Today is the last day of my free month trial of Apple News+ service. This is the perfect time for a verdict. This is my review of Apple News+ service. I’m going to subscribe to (yet) another service but without great enthusiasm. Here is why.
First, the good side
Since I’m a Canadian citizen, the fact that this service is coming to Canada is a big plus in itself, even in its free version. Content is available in both English and French. The biggest player here in Montreal, La Presse, is joining the service which is a good thing. But other big news outlet like The Star is also onboard.
I’m not a paying member of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal or any other. I stopped buying magazines a long time ago. But you might ask, why subscribe to News+ then? Well, there is no single reason for me to buy into the service. This is the concentration of information sources and the absence of advertisements that makes me jump the gun.
The reading experience is good but not great. it is best to use the iPad for magazines obviously. But it seems the developers behind Apple’s Books didn’t talk to the team behind News. The best comes from magazine using the Apple’s format. Live covers are nice and add some visual depth to the content but is limited in scope. Otherwise, non native format offer a reading experience compared to opening a dull PDF. Wired, Macworld, The Time and National Geographic are four of the magazines that I like to read and are using the Apple News format. Good thing.
As an organizer of an iTunes Family with six members, at $9.99, for us, this is a good deal. It is too tempting to judge it expansive while just a few years ago we could spend hundreds of dollars a year on magazines. This is no longer the case.
A cool thing not to be dismissed for Apple Watch users: you get access to rich notifications where you can read some news headlines. They don’t make it all to the watch though. I don’t know how the selection is made.
As a blogger with a lof of readings to do, having access to the News.app on my iMac is very nice and useful. But this also brings me to the next section, the bad part.
Now, the bad part
There is a few things that are very irritating. First, it seems that my reading sources preferences are not synching between the Mac version and the iOS version. Apple, please, fix this. Opening the application on a low bandwidth network takes too long. There is no mechanism it seems to show already fetched articles while loading new contents. Instead, News shows a big blank screen with a spinning wheel. This is not up to the usual (yet degrading) Apple standards.
There is something more profound that is irritating though. It is not always clear, while browsing the Today tab, which parts come from News+ and which parts comes from the free tier and which parts is based on previously read content. In other words, if a user cancels his or her subscription, there is no clear way to know what content will no longer be available. Maybe this is on purpose in which case I find this to be some sort of scam to help keep people paying subscribers. On that subject, Apple Music seems better compared to News+ by a small margin.
I don’t know how important is the human curation behind News+. But making people work is a more powerful idea to me than feeding algorithms. For this, I thank Apple for trying the other way.
Another weird thing happens with News feed. While scrolling the content some portions like “For You – Based on topics & channels you read” appears many times but with different content. There is nothing that helps the user understand why is this presented this way. Maybe it is because content comes from the previous day. I don’t know. But for me, news are very time sensitive and in its current form, I cannot understand the organization clearly.
Finally, as reported by Matthew Cassinelli in “Apple News has a notification spam problem”, Apple may have a tuning to do on News notifications. I do find that notifications are in high volume. I guess this one is pretty easy to fix in the short term.
News+ is another example of new Apple offering that is good but not great nor delightful to use. That being said, Apple’s News+ will become part of my expanding list of subscriptions. As long as Apple keeps iterating and improves the service, bring more players on board and fix the many quirks, I’ll stay on board. It is always easy to terminate my subscription anyway.
Finally, having access to great content without being tracked by advertisers and not being shown any ads is refreshing. For this, I thank Apple. Here is a final thought: since using Apple News, my RSS feeds consumption behavior changed quite a lot. I can see the time when I delete my RSS reader from my devices.
You can read more about my reactions to Apple’s News service announcement here.