During the 2015 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple introduced new features and updates for Mac OS X (EL Capitan), iOS 9, and the Apple Watch. Overall. the announcements were aimed at improving experience and performance. Apple Music, the company’s new venture into the streaming business, was highly anticipated, following last year’s purchase of Beats Music, but the announcement that garnered the most surprise was Apple News.
In order to understand the significance of this development, it is worthwhile revisiting Apple’s earlier developments in the areas of software and cloud-based services.
When you consider Apple’s long and productive history, there is one service that has stood the test of time: iTunes. iTunes was introduced at Macworld on January 9, 2001, after Apple purchased SoundJam MP, acquiring as well the developers Jeff Robbin, Bill Kincaid, and Dave Heller. Without a doubt, iTunes transformed the way consumers purchased and downloaded music. Yet, fours years later, Apple introduced another feature in iTunes that would deliver news and educational content from major news organizations and individual bloggers: Podcasts.
"Podcasting started out as wayne's world for radio" - steve jobs
On June 28, 2005, Apple introduced iTunes version 4.9, which added built-in support for podcasts. Users could submit podcasts to iTunes through an RSS feed, incorporating album artwork and a special section in iTunes for browsing content. iTunes functions as a vehicle or aggregator for generating the content, and presenting it in a user friendly and visually appealing manner. When Steve Jobs presented this new iTunes feature on AllthingsD, he stated that "podcasting started out as Wayne's World for radio." The significance of offering podcasts through iTunes, continued Steve, was to make this medium more accessible by subscribing to them and getting updates to those feeds automatically. Today, podcasts are still very popular, buttressed by iTunes U (introduced on May 30, 2007) and the Podcasts App (released during the summer of 2012 in anticipation of iOS 6). Unlike the music store, the most significant feature of podcasts is that the service is FREE.
While podcast RSS feeds, and associated assets, are stored on the users web server (not Apple’s), Apple was slowly developing ways to provide cloud hosting services to enhance the user experience. On January 10, 2006, Apple introduced iWeb during the Macworld conference and Expo. iWeb, part of the iLife suite, was a WYSiWYG website creation tool that enabled you to set up web pages with an easy drag-and-drop interface, including podcasts and a RSS feed that could be published through iTunes.
Apple began their journey into cloud-based services through the introduction of iTools (introduced January 5, 2000) .Mac (introduced on July 17, 2002), and followed by MobileMe, introduced on July 9, 2008. With iWeb receiving support through Apple’s MobileMe cloud service, the future seemed very promising, as technology trends began to place greater emphasis on the Cloud as a cost effective and productive way to produce and share content.
In general, the success of cloud-based services grew so quickly that it became burdensome for companies like Apple to become wedded to particular services and applications. It soon became apparent that everything could be stored in the Cloud (photographs, music, videos, web content, and data), a code-word for server farms with massive potential for storing digital assets and information. With its eyes on the future, Apple suspended iWeb on June 30, 2012, with plans for using cloud-based services to integrate all content consumed and produced by Apple computers and devices.
On January 27, 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, along with the e-book application, iBooks. iBooks became an application for accessing digital books from the iBook Store, but users also had the ability to sync personal EPUBs and PDFs through iTunes synchronization. Moving from product creation to product consumption, iBooks offered the greatest potential for accessing published content, entering a market dominated by Amazon. The demise of iWeb was also anticipated by the introduction of iBooks Author on January 12, 2012, a publishing platform that enables the user to create interactive books, including slideshows, audio, video, 3D graphics, maps, html content, quizzes, vocabulary terms, and beautiful templates adapted to a range of subject matter. Highlighted as a special “education event” in New York City, the introduction of iBooks Author appeared to catapult Apple into the sphere of cloud-based publishing that successfully combined content creation with consumption.
On the heal of this extraordinary announcement, the Justice Department began procedures to investigate a price-fixing scheme involving Apple Inc. and five major book publishers. This development became a huge blow for Apple, resulting in millions of dollars in restitution for consumers, and a huge win for Amazon, who continued to offer discounted rates for e-books. iBooks Author, arguably the most innovative publishing tool available for the Mac (or any computer), slowly receded from public recognition. Furthermore, Apple’s ambition to provide cloud-based services that incorporated product creation with increased accessibility for consumers (most importantly educators) received another blow when the Los Angeles school district suspended its use of iPads as a curriculum-based tool for students and teachers.
Laying the Foundation
Today, iCloud is now used to back up all content and data associated with Macs and iOS devices. As a central portal for storing and accessing information, Apple can now introduce new products and services with greater efficiency, enhancing experience and performance. Now entering the most mature phase of its development, iCloud, along with Apple’s superb team of designers and developers, provides the perfect foundation for Apple News, a new publishing platform scheduled to be released this Fall.
