Yesterday at the keynote for Google's I/O developer conference, the company introduced a News app launching soon for iOS and Android, which will replace the existing Google Play Newsstand app. The app is rolling out some time in the next week, but here are the highlights for what it'll contain.
Like Apple News, the landing page for Google News is called For You, which is where Google aggregates stories based on your interests. The second tab, Headlines, is strictly about the biggest stories in the world each day. These stories will be the same for everyone within a given geographic region, with no personalized curation at all. Finally, Favorites and Newsstand give you quick access to the publishers you follow, including the ability to subscribe to publications from directly within the app.
For the most part, Google News is a close imitation of Apple News – it has a similar layout, and a similar design with white backgrounds and a heavy focus on photography. The way it best differentiates itself is a feature that I think is the highlight of the app: Full Coverage. When you're reading a story and want to gain more insights and perspectives on the same topic, tapping the 'Full Coverage' option opens a view that aggregates a wide array of sources covering a variety of angles on that story. It's one way Google is aiming to promote solid journalism while gently combating filter bubbles. Based on the examples that have been shown so far, Full Coverage will list stories on an event timeline, offer answers to frequently asked questions about an event, highlight tweets and opinion pieces, fact checks, videos, and more. It's meant to be a comprehensive overview of a given story, and I think it looks fantastic.
It's unclear how widely available Full Coverage will be throughout the app, but we can assume that the most significant news events at least will include a Full Coverage component to them. Google demoed one Full Coverage story focusing on the Puerto Rico power outage situation.
Despite being different in execution, Full Coverage is similar in spirit to the Spotlight tab in Apple News: both aim to provide substantive overviews on a given topic by aggregating a variety of sources. While Spotlight is updated daily to cover a new topic, I appreciate Google's approach with Full Coverage because it will make those aggregated pages more accessible and relevant to readers. I love Spotlight and check it regularly, but it's frustrating that Spotlight stories can only be accessed the day they're published. Apple should take a note from Google News' playbook and start offering links to previous Spotlight features at the bottom of related stories.
Today Apple announced the completion of its latest acquisition: Texture, a digital magazine subscription service.
Texture brings over 200 of the world’s best magazines to life, providing an easy way for users to read high-quality stories and entire issues of their favorite titles. With Texture, users enjoy the magazines they know and love, while discovering new content that fits their passions and interests.
Texture's iOS app was previously featured by the App Store editorial team as one of the best apps of 2016. Currently, you can still sign up for the service's $9.99/month subscription. There's no word in Apple's press release regarding whether Texture's existing app will shut down or continue running as-is.
Texture's Netflix-style model of subscription service feels like a perfect fit for future integration in Apple News. Individual subscriptions to publications like The Washington Post are currently available inside News, but this acquisition creates the potential for an official Apple service, similar to Apple Music, that bundles together the various magazine articles included in Texture. With Texture's existing catalog as a starting base, Apple could also be in the market for additional acquisition targets that would serve to beef up a future News-related service before its launch. Texture could just be the beginning.
As John and I recently discussed on AppStories, there's never been a better time to use RSS. There are several powerful services to choose from (we both like Inoreader), and the selection of modern RSS clients for iOS is also solid these days.
Unread, now developed by Golden Hill Software, is one of the more elegant options based on comfortable gestures and a focused reading experience. I linked to the app in November when it received support for the iPhone X and iPad multitasking; in the post, I noted that I still wanted to see Unread gain Inoreader integration and haptic feedback on the latest iPhones.
With version 1.9 released today, Unread now fully supports Inoreader and plays subtle taps for different kinds of swipe gestures. Syncing subscriptions with Inoreader supports the full range of options available on the service: in addition to unread and starred articles, you can view your active searches, browse websites by folder, or open articles for individual subscriptions. Along with the aforementioned Taptic Engine integration, I also want to point out that Unread 1.9 supports one of the lesser known Safari View Controller features on iOS: in the app's settings, you can now enable an option to load Safari View Controller in Reader mode by default when you tap any link in the app.
