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.
At Google I/O in May, two related mobile products were announced – Duo, a FaceTime-like video calling app, and Allo, an instant messaging client. Earlier today, Google began rolling out Duo worldwide to iOS and Android users. Duo is available in the US App Store now and, according to Google's blog, will appear in other countries over the next few days. I've only just begun to try Google Duo, but it seems to fulfill the promises made onstage at Google I/O, though with a few launch-day hiccups.
Duo is limited to one-to-one calling and is tied to your phone number. As a result, unlike FaceTime, you won't be able to use Duo on anything but your phone. However, because Duo is on iOS and Android, you will be able to make calls to people on both platforms.
Duo is extremely easy to set up and start using - all you have to do is verify your phone number and grant the app access to your contacts and camera. The app starts with a live view from the front facing camera. There’s a button to start a call and another that shows your most recently called contact. Settings are available from the familiar three dots in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Google says that video quality will adjust automatically based on the quality of your network connection.
The most unique feature of Duo is ‘Knock Knock,’ which displays your video stream to the recipient of your call as it rings on their end. In my brief tests, Knock Knock worked as advertised, but if you don’t like it, the feature can be turned off in settings.
I have only used Duo a couple of times. It worked as advertised on strong WiFi, but my subsequent attempts to make calls have failed, probably because the rest of the world is simultaneously trying Duo too. Given Google's infrastructure, I expect connection issues should settle down over time.
Google Duo is available on the App Store as a free download.
You can watch Google’s promotional video after the break.
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.
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.