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Posts tagged with "apple news"

Dispelling the Apple Services Myth

Apple is known for its quality hardware and software, but services are another story.

Cloud-based services are the future – there's no denying that. And Apple historically has struggled with its cloud offerings. From MobileMe, to the early growing pains of iCloud, to the Apple Maps fiasco, the company gained a poor reputation in the area of services.

Only in the last two years has Apple publicly touted services as a core part of its business. Company press releases as recent as May 2015 ended with the following self-definition:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

There's a lot that feels outdated here, including the fact that both Mac and iPod are highlighted before the iPhone. But one major way this paragraph fails to describe the Apple of today is that the word 'services' is nowhere to be found.

Amid a variety of other changes, Apple's current self-definition includes the following:

Apple’s four software platforms — iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS — provide seamless experiences across all Apple devices and empower people with breakthrough services including the App Store, Apple Music, Apple Pay and iCloud.

Services are a key component of modern Apple. The way the company defines itself, along with the numerous services shoutouts in quarterly earnings calls, prove that.

Despite Apple's increased focus on services, the common narrative that the company "can't do services" still hangs around – in online tech circles at least.

But is that narrative still true, or has it grown outdated?

I want to share how I use Apple services in my everyday life across three important contexts of life:

  • As I work,
  • On the go, and
  • Around the house.

My aim is not to perform an in-depth comparison of Apple's cloud offerings and competing products. Though competitors and their features will come up occasionally, the focus here is on my experiences in everyday living – my experiences, not yours. I understand that just because something does or doesn't work for me, the same isn't necessarily true for you. The point of this piece is not to try proving anything; instead, I simply want to assess and share my current experiences with Apple's services.

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Apple News Quietly Takes Off

Apple News got a major overhaul with iOS 10. Part of that was a change in its design, but there were other significant changes like human curation of news stories that have greatly improved the app. According to an article published by The Nieman Journalism Lab, those changes have had a big effect for some news organizations:

CNN… says its Apple News content got 36.5 million unique readers in September, a major increase from August’s 5 million. Its pageviews also increased significantly to 274 million, up from 43 million a month before.

“It’s really quite a remarkable story,” said Alex Wellen, CNN’s chief product officer. While CNN had seen “steady traffic growth” for most of the year,” said Wellen, Apple’s tweaks to its news app have changed the traffic picture significantly.

Bloomberg has seen a similarly significant spike in readership via Apple News. The difference appears to be at least in part a consequence of large news organizations’ regular inclusion in the Top Stories and human-curated Featured Stories sections. Other sites, like Slate, told The Nieman Journalism Lab that their pageviews have been flat.

Notwithstanding the eye-opening increases in traffic for some sites, the jury is still out on whether Apple News can generate significant revenue for news organizations:

Monetization is “still a work in progress,” noted [Bloomberg's] Havens. Slate, in a similar position, is “not monetizing Apple News very well at the moment,” said Schieffer. Wellen said CNN “has monetized its stories,” though he wouldn’t give specific details. Ads still feel like a rare occurrence for its Apple News content; publishers are still eager for integration with comScore, a major hurdle to getting advertisers interested in the platform.

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Apple News in iOS 10: Greatly Improved

Apple News: Greatly Improved

Apple News launched last year in iOS 9, and despite my early enthusiasm, I found the experience at launch to be deeply flawed and disappointing. However, in the past twelve months I have been pleasantly surprised by a number of improvements that Apple has made to News. These improvements go a long way in addressing nearly all of my major complaints about News from last year.

Shortly after completing my review last year, I stopped using News regularly – only checking in occasionally. But since installing the iOS 10 beta in late June I decided to give News another go, and this time, I'm finding it both enjoyable and useful.

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Apple Launches Advertising Campaign for Apple News

Speaking of Apple News, Peter Kafka of Re/code reports that Apple has started an advertising campaign focused on the iOS 9 app.

Remember Apple News? Figured. Apple would like to change that, so it’s launching an ad campaign promoting the news aggregator it launched, without much fanfare, last fall.

If you’re in San Francisco, Chicago or New York, you might see the ads on billboards and in airports; the rest of you will have to look for it online.

You can see two examples of the billboards in Re/code's article, one featuring ESPN and the other featuring VICE – but Kafka notes that Apple is also working with Vox Media.

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Apple News Format Now Available for All Publishers

Emily Jane Fox, writing for Vanity Fair, yesterday reported that Apple has now opened the Apple News Format to independent publishers:

Apple News’s 40 million users are about to have a lot more articles to read. The iPhone maker announced Tuesday the launch of a new Web-based editing tool that will open its native iOS news platform to independent publishers of all sizes.