Unread isn't my default RSS client (I use Fiery Feeds 2 now), but I keep the app on my devices when I feel like I want to take a more relaxed approach to reading articles I've starred.
Unread 1.9 is available on the App Store.
Fiery Feeds, an RSS client developed by Lukas Burgstaller, has long been among the top choices of iOS power users given its integration with multiple RSS services and ability to create custom actions for sharing articles with other apps. In the aftermath of Google Reader's demise, Fiery Feeds found its niche as a client that supported a variety of modern RSS services and that also catered to users who had been looking for an alternative to Mr. Reader – which pioneered the idea of a highly customizable and extensible RSS app for iOS long before iOS 9 and the iPad Pro.
With Fiery Feeds 2, released on the App Store today, Burgstaller has largely focused on two fronts: modernizing every aspect of the app, and adopting a subscription-based business model that clearly separates features available for free from those exclusively available to paying customers. In the process, Fiery Feeds has grown into a cleaner, more elegant client that looks nicer on iOS 11 and the iPhone X; at the same time, Burgstaller has been able to extend Fiery Feeds' appeal with a powerful premium-only feature dubbed Smart Views.
The result, while not perfect or as deeply integrated with iOS 11 as lire, is among the best options for RSS clients on the platform.
At the end of last year in my annual Must-Have Apps roundup, I covered lire, an RSS client for iPhone and iPad that, despite having been around for several years, had flown under my radar until its iOS 11 update.
I settled on lire, an RSS reader that's been around for years and that never grabbed my attention before. lire has been fully redesigned for iOS 11, taking advantage of Apple's large title design style to neatly indicate different folders and sections. In addition to a clean design that feels good on the iPhone X and iPad Pro, lire has two peculiarities: it supports all the most popular RSS services (including Inoreader) and it comes with its own text extraction tool to load the full text of truncated stories. The full-text option can be enabled on a per-site basis, and it works well in combination with caching for read articles. lire looks native to iOS in a way that the official apps by Inoreader, NewsBlur, and Feedly don't, and it's actively supported by its developer with frequent updates.
I've been using lire in combination with Inoreader since November; four months later, I still haven't found any other RSS reader that mixes iOS 11's aesthetic with support for all the most popular RSS services. Unlike other apps, lire looks native to iOS 11 and it lets you choose the sync service you prefer. Plus, the ability to load specific websites in full-text mode and a pure black theme make lire a fantastic reading experience on the iPhone X as well.
With today's 3.0.32 update, developer Kunal Sood has brought deep integration with iOS 11's drag and drop to lire, shipping one of the best implementations of the feature on both the iPhone and iPad. Which isn't surprising considering that lire's drag and drop enhancements have been directly inspired by Bear – already a terrific example of what developers can build with drag and drop in iOS 11.
David Sparks makes a good point about the strengths of RSS compared to, say, getting your news from Twitter or Facebook:
RSS is so easy to implement that it's a slippery slope between having RSS feeds for just a few websites and instead of having RSS feeds for hundreds of websites. If you’re not careful, every time you open your RSS reader, there will be 1,000 unread articles waiting for you, which completely defeats the purpose of using RSS. The trick to using RSS is to be brutal with your subscriptions. I think the key is looking for websites with high signal and low noise. Sites that publish one or two articles a day (or even one to two articles a week) but make them good articles are much more valuable and RSS feed than sites that published 30 articles a day.
Unlike Sparks, only a couple of my friends have moved on from RSS (and are using Twitter for news), but I agree otherwise – I don’t want to spend any more time on Twitter than absolutely necessary. I cherish the ability to subscribe to my favorite websites independently from social networks.
One thing I’d add: it’s possible to subscribe to high-volume feeds (and keep them alongside low-noise ones) if you take advantage of filters and muted keywords. Modern RSS services such as Feedly, Inoreader, and NewsBlur all come with advanced filtering features that mute specific articles directly on the server, so they don’t get pushed to clients on iOS or macOS at all. If you want to subscribe to a lot of sources but automatically hide topics you don’t care about, this is the only way to go.
