apple News app for free.

      Apple News+ is a nice service for those who heavily use the Apple News app for news consumption and want to supplement their free access with a handful of premium news sources and a range of magazine content. It’s still a little rough-around-the-edges and needs to iron out a few kinks, but it is a great option for those ready to take the Apple News app to a new level.

      Nathan Parker

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