Apple News: The Dawn of a New Day
With Apple News, Apple has the potential to combine many of the features associated with its previous initiatives into one platform. The popularity of news readers like Flipboard are heavily dependent on RSS feeds to deliver content to subscribers in a way that far exceeds proprietary platforms. Apple has long recognized this potential through its commitment to podcasts as a free tool for publishing news and educational material in the form of audio and video content. In contrast to the way podcast feeds interface with iTunes, with content and feeds stored by third party services, through Apple News, Apple will enable users to manage RSS feeds and related assets right through iCloud. As a result, businesses, as well as, individual bloggers, will have the ability to create and publish content, combining the delivery of podcasts with the technology that gave rise to iWeb, iWork, and iBooks Author.
Apple News: A Challenge for Competitors
Apple News presents a huge challenge to its competitors by excelling in areas they have yet to fully develop. In general, news readers enable iOS users to save and organize content generated by RSS feeds. The feeds can be organized by categories, enabling the user to save articles locally within the app or to third party services like Instapaper, Readability, and Pocket. The most successful news readers provide access to content across a range of subject areas, customized content, functional and intuitive user interfaces, and something unique that separates them from their competitors (such as grid layouts and flipping and swiping gestures).
Since the inception of the iPad, the dominant news readers have been Flipboard, LinkedIn Pulse (formerly Pulse), USA Today (one of the first news apps for the iPad) Early Edition 2, Zite (purchased by Flipboard), Feedly, Prismatic, News360, Something, NPR News, and Paper by Facebook. All of them provide a range of content, customization, dynamic interfaces, and something unique that sets them apart. Flipboard, the most prominent among news readers, provides a feature called “My Magazines,” which enables the user to organize stories into personalized magazines that can be shared and followed by other members of the Flipboard community. Flipboard is also distinguished by its tile interface and flipping motion that is used to navigate through news articles. Shortly following Apple’s announcement of Apple News, Flipboard recently introduced the ability to add personal content to magazines in the form of written statements or quotes, pictures, and web links. What will continue to make Flipboard unique is the ability to access news content from a browser. Yet, this idea did not originate with Flipboard.
Pulse was also one of the first news readers to be made available for the iPad (with other apps like Flud, which no longer exists). Pulse developed a beautiful U.I. with a tile interface that utilized scrolling and swiping gestures for easy navigation. Pulse also made it very easy to organize articles by categories, share articles, and PulseMe, enabled you to save articles within the app. Most significantly, Pulse was the first news app to successfully create a web-based version of the app that mirrored the same design and U.I. as the iOS version. What makes Pulse unique? In the spring of 2013, LinkedIn purchased Pulse as a news platform to enhance the social, educational, and professional services it offers (a smart investment by LinkedIn). Flipboard and Pulse (now LinkedIn Pulse) are the leaders in this market, yet there are other news readers that offer unique features as well. Prismatic is strongly identified by the great emphasis placed on web design, iOS and Mac applications; News360 is recognized by its rich content, smooth U.I. and large tile interface that makes easy to explore and share content; Something is unique because the stories it generates are derived from Twitter feeds; Feedly (which soared to the top following the demise of Google Reader) is recognized for its speed and economy of design; NPR (another news app that has been around since the beginning) provides audio podcasts as a complement to the printed word; Early Edition 2 (which introduced a radical new design that differed drastically from its original version) is unique for its skeuomorphic designs (the model that inspired Apple's original concepts for iOS before iOS 7 flattened everything), a virtual newspaper layout, and virtual storage compartments; and Paper by Facebook, which introduced one of the most beautiful U.I.'s of any news reader, combining intuitive swiping and scrolling gestures with edge-to-edge design for easy navigation. The Facebook app is unique because it is intended to be used in conjunction with Facebook profiles and business pages.
The most significant developments over the past few years have been led by social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, who had the foresight to incorporate the technology of news readers into their platforms. Recognizing the power of this medium, Apple had to rethink how this technology could best be used to enhance its existing services.
At WWDC 2015, Susan Prescott, Apple’s Vice President of Application Product Management, introduced Apple's new strategy for integrating news and RSS feeds into the ecosystem of Apple mobile OS. Starting now, businesses and individual bloggers can begin submitting RSS feeds to Apple to be featured in Apple News in the fall of 2015. However, this is just the beginning. When Apple News is released, Apple will also release a publishing platform called “News Publisher.” This will enable content creators to publish news stories with custom typography, animations, video, and photo galleries that are displayed in a beautiful responsive layout that is formatted for the iPad and iPhone. In contrast to the impressive innovations introduced by the leaders in this market, News Publisher will set Apple's service apart from its competitors.
Apple News will include all the features we have come to expect from news readers (diverse content, customization, saving articles, etc) but integrating those features into iCloud, supported by a software tool for designing and laying out original content. Furthermore, Apple News will be accessed from the home screen of your iOS device, making the integration of news a seamless part of the iOS experience.
The leading news readers have already established a precedent for what is possible with this exciting medium, and the uniqueness of their platforms (e.g. LinkedIn and Facebook) will continue to sustain them for years to come. Yet, Apple News, combining Apple's unique ability to integrate hardware, software, and cloud-based services, could be a game changer. Stay tuned for the release of Apple News Format, which will provide a publishing platform to laying your news content. It will be free to anyone with an Apple I.D.
Host of My Apple Podcast.