For the longest time I was a strong RSS advocate. I loved the simplicity of the RSS system and the way it allowed me to follow a selection of sites I chose, never missing a thing. When Google Reader went away I started paying for a service (Feed Wrangler since you asked) that would let me track my RSS feeds.
However, in the last month I’ve started cutting down on the distractions and inputs in my life. As part of that I wanted a system where I could dip in and out to find the best news. Not only from sources I specifically choose, but also from popular items other people recommended. Although I knew about Flipboard and how useful many people find it, I decided to give the built in Apple News app a try and really liked it.
The rest of this post is divided into two parts. The first is about the user side of Apple News and the second is about the publisher side of Apple News. If you are looking to publish something (which is a good idea considering this app is now installed on every iPhone running iOS 9 [that’s a lot of devices]) then I recommend you also read the user guide too.
User Guide to Apple News
Logging in for the First Time
First things first, make sure you are running the latest version of iOS (9.1). Apple news came in iOS 9.0 and became available in the UK from iOS 9.1. If you are based in a different country, you will need to switch your devices region to either the US or UK to access Apple News [of course, this may update in the future, so your country may now be supported by the time you read this].
One of the key aspects Apple is using to distinguish its news app, is privacy. Unlike some other companies, Apple makes money off it’s hardware, not selling ads. This means it doesn’t have to store or sell it’s users data. Of course, the downside of this is there is no data synced between devices. Meaning, you will need to go through a longer set up each device, no quick logging in and downloading your preferences. Also if you have similar news content sources chosen on both devices, you won’t sync the articles that you read.
Once you’ve accepted the privacy rules, you can “get started” here you are presented with some big names in traditional news journalism [mine are the UK based results]. You’ll have to select at least one of these news sources to continue but there is a pleasant selection of newspapers, business news, tech publishers, fashion publishers and sports. You’ll probably be able to find something on a topic you are interested in.
If you continue scrolling, you’ll eventually get to the point of seeing news topics rather than news sites. Now you can choose interesting topics rather than just news sources. Honestly, this is what I choose over the news sources.
After selecting a few news sources, you can choose to get a summary of news articles sent to you everyday. This is a great if you don’t want to start a new habit of checking another app. However, if your inbox is a holy place that only the select can enter, you may want to skip this step. If you aren’t interested at this point you can sign up later in the app.
After moving beyond the last step, the app will start to show you articles that you may wish to read, but you can still continue to customize your experience. By clicking on favorites, you can add or remove options you have chosen in the past, by clicking explore you are presented with some suggested channels and topics you might want to follow, and by clicking explore you can search for topics or news sources that you want to add (such as ChurchMag…yup, we’re on there).
The main screen on the app is called “for you” here you have the articles that the app has pulled for you based on the interests and channels you have selected. It’s a super minimal white interface very common in modern iOS, and it focuses on the content with only a headline and image to compel you to click.
Once inside an article, you have a similarly stark white environment. All that is left is the header logo of the site along with a few navigation options, the text, images for the article and at the bottom of the article, a selection of links to related stories and more stories from the same news source.
To go back to the “for you” guide, you just swipe to the left (or click the back arrow), to share the article, click the share arrow on the navigation. You can also bookmark and article to read later by using the bookmark tap in the far right and like an article by pressing the heart. Finally, you can also swipe right to move to the next article on the list presented to you in the “for you” grid.
Favorite-ing, bookmarking and even reading articles, all impacts the types of articles that Apple News will show you later on. So the more you use the app, the better it should get at showing you more relevant news stories. However, this is something that won’t be synced between devices (due to Apple’s privacy promises) and so means that each device will learn differently about you. I’m a bit intrigued by that prospect as to whether it would show me slightly different articles on the iPad to the iPhone and whether that means I’d read different types of articles on each.
Alternatives to Apple News
Of course there are a plethora of alternative news aggregator tools out there. Flipboard let’s you sync data between devices and import from social services and those are some big advantages. With Flipboard you are open to different platforms (including the web) and the most popular articles from people similar to you get shown too. However, privacy concerns and the interface may put you off. Zite is another alternative that is very similar to Flipboard in that it lets you choose topics and sources you’d like to follow. Zite will also learn from articles you favorite.
There are also a selection of News applications such as News republic where you can choose different world news sources to follow articles from.
Then again, maybe you just like RSS.
Publishing Guide to Apple News
Signing up for Apple news isn’t the most difficult process at the moment. It currently works mostly via the standards of RSS, you can use RSS feeds to publish your articles and have different RSS feeds if you wish to have different channels [for example, we could set up different ChurchMag RSS feeds for each staff writer’s posts so you could skip Eric’s and make sure you read mine :D]
To start the process of creating an Apple publisher’s account header to iCloud.com/newspublisher and log in with an iCloud account (this can be a general news publisher account which allows other members of staff to log in.
You’ll need to include some important personal information like the publisher name, contact details and an address.
The artwork requirements can cause some issues, you need a logo which is:
- A type based logo which matches the channel name.
- A PNG file.
- Has a minimum height of 256px.
- A minimum width of 256px (2048px is recommended and the maximum).
- A maximum file size of 2 MB.
These aspects aren’t difficult, but can cause some issues, especially if you try and have some pictures as part of your logo or get one of the dimensions wrong.
Apple News Special Code?
Apple have said that they will add special code to use within RSS feeds, so that users will be able to leverage the special Apple News formatting better. However, these details haven’t come out yet.
Is Apple News Worth it?
For the user, Apple news is well worth trying unless you love an app like Flipboard already. It’s simple and minimal and will get better the more you use it. However, it might not be for you. If you love minimal RSS readers, you might like Apple news’s set up, but at the same time you might miss the syncing and knowledge that you’ve read everything from a certain group of sources.
For the publisher, it’s definitely worth setting up. There is a chance that nothing will come of Apple news, that almost no one will use it and it will get mothballed at some point in the future. However, some users will try it out, it is easy to set up and some other services won’t bother going through the tiny set up process. That gives you a huge advantages.