At the end of May John Smock wrote about Facebook’s latest effort to help improve the mobile news experience with its Instant articles. Two weeks ago we saw another tech giant, Apple, relaunch its mediocre Newsstand app as News, betting on a rebrand to help the company become the home of news for iOS users.
You can watch the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference keynote address online. The News announcement begins at roughly minute 52).
It’s still too early to tell if this product will be a win for Apple. In traditional Apple style, the company intends to control many of the design options.
This approach has clearly worked well for the company with music. Apple’s keen eye for design and sleek style helped people become comfortable purchasing music online in the early days of iTunes. But, Apple has always left the music to the artists. When it comes to news, typography and layout are so integrated into delivery that for some publishers it is almost indistinguishable from the actual news content.
Publishers use design to define their identity and to differentiate themselves in the marketplace -- be it typography, photography, web or even memes. Design has always been a key piece of Apple’s success, but Apple has failed to recreate the success of its music business with the publishing business.
The original Newsstand app (below) reduced newspaper and magazine covers to thumbnails, which just doesn’t work at the scale at which they display.
Publication icons in the new app are cleaner. They feature artwork that makes sense at scale and, at the same time, let publications brand themselves.
Apple hopefully has learned from its mistakes and plans to start providing powerful tools and options to help publishers use design to distinguish content in the app.
The good news is the Apple News platform is going to soon be open and available to anyone willing to set up an Apple ID. Facebook, by contrast, is currently testing Instant Articles with a small set of publishers. Facebook is being vague about when they will open it up. Apple News undoubtedly will motivate them.
In the interest of researching what those tools might look like and how citizen journalists, smaller organizations and publishers can best take advantage of them, we are signed up to be a News Publisher. Our blog is submitted for approval and we hope to see it available for reading in the app when it launches this fall.
You can learn how to apply too on the apple site here. If you have questions, I suggest you check out their FAQ.
For additional reading, check out this essay by Nilay Patel at the Verge. Patel brilliantly summarizes how Apple is attempting to reduce the music and news industries into being mere features of the iPhone. This is not to say this is inevitable or even likely, but it is valuable to track development in mobile news when companies the size of Apple are involved.
Skepticism may be the best course. It’s very likely that in another four years I’ll be writing the same article. Four years ago TechCrunch was claiming “Apple's Digital Newsstand Just Disrupted The Publishing Industry”.
Small World News will see how well News works for us and share our results with you.