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Apple’s iOS 9 News App Review: Broken News

Apple occasionally introduces new apps to iOS that come preinstalled on every device, and with iOS 9 they've done this again with the introduction of News. As you would expect from the name, News is, or at least tries to be, a one-stop shop for all your news needs. One way to think of News is a fusion of Google News (for the recommended articles), Flipboard (for the ability to follow publishers and topics), and Facebook's Instant Articles (custom, gorgeous articles on mobile).

The News app was, to me at least, one of the features of iOS 9 that I was most looking forward to using – I even put that in writing. I was excited about the News app because reading news on an iPhone, although it has improved over time, can still be a frustrating experience jumping from app to app. The experience is even worse with many news websites which chew massive amounts of data and obscure the small display with a myriad of annoying ads. News, as it was demoed at WWDC, offered a promising alternative: a one-stop app that would deliver "the articles you want to read in a beautiful and uncluttered format, while respecting your privacy".

Much like Apple's past experiments in bringing news to iOS,1 the News app in iOS 9 fails to live up to its potential. The high hopes that I had for the News app have unfortunately been (mostly) dashed. Whilst there are aspects of great execution in some limited areas, huge aspects of News seem half-baked and confused.

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iOS 9: The MacStories Review, Created on iPad

With iOS entering the last stage of its single-digit version history, it's time to wonder if Apple wants to plant new seeds or sit back, maintain, and reap the fruits of the work done so far.

Last year, I welcomed iOS 8 as a necessary evolution to enable basic communication between apps under the user's control. With extensions based on a more powerful share sheet, document providers, widgets, and custom keyboards, I noted that iOS had begun to open up; slowing down wasn't an option anymore.

In hindsight, many of the announcements from last year's WWDC were unambiguous indicators of a different Apple, aware of its position of power in the tech industry and willing to explore new horizons for its mobile operating system and what made it possible.

Following the troubled launch of iOS 6 and subsequent rethinking of iOS 7, Apple found itself caught in the tension between a (larger) user base who appreciated iOS for its simplicity and another portion of users who had elected iPhones and iPads as their primary computers. Alongside this peculiar combination, the tech industry as a whole had seen the smartphone graduate from part of the digital hub to being the hub itself, with implications for the connected home, personal health monitoring, videogames, and other ecosystems built on top of the smartphone.

WWDC 2014 marked the beginning of a massive undertaking to expand iOS beyond app icons. With Extensibility, HealthKit, HomeKit, Metal, and Swift, Tim Cook's Apple drew a line in the sand in June 2014, introducing a new foundation where no preconception was sacred anymore.

iOS' newfound youth, however, came with its fair share of growing pains.

While power users could – at last – employ apps as extensions available anywhere, the system was criticized for its unreliability, poor performance, sparse adoption, and general lack of discoverability for most users. The Health app – one of the future pillars of the company's Watch initiative – went through a chaotic launch that caused apps to be pulled from the App Store and user data to be lost. The tabula rasa of iOS 7 and the hundreds of developer APIs in iOS 8 had resulted in an unprecedented number of bugs and glitches, leading many to call out Apple's diminished attention to software quality. And that's not to mention the fact that new features often made for hefty upgrades, which millions of customers couldn't perform due to storage size issues.

But change marches on, and iOS 8 was no exception. In spite of its problematic debut, iOS 8 managed to reinvent how I could work from my iPhone and iPad, allowing me – and many others – to eschew the physical limitations of desktop computers and embrace mobile, portable workflows that weren't possible before. The past 12 months have seen Apple judiciously fix, optimize, and improve several of iOS 8's initial missteps.

Eight years1 into iOS, Apple is facing a tall task with the ninth version of its mobile OS. After the changes of iOS 7 and iOS 8 and a year before iOS 10, what role does iOS 9 play?

In many cultures, the number "10" evokes a sense of growth and accomplishment, a complete circle that starts anew, both similar and different from what came before. In Apple's case, the company has a sweet spot for the 10 numerology: Mac OS was reborn under the X banner, and it gained a second life once another 10 was in sight.

What happens before a dramatic change is particularly interesting to observe. With the major milestone of iOS 10 on track for next year, what does iOS 9 say about Apple's relationship with its mobile OS today?

After two years of visual and functional changes, is iOS 9 a calm moment of introspection or a hazardous leap toward new technologies?

Can it be both?

eBook Version

An eBook version of this review is available to Club MacStories members for free as part of their subscription. A Club MacStories membership costs $5/month or $50/year and it contains some great additional perks.

You can subscribe here.

(Note: If you only care about the eBook, you can subscribe and immediately turn off auto-renewal in your member profile. I'd love for you to try out Club MacStories for at least a month, though.)

Download the EPUB files from your Club MacStories profile.

Download the EPUB files from your Club MacStories profile.

If you're a Club MacStories member, you will find a .zip download in the Downloads section of your profile, which can be accessed at The .zip archive contains two EPUB files – one optimized for iBooks (with footnote popovers), the other for most EPUB readers.