I've been a fan of Unread, the elegant RSS reader for iOS, since it came out in early 2014. I stopped using it when I moved to Inoreader as my RSS service (and also because Unread wasn't receiving major updates anymore), but Golden Hill Software recently acquired the app, and development pace has picked up again.
With today's version 1.8, Unread is finally gaining support for Split View and Slide Over on the iPad, allowing you to read articles next to your favorite note-taking app or Twitter client. In addition to these iPad multitasking improvements, Unread is now compatible with the iPhone X, and its readability mode should be more accurate as it's now based on Mozilla's fork of the popular third-party tool.
I still would like to see Inoreader integration and support for the Taptic Engine as well as drag and drop in Unread. I would love the ability to pick up an article from the main list and drop its URL in another iPad app. For now though, this is another much needed update that modernizes the app's codebase and puts it on the same base level of other iOS 11 RSS clients. Unread 1.8 is available on the App Store.
Apple released two more short ads on YouTube highlighting features of the iPad Pro. The first, called ‘take better notes’ starts, like similar recent videos, with a tweet: ‘My math notes are a mess since I’m half asleep.’ In response, the narrator explains ‘You know, iPad Pro and Apple Pencil have revolutionized the way we take notes.’ The camera cuts to someone taking notes in Notability, the note-taking app that Federico highlighted in the iPad Diaries this week. The spot concludes with the narrator pointing out that even if you fall asleep, you’re covered if you use Notability’s audio recording feature.
The second video is called ‘need less stuff,’ which emphasizes the ways the iPad Pro can cut down on clutter in your life. In response to a ‘There are way too many things on my desk’ tweet, the narrator explains that an iPad Pro can replace a scanner, a pad of paper, and laptop, using the iPad version of Procreate as the example of an app that replaces a pad of paper.
Apple continues to strike a nice balance with these videos, highlighting a couple features of the iPad Pro that set it apart from a laptop or smart phone but keeping the tone light and humorous by responding to the sort of frustrated tweets with which many people are all too familiar.
Google has been on a tear with new and updated iOS apps. The latest is a redesign of Google Play Newsstand, a free app for browsing news outlets and magazines similar to Apple News.
Blending a variety of national and local news with article recommendations based on your personal interests using machine learning, Newsstand creates a media-rich 'For You' page divided into two sections. The 'Briefing' includes a handful of what Google deems the most important and relevant stories to you. Below the Briefing is 'Highlights,' a longer list of articles culled from you favorite sources and topics. Each article in Highlights helpfully explains why it was suggested.
Tapping the three dot menu button below any article lets you hide stories from its source, have fewer articles of that type suggested (I took advantage of this immediately with CNN's report on a Parmesan cheese recall), or jump directly to the source or topic of the article. I've found the last two options a great way to quickly build a database of topics and sources that I want to follow.
Newsstand is built on an AMP foundation:
We have improved our support for multimedia content building on the AMP support we launched earlier this year. Scroll through your feed, and you will see autoplay videos, easy podcast controls, and high-resolution, full-bleed images. Every story and topic in Newsstand now comes to life in a more engaging, beautiful presentation.
I'm not a fan of autoplay anything, but Newstand's articles look terrific and load fast.
Finally, Google also touts Newsstand's new web app as a way to access news wherever you are. It’s broad claim that needs to be qualified. The unstated assumption seems to be that the web app is for desktop use only because it doesn't work on iOS even if you use Google's Chrome browser. Moreover, on macOS, Newsstand doesn’t work with Safari, instead directing you to download Chrome.
In some ways Google Play Newsstand feels like a modern implementation of Google Reader, which was shuttered in 2013 around the same time that Newsstand was introduced. I wonder how much better my recommendations would be if Newsstand had the benefit of all the years I used Google Reader. Maybe it does have access to that data, but using Newsstand feels too much like starting over for that to be the case. In any event, Google Play Newsstand is a worthy competitor to Apple News. Perhaps 2017 will see competition among news services similar to what we've seen with photo services this year.