Months into the Apple News experiment, I still don’t really know what it’s going to be when it grows up. It could become something that Apple refines and polishes until we all think it’s always been great, or it could become another neat idea that Apple messes around with half-heartedly before finally abandoning.
When Apple announced News, they heralded its intent to bring news in a beautiful and uncluttered format. Indeed, News is a nice looking app, although whether it’s substantially better than something like Flipboard is kind of subjective. Personally, I think Flipboard does a better job emphasizing images and mixing up the layout view, but Apple’s News app certainly beats most RSS reader apps or just browsing the same articles on the web, for the most part. Neither Flipboard nor News can overcome the fact that for the large majority of articles that require going to the source website to read the article, you’re still stuck with whatever mess the site owner has arranged for you. But that’s just the web we’ve created for ourselves in 2015 through shortsightedness and lack of concern for user experience.
In the case of News, the UI was certainly an area of focus from Apple, but there’s more to news than presentation. News is noise unless it’s well written, well researched, and comes from people who know what they’re talking about. In that regard, Apple News is failing, in my own personal opinion. The sources in almost all of the categories I’m interested in are dubious at best. Daily Mail and The Mirror seem to pop up frequently. Even one instance of either of those is too often. May as well send me to The Enquirer, frankly.
Below is a screenshot from the News topic category called Apple, Inc. Click on the image to see the full size version, and look at the sources for each of those 15 articles in the picture. Ask yourself honestly how many of those are sources you would ever consider seeking out on your own for information about Apple. If your answer was between 0 and 1, then we’re in complete agreement.
It’s not just Apple related topics: In the Atlanta Braves category, Fansided weighs in heavily, as just one example. No offense to all the people generating as many words as they can type per second for the site, Fandsided isn’t a place I want to go for anything, let alone Braves news. It’s a dumping ground, much like Apple News is going to be if the emphasis remains on presentation rather than quality of news sources.
Trying the Formula One topic yields slightly better results – very slightly. There’s still an excess of Fox Sports, Racing News, Daily Mail, Pocket Lint, 95 Octane, Autoblog, and similar sites represented. Again, I’m sure people who would rush to these sites for authoritative F1 news and information exist, I’m certainly not one of them. I doubt anyone who’s followed F1 for very long is either.
Do you see the common theme here? If you don’t really know much about any of these topics, you might find the websites generating content for them acceptable. It’s a pretty poor indictment of a product that you’re required to not know much about the topic in order to be happy with it. It’s not like the websites I’d personally choose for any of these topics would confuse newbies. They’d just have better, more accurate, less spammy information, and would also appeal to people who haven’t just found out that something called Formula One exists, or who started following Apple in 2013.
I’m not one of the many people I know who try to never use Apple default apps. I actually prefer to unless they don’t meet my needs, then I’m ruthless about dispatching them and finding something better. I treat third party apps the same way; you either get the job done, or you don’t, and then I utilize the delete function. I can’t delete Apple News, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s there so I can check it every few months and see if it’s still just a source of words for those who want them, regardless of quality.
Wired characterized News as a would-be Facebook competitor. That might actually be a pretty good analysis, and there’s a reason I don’t use Facebook for anything anymore. It’s another place I wouldn’t want to get my news from. Still, I’d really like it if Apple had a higher bar than wrestling with Facebook for eyeballs.