Well iOS 9 is here and it's the most minor major — or maybe the most major minor — upgrade to the Apple's mobile software in recent memory. But there are a few brand spanking new apps to talk about, and one of the big ones is Apple News.
Before going to much further, let's state that whatever shortcomings Apple News has, it's an overall net gain if you were using the app tragedy that was Newsstand. That being said, Apple News isn't exactly a news app messiah.
That "Search" tab design tho...
In many ways, News is the embodiment of what Apple does excellently: Reinventing what already exists but making it much easier. When you pop open News for the first time, you're greeted with 177 different publications and topics to choose from. Everything from Eater to ProPublica to Cosmo is all there. Just one tap, and all that fine online journalism will be added to your feed.
Once you're through the initial set-up phase, you can always hop over to the "Search" tab, type in whatever you want, and whammo — there it is. Although that's where you start seeing a lot of pitfalls. For example, search "Slate" on Apple News and your presented with a nice, maroon-themed layout that has an updating feed every dozen or so minutes. But type in other websites, and Apple News isn't nearly as thorough nor does content look nearly as good. Even partner sites have some problems. For instance, Apple News doesn't seem to be a big fan of clickbait photo galleries.
In the end, News is a pleasant viewing experience about half the time, and it's all mixed in together so it becomes kind of a mess.
iPhone 6 (left) and iPhone 5s
News also isn't much of a design godsend. The layout itself is mercifully simple compared to the vomit of UI choices on Apple's Music app, for example, but the browsing experience is pretty utilitarian on the iPhone 5s where it's just lines and lines and lines of text broken up sparingly by a 1-inch square image. It's slightly better on the bigger screen on the iPhone 6, looking more like Feedly and Google News' list layouts. But overall, it's far behind the choice and design attention dedicated to mobile from apps like Flipboard or Feedly. But hey, of course there's going to be some room for improvement, right?
And that's why I'm not too concerned about looks. During WWDC, Apple wisely demoed News with an iPad mainly because the app just looks better bigger. Hopefully, some of those design choices and subtle animations will trickle down to smaller screens over time. It seems, at least at launch, Apple didn't believe they could bring all the neat tricks over to smartphones, and that's a shame.
As is tradition, Apple also cribs a few easy UI shortcuts from other readers out there. For example, you can long press on a story to either share or add to your "Saved" pile for later reading, similar to Feedly. You can also reference past stories you've perused in the "History" tab for when you talk about "that one story you read" at your next intellectual get together.
Feedly, News, and Flipboard
Basically, if you have any kind of nuanced media diet, have a craving for all of the news right when it happens, or just like pretty apps, I don't think Apple News is a suitable substitute. But if you're more into media-grazing — lightly nomming on the leafy greens of journalism — Apple News is a perfectly non-offensive and responsive app that makes Newsstand look like the digital disaster that it was.
It's just a tough world when you have to go up against readers like Google News, considering the whole company was built for the explicit purpose of delivering internet info in the first place. But as far as native news apps on iOS are concerned, I have to admit it's getting better.
Top image by Michael Hession