Apple’s new News app

One of the high points of Mondays’ WWDC was the first glimpse of Apple’s new app for iOS. News which Apple see as being one of the fundamental experiences to living on a mobile device

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Susan Prescott presenting News at WWDC 2015

News is not yet released, but from first impressions it looks very similar in concept to Flipboard. Flipboard was launched back in 2010, for the iPad, and has attracted much admiration for presenting magazine-type content in a rich and fluid way on iOS devices and now for Android. But the business model for this ambitious company has always been sketchy at best. There has been talk of subscriptions and some exploratory efforts to generate high quality advertising, but the app and the company has not reached take-off point. The Apple announcement may be a nail in the coffin for Flipboard.

The business model for Apple’s News is not so clear, and my initial reaction was to wonder why Apple would want to push a business proposition that seemed to be stalling at the starting gate with Flipboard? But from the preliminary announcement it appears that the News app will work for publishers in much the same way as Facebook’s recent announcement for Instant Articles. The app will be ad-supported and the ‘offer’ to the publishers looks just like Facebook’s “generous” proposal for Instant Articles: 100% of the revenue to the publisher if they source the ad, and 70% if they use the on-platform ad solution. This will work quite nicely for publishers if they can set up similar workflow streams for Facebook and Apple’s News app. But the question will be whether there is really sufficient volume in these channels to suit mainstream publishers such as Conde Nast and the New York Times. These additional advertising deals may be more attractive to mainstream bloggers (Daring Fireball was mentioned directly by Susan Prescott in her presentation).

Facebook’s project is far too new to be a useful benchmark, and the News app has not been launched. Both Apple and Facebook may find that traditional publishers are quite slow to adopt the format toolset that will be needed to get the best designed experiences onto the devices. Apple have announced an Apple News Format — but big as Apple are, another proprietary content format looks like a possible dead end (I did not write “Flash”at that point, but it crossed my mind).

We shall see how News works out when iOS 9 is launched in the Autumn. If it goes really well, my guess is that it will be a powerful competitor to Google News. I use Google News a lot and it is a great service, but it does now feel a tad tired and ‘old school;. Too flat and too linky — without the flexibility and visual pazazz that we now expect in the best apps. From the Apple point of view, trumping Google News makes a lot of sense (much of this WWDC was about besting Google). For as Federighi said in his introductory remarks, a good display of the changing news is one of the “fundamental experiences to living on a mobile device”. I like his choice of preposition.

Apple also announced that its iOS Newsstand will shortly drop from sight.Some newspaper and magazine publishers have already been dropping their apps directly into the main app store, not wishing to be coralled in a section that has been neglected since iOS 7.  In our next blog we will take a look at how this will work for magazines that want to sell subscriptions on iOS devices.