If you spot a typo or any other issue in the eBook, feel free to get in touch at

Table of Contents

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A Beginner’s Guide to App Store Pricing Tiers

It might be common knowledge to developers, but some readers might not be aware that Apple only permits developers to sell apps at certain price points. For example, customers in the US App Store will see apps costing $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99 but they won't find any apps costing $5.20 or $2.75.

For various reasons, which we'll cover, Apple permits developers to choose from 94 price tiers, which range from US$0.99 to US$999.99. Developers pick one price tier, which applies to every country that their app is distributed in.

In this story we'll go into the details of the App Store price tiers, explaining how they work, some of the reasons why they exist, interesting consequences of them, and hear from developers who use them.

This is a bit of an experimental story, exploring an iOS/Mac developer topic for the benefit of anyone interested in the iOS/Mac app ecosystem. If enough people find this useful we'll look at covering other topics.

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Visualizing Apple’s Historical iPhone Lineups, Guessing the Next One

We're rapidly approaching that time of the year when Apple introduces new iPhones, and BuzzFeed's John Paczkowski reported last week that the event will be take place on September 9. There will almost certainly be a lot to talk about after the event (Paczkowski says that the event will include a new Apple TV and iPads), but one thing that I've been thinking about is what the new iPhone lineup will look like. This was all precipitated by the discussion on last week's Talk Show with John Gruber and John Moltz.

Because my mind was a bit fuzzy on the historical iPhone lineups (particularly the early years), I decided to go back and make a graph to simply and clearly show what Apple has done in the past. The dates I used were based on when each iPhone was available in the US (not the announcement date). Tier 1 represents the newest and most advanced iPhone available at the time. Although there are slight differences between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, they are largely identical (both have an A8 processor with 1 GB RAM, etc) and as a result I've characterised them both as Tier 1. Tier 2 represents the next best iPhone available (often the previous year's Tier 1 model) and Tier 3 is the next best again.

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My Favorite Mac: The New 12″ Retina MacBook

After three weeks with the new MacBook, I can easily declare it as my favorite Mac, and none of the details that left some of the tech press wailing and gnashing their teeth have actually been a problem. Only one port? A minor annoyance at worst. Performance? It works great for everything that I need to do. Keyboard? I absolutely love it and can’t imagine switching back. In hindsight, the only regret I have is spending all that money on an iPad Air 2.

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On Negative App Store Reviews During Betas of iOS and OS X

Earlier this week, Apple released the first public betas of iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, and, knowing that would be the case, I cautioned MacStories readers against leaving negative reviews on the App Store for third-party apps that developers can't update with new features and fixes yet.

It's worth pointing out that, at this stage, third-party apps from the App Store can't be updated to take advantage of the new features in iOS 9 and OS X 10.11, which could limit the potential benefit of trying a public beta for some users. On iPad, for instance, only Apple's pre-installed apps can use the new multitasking features in iOS 9. For this reason, users interested in installing the public betas should also keep in mind that developers can't submit apps and updates with iOS 9 and El Capitan features to the App Store – therefore, it'd be best not to leave negative reviews for features missing in apps that can't be updated to take advantage of them yet.

Unfortunately, since yesterday I've already seen tweets from the developers of two excellent iOS apps – Screens and Day One – post screenshots of negative reviews they've received by users who are unsurprisingly running into problems when using their apps on the iOS 9 beta.

What's even more unfortunate is that this happens annually for every single iOS and OS X developer seed, but I fear the problem will be exacerbated this year by the availability of public betas anyone can try. Therefore, this bears repeating.

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iOS 9 and Safari View Controller: The Future of Web Views

For a long time, iOS apps have been able to open links as web views. When you tap a link in a Twitter client, an RSS reader, or a bookmark utility, it usually opens in a mini browser that doesn't leave the app, providing you with the convenience of not having to switch between Safari and the app. For years, in spite of some security concerns, this worked well and became the de-facto standard among third-party iOS apps.

With iOS 9, Apple wants this to change – and they're bringing the power of Safari to any app that wants to take advantage of it.

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Inside iOS 9 Search: Apple’s Plan for More Connected Apps

At WWDC 2015, Apple announced app search, a new feature of iOS 9 that will help users find content inside apps. Beyond the user-facing aspects of a new search page on iOS and proactive suggestions from Siri, however, lies a commitment to fundamentally rethink iOS' relationship with apps and the web, with deep implications for the future.

With iOS 9, Apple wants to reimagine how information from apps is exposed to users. For a long time, iOS apps have largely been treated as data silos – utilities that kept gaining design improvements and powerful functionalities as iOS grew, but ultimately unable to bring their data outside the confines of their sandbox. Following in the footsteps of iOS 8's adoption of extensions, Apple's plan to further open up iOS is deceptively simple: just let users search for what they need.

Behind the scenes, the reality of iOS 9 search is going to be a little more complex than that.

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