One week with Apple News Plus: a messy but good-enough Netflix for magazines

There's a lot to evaluate about the new subscription service to Apple's News Plus, even if it's a good business for the media and foresee what existential threat it represents for an industry that is already at risk. But inherent in those discussions is whether iOS users actually use the service and find enough value to pay for it in the long term. Does it provide a decent user experience and is it worth the subscription fee of $ 10 a month, given that it does not offer much real news?

I've spent last week using Apple News Plus. It was launched last Monday as the only fully materialized product of the great Apple media and services event that was designed to generate enthusiasm for its future after the iPhone. While it certainly has its strange design quirks, I'll say that for $ 10 a month, News Plus is the most complete magazine subscription service on the market. (Scribd is a very solid alternative for users who do not use iOS).

If you are thinking about subscribing, that is, and only that, what you should concentrate on: obtain a service designed mainly for magazines. For some customers, unrestricted access to new issues of The New Yorker, Rolling Stone Wired and hundreds more might be worth it, and I would have to agree. But there are many warnings, and we will get to them.

The fact that the company delivered a solid experience in magazines should not come as a surprise, considering that Apple based the entire product on Texture's offer, a Netflix for the start of magazines that it acquired last year and was updated at the premium level of Apple News. Apple News Plus has many of the same agreements in effect as Texture originally claimed, including those with brands from giant publications such as Condé Nast, the owner of Time Inc. Meredith Corporation and Hearst.

Many of these magazines have already published stories in some form or other in Apple News, but now have complete printing problems such as downloadable files in the Apple News format of the company or something closer to the PDF style files that The magazines began to use when the iPad launched for the first time. (According to MacStories just under half of all journals available on the service use Apple News Format, or ANF, which means they can make use of more complex design options for mobile devices and tablets ). [19659008] For those on the fence, the question of whether paying for Apple News Plus depends, mainly, on whether you like to read magazines enough to spend more than $ 120 a year to have access to more than you can ever afford. consume reliably. Going one step further, the way you would like your news to be sent will also have a great impact on how valuable this service is to you. Do you prefer the standard Apple News combination of algorithmic and human healing, or would you prefer to manually select individual stories as you browse a collection, which could be said in which News Plus is better? To make those determinations, it is better to approach Apple News Plus by evaluating its fundamental pillars: its design, its news distribution mechanisms and the general value.

one week with apple news plus a messy but good enough netflix for magazines

With the update to iOS 12.2, Apple News Plus is now in its own dedicated central tab in the mobile application. When you open it, it is clear what you are receiving and why you should subscribe, with a large header of "Magazines" at the top, followed by the search options in the catalog and a carousel of the latest issues of the magazines that follow. It's spartan and simple, and Apple makes it easy enough to browse the entire catalog of more than 250 magazines and also jump to specific category lists.

But that's pretty much where good design ends and frustrations begin. There is a moderate amount of recommendations and healings in the background as you scroll through the News tab most, but what you are seeing and why it feels so opaque and scattered that it is not really useful. While the service is excellent as a buffet of everything you can read, Apple does very little to help readers maneuver the huge mountain of magazines they now have access to. It is better that you simply press the "like" button in the five to ten magazines that you are interested in reading each week or month and that you simply read the new list of numbers carefully.

When it comes to the reading experience, the lack of standardization in publications makes it difficult to know what you're getting into when you download a magazine number that you are not familiar with. The density of the interface makes reading and maneuvering from the table of contents of a problem to the page of an article and the publications center a total pain. Regardless of whether a magazine uses ANF or PDF file formats, all too often I find mistranslated articles that were never designed to be read on a phone screen, with simple and awkward page layouts.

Closest to a carefully designed design are large volume text magazines, such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic that simply rely on caps, occasional photos and one or two appointments to fix the page. The fact that these simple designs are preferable refers to the amount of work that Apple must still do on the design side, both with the tools it provides to publishers and with the way it organizes the information in the main tab News Plus, to make this a product worthy of being part of the company's new list of premium services.

As you begin to scroll down, you will begin to notice the first of many annoying design drawbacks. Apple News Plus does not allow you to follow magazines by clicking on them in the News Plus tab. Instead, you should go to the "Follow" section, search for the magazine by name and touch the heart icon. That way, it will appear on the carousel of the last numbers. If you wish to consult previous issues of a magazine, you must touch the logo at the top of the screen to access the main page of that magazine, where you will see a list of recent problems that you can consult and download at the top.

When you access a magazine, you get a rudimentary table of contents specially designed for Apple News Plus. Despite that personalized treatment, it varies greatly from one publication to another, and even in its best format, the most detailed, it only gets the headings of the sections and the occasional header below. Some versions, as is the case with most of the available Condé magazines, present only a list of printed headlines, without context.

