Apple’s executives seem to recognize the change that has overtaken traditional publishers; whether daily newspapers, magazines, or books, and have decided to do something about it. First, to protect the industry, and second, to provide the benefits of publishing to Apple’s hundreds of millions of customers.
So far, the results have been a mixed bag. iBooks and the iBooks store, despite government interference, seems to be doing well and is the only viable alternative to online book sales to Amazon’s obvious monopoly and constant abuse. Meanwhile, the Newsstand app for iPhone and iPad couldn’t be more anemic. Far too many people are not willing to pay for an online subscription for content that often is available for free elsewhere.
Apple’s latest venture to help print publishers is a new app for iOS 9 cleverly entitled ‘News.’ Think of it as Apple’s way of recreating Flipboard, an app which amalgamates news articles from publications all over the world, and in nearly every category of news, information, and entertainment. Flipboard remains one of the most popular apps for mobile devices because it works well for users (but maybe not so much for publishers).
The problem with News, as it appears to me so far on my iPad running iOS 9, isn’t so much navigation or content– it’s merely a slick and friendly Flipboard-like way to view many news sources– as it is the company’s desire to control every aspect of curated news in Apple’s image; right down to advertising and tracking, which is part of another problem which Apple wants to solve.
The user experience.
Most of the news, information, and entertainment we view online is advertising supported, a model which has publishers and their advertisers tracking a reader’s every move online, to the point that a rebellion has set in to curb the constant bombardment of in-your-face advertising, popups, and tracking which bloat every page you read. Online readers don’t like that, and Apple doesn’t like that. The News app, typical of Apple, curates not only the available content, but also the advertising and tracking. Apple’s interference in the status quo makes for a better user and reader experience, but shortchanges the advertising supported news and content industry.
Google makes most of its revenue and profits from online advertising, and though Apple sells online advertising that competes with Google, the iPhone and iPad maker seems to back the user experience first by adding third party ad blocking capability to the Safari web browser for iOS 9, favoring its own ads over those of Google and others.
Unfortunately, the new News app in iOS 9 won’t change people’s habits much, and won’t have much impact to the dangers posed to online publishers. Why not? In a word, fragmentation. Readers and viewers of online content have far too many free sources for the same information to be bothered with even a default curated News experience. I love the Flipboard experience, but don’t see that News brings anything additional to the table, other than formal support for publishers (who need as much support as they can get). The world is changing. Content is a commodity. It’s everywhere, and most of it is free.