Apple News+ Needs Some TLC

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We’ve been here before. iCloud had its struggles all the way back to MobileMe before finally finding its footing recently. The Apple Maps app itself was fine from the beginning, but the stitched together maps and second-hand POIs were rough until Apple put in the work themselves. Apple Music’s content was good, but the interface was a flat-out mess when it was rolled out. Conversely, Apple News was just bad all the way through when it was released. Despite all the rough beginnings and growing pains, though, it’s good that Apple stuck with all of the above and made them all into strong services and apps in the long run.

I keep thinking Apple will learn from their previous false starts, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, as Apple News+ has taken the same path iCloud, Maps, Music and News before it. News+ has easily been the poorest received of all of Apple’s new paid service offerings and it culminated with the head of the service leaving the company this week.

So what’s the problem? I gave News+ a sold review at first, but that was when I wasn’t paying for it. Don’t get me wrong. Having access to lots of magazine content is worthwhile. However, there are plenty of warts. The interface could use a little work and it would certainly benefit both Apple and the magazines offered if publishers embraced the digital format, rather than settling for uploading plain old PDFs.

I still enjoy using News+, on occasion. That last part is a big part of the problem, though. As it stands, it just isn’t compelling enough to be worth $9.99 for access all the time. It is completely forgettable until you think to go look at something, and when you do, you had better hope you know where it is, because the built-in search isn’t helping.

Another big missing piece is integration outside of the service. For example, if Apple looked at my reading tastes in Apple News and surfaced content inside of publications that I would like, that would be worth something. Rather than having to browse new editions to see if there’s something I want to read, I would be more likely to find something I’m interested in that I might otherwise miss. That would bring me back to the service more regularly. As it is, there is little to none of this going on. News+ is a virtual island unto itself and it will never survive, much less thrive that way.

So what can Apple do to fix this? MG Siegler believes that Apple should bundle News+ with other Apple services, rather than have it stand on its own. I think this is a good idea, as well, and I’m not the only one. There have been rumors of an Apple services bundle, but so far the company has resisted going all the way down this road. They should, because the sum of the strengths of multiple services is a much easier sell for most people.

I have one suggestion of my own for Apple News+. The biggest weakness of the service in its current form is that it’s all or nothing. You pay $9.99 for a month of the firehose, or you get nada. If you think about how people typically consume magazines, this isn’t it. We buy them for a flight, or a road trip, or some time on the beach. Not everyone is a subscriber, especially today. But many of us continue to stick to picking up magazines when we know we will have a little time to spend on them.

In my opinion, Apple needs to come up with a way to serve this audience. One day and one week pass options would give Apple a chance to. I understand the premise of a subscription service and that single issue sales probably aren’t possible with the agreements that are in place. But shorter subscriptions, which would be easily available as in-app purchases, would make a lot of sense to someone looking for a content to fill a short span of time.

No matter what Apple does with the News+ subscription, it HAS to fix search. It is currently no help when it comes to looking for content inside of current or back issues of available magazines and newspapers. A much better search could be a great tool for someone doing research on certain topics covered by the magazines available. At the very least it would allow us to search for articles on subjects we are interested in. As it is, the search function in News is holds little value when it comes to News+.

Here’s the good news. Apple has a lot of practice at rescuing wayward apps and services. They did really sold jobs of turning iCloud, Maps, Music and News from rough to ready to go. While the first two took some time, Apple turned Music and News around significantly in just one year. Hopefully they can take that experience and apply it to News+, because it is definitely in need of help as it nears the end of year one.

James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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