Since Apple launched the app in September, it has attracted more than 100 major publishers as partners, including this magazine’s Web site. What the new launch means is that anyone—from individual bloggers to smaller, independent news organizations—will be able to edit and deliver their stories, videos, galleries, and audio in the Apple News format, with Apple News’s reach.

Content can be published in Apple's News app either via RSS or the Apple News Format. Up until now, the Apple News Format has been invitation-only and limited to large publishers such as Vanity Fair, Vox, and CNN. The advantage for publishers in using the Apple News Format is that it gives them greater control over the look of their stories in the News app, they get detailed analytics information, and can earn revenue through iAd.

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Apple Doesn’t Have Accurate Apple News Reader Statistics

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has mistakenly been underestimating the number of readers using Apple News and providing those inaccurate numbers to publishers:

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, said the company missed the error as it focused on other aspects of the product. The company didn’t explain how the problem occurred or say exactly when it might be rectified.

“We’re in the process of fixing that now, but our numbers are lower than reality,” he said. “We don’t know what the right number is,” but he added that it was better to undercount than overcount traffic.

A curious admission from Apple, particularly given that the issue has not been fixed yet. No details are given about the scale of the miscalculation, so it's unclear as to whether this will result in a minor adjustment or significant adjustment in reader statistics.

Executives from Apple, including Mr. Cue, met with publishers late last year to discuss the product and address concerns. Mr. Cue said Apple will continue to spend a lot of time getting feedback from publishers.

Two months ago there were a few reports, including this one from Digiday, which noted that publishers were "underwhelmed" and "dissapointed" by Apple News, and the reader numbers.

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Apple News Can Now Feature Top Stories, Curated by Apple News Editors

(L-R) The Apple News launch screen after you update to iOS 9.2, the Top Stories channel in my Favorites section, the For You section which features Top Stories (note the red tag on the right).

(L-R) The Apple News launch screen after you update to iOS 9.2, the Top Stories channel in my Favorites section, the For You section which features Top Stories (note the red tag on the right).

Peter Kafka, writing for Re/code, reports that yesterday's iOS 9.2 software update also included a big new feature for Apple News:

Apple’s update for its iOS app, which begins rolling out today, has two components. Only one of them will be visible to regular users: Apple’s editors will curate a list of “top stories” they’ll display for all of the apps’ users, at least a couple of times a day.

That’s a change in philosophy from this fall’s launch, when the app was supposed to highlight stories based on each of its users’ tastes and reading behaviors.

That’s still going to happen throughout the day, but in the morning and in the afternoon, Apple will assemble a handful of stories it thinks all of its users would want to see. You know — like a newspaper.

After you install iOS 9.2 and open Apple News for the first time you'll be given the open of adding 'Top Stories' to your Favorites. If you do add it to your favorites, the 'For You' section of Apple News will prominently feature articles that Apple editors have deemed to be a top news story for the day. You can also go directly to the Top Stories channel in your Favorites to view all of the top stories in one place.

In my launch review of Apple News I was critical of the overall Apple News experience, which I found to be disappointing. One of my chief complaints was that you couldn't rely on Apple News to give you all of the day's big news stories – the lack of human picks and poor automated curation was readily apparent:

Arguably the most frustrating part of For You is the fact you never get a good sense of what the big stories of the day are. To me, this is vital to any news app, website, or service – I don't just want to read interesting articles that I might like, but I want to know the most important of those stories.

I've only spent 20 minutes with iOS 9.2 and the updated Apple News, but early signs are positive. The For You section began with stories which were prominently marked as a "Top Story" and indeed they were (mostly) appropriate. I was pleasantly surprised to see they even have Australian editors, curating the top Australian news stories. So I'm going to give Apple News a second chance and see if it fares any better with the addition of human curated top news stories, and I'll report back to you all next week.


Apple Publishes New Apple News Format Documentation, Details API

Earlier this week, Apple published new documentation regarding the Apple News Format (via Benedict Evans), which will allow all publishers to deliver native articles with richer experiences to their Apple News channels. Currently, only selected publishers have access to the Apple News Format.

In an updated reference page, Apple describes the Apple News Format, which is still listed as "Coming Soon" for publishers:

Apple News Format is the custom JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) document format for News content. With Apple News Format, you can create beautifully crafted layouts with iOS fonts, rich photo galleries, videos, and animations—all optimized for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

In addition, Apple has detailed an API for publishers on Apple News, which can be used to publish Apple News Format articles as well as "retrieve, update, and delete articles you’ve already published, and get basic information about your channel and sections". An API reference is available here, and Apple has included links to CMS plugins for WordPress and Drupal.

Last, Apple has also released a News Preview tool for OS X to preview Apple News Format documents in the Xcode simulator. It's available as a beta download here.

You can read our review of Apple News for iOS 9 here.

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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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