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That makes it impossible to know exactly what you're getting into and how long the story will last. ( Esquire was one of the few journals that seemed to include descriptions of stories in its table of contents). The closest thing to an estimate of time to read is the scroll bar that indicates where you are in the article. In general, the TOC is perhaps the worst designed element of Apple News Plus, and needs a serious revision of the design, I suppose so much by the publishing house as by Apple.

When it comes to the actual page layout, journals that rely on ANF seem to do a better job of translating print designs into digital ones. But publications with lots of graphics and those that make bolder item designs are clearly divided between making simple and simple designs and being more experimental with the unique advantages of ANF.

These advantages include animations and GIF-style containers for custom headers, quotes and titles, but are often totally inconsistent in the way they are applied. I often found articles in the same number of some magazines that present very different levels of complexity in their designs. It is not entirely clear if it is a problem with Apple's tools, which takes a long time or is cumbersome to give each story a proper personalized touch or simply a lack of resources and investments for the end of the editor.

Another deficiency is that only the most recent problems and new ones that arise in the future get these special designs. If you touch a previous number of, say, Wired or Rolling Stone you are forced to read it page by page or by jumping into a full PDF-style summary. Trying to read any page requires approaching manually because the text is very small. Clearly, it's not an ideal way to read the backlogs of digital journals, and it's a big pain point for those looking for Apple News Plus as a way to work on recent files. It is also not clear to what extent the accumulation of a publication is delayed without you moving through it. The most popular publications seem to have uploaded the numbers only until March or September of last year.

For newspapers, the whole experience is noticeably worse. The two main participating newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times are apparently available in full, but they are only delivered as boxes of recommended stories that you will find once. Scroll around one third of the News Plus tab under all the magazine's recommendations. It is not clear how these stories were selected or if you are getting the most up-to-date news available; The selection tends to include stories that have many hours or even a full day.

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To explore the complete offers of WSJ or LA Times you should again take advantage of a story and then touch the logo at the top. Once you're there, you get the standard design of Apple News, which divides the publications of the respective sections such as Home, United States, World, Business and Entertainment. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the stories you are viewing are provided through your subscription to News Plus or those available to non-paying users. You should only trust that you will get the full premium experience, even when the timestamps on the stories indicate that you are not getting the most up-to-date article flow.

After a day full of confusion on Monday after the announcement about how much access you would get from the WSJ that costs $ 37 a month to access its digital version, the newspaper's own reporters. he had to report the internal comments of the Dow Jones executive to clarify that you could, in fact, look for individual stories, but mostly you would be given an algorithmic service "designed to interest a general reader".

Of course, none of those design and delivery problems are enough to sink News Plus. They are mostly strange inconsistencies that, although they are annoying, speak more of Apple's scattered partnership approach that seems to be paying different levels of attention to the details, specificity and investment of participating magazines and newspapers. Hopefully, over time, there will be more standardization and these design problems will be solved.

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The most important question you have to ask yourself is whether you will actually use Apple News Plus and if it is worth as much to you as, for example, a subscription to Netflix or Spotify, which are two services from which most consumers can access more easily. extraction value.

For avid readers of specific magazines, you can get two or three of your favorite publications for much less than the $ 9.99 a month that Apple is charging for News Plus. The New Yorker costs $ 60 per year for almost 50 weekly issues, while the new combination of wage and monthly subscription of Wired costs half. I would be saving money and contributing directly to both publications by subscribing directly, which gives digital access to websites and downloads of complete problems anyway.

If you really want to read The Wall Street Journal then yes, Apple News Plus is the cheapest and The best offer there is right now to do that. But again, the design and delivery mechanisms inherent to the service in its current state make it very difficult to read the document as it would be with a physical version or with full access to the website, which is not obtained with a subscription to News Plus. It is also incredibly dubious to think that the WSJ is getting financial benefits from his agreement with Apple, considering that he is getting only a fraction of a subscription fee of $ 10 for a product that normally sells for $ 37 at month.

Leaving aside those broader economic commitments, I think it's safe to say that for those who enjoy magazines, News Plus is a solid agreement. If you are happy with just examining individual issues as they are published, you will get the value of your money if you read more than three or more publications per month. Since Apple offers a free trial during the first month, it is relatively easy to discover for yourself if this is a service you really want to use in the long term.

But as the first evidence of the renewed focus of Apple's software services, News Plus feels messy enough to cause some real concern about how the company's similar games and TV offer will fade later this year. year. For publications that do not currently participate in News Plus, I can not see the initial status of this service, which convinces them to accept Apple's abysmal terms.

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