After news aggregation sites like Reddit and Flipboard capitalized on the popularity of RSS readers like NetNewsWire and Google Reader, it was only a matter of time until platform providers like Google and Apple created their own free apps to capture this phenomenon. Apple News, launched alongside iOS 9 in 2015, comes pre-installed and widgeted on all iOS devices. How does it compare to other aggregators and to premium news subscriptions?
A good balance of form and function that scales: Apple News may be the most attractive news app available, which is gratifying because it's free and integrated into every iOS device. There are elements of character like putting the official logos for each website above their headlines, so you get some distinctive fonts and touches of color.
But even on the 4-inch screen of an iPhone SE, the presentation never looks too busy. Thumbnail images are just scaled down for the smaller display. On an iPad, Apple News takes full advantage of the landscape mode option, rotating smoothly and revealing extra info, like the opening paragraph of a top story.
That said, we'd like to see a dark theme option for reading at night with less eye strain. You can, of course, get partway there by inverting your iOS system colors, but this doesn't work consistently.
Surprising variety of news sources and topics:
When you tap on the Following button, then the blue "+Browse" button, you'll get a list of outlets to tag as favorites. But what's really interesting is that this list keeps growing and refining itself with every publication that you add. So if you spend just five minutes selecting the websites you want to see pulled into Apple News, you should end up with something that's highly tailored to your viewing tastes.
In addition to specific news outlets, you can also tag entire topics as favorites, such as "Street Fashion," "Pop Culture," and "Men's Wellness." Lastly, if you reach the bottom of the +Browse list (which can happen if you scroll through enough outlets without tapping on any), you can swipe up and sometimes get a few more suggestions.
If that's not enough, the Spotlight section drills down even further by featuring specific articles hand-picked by Apple News' editorial staff for timeliness and polish.
Can be difficult to get local or regional news: Apple clearly takes pains to curate news sources for quality standards, which is usually a manual process. As a result, there may not be adequate staff to evaluate the country's plethora of regional and city news.
So that means that Apple News puts heavier emphasis on national news and special interest publications (like tech, cars, cooking, and film). You can't manually add a source, either, so workarounds are minimal -- short of using a different news aggregator app altogether, like Google News. Still, given that Apple News is free, the lack of access to the websites for your local papers and network TV affiliates isn't a dealbreaker.
Blocking sources could be more intuitive: If there's a certain news outlet you don't want to see in your feed, removing them from your sight is a little tricky. You must tap on the article, then on the Action (aka share) button, then select Block Channel, the button for which may be off-screen if your portrait-mode resolution is less than that of an iPhone 8+. If you instead tap on the heart with a line through it, that only affects the particular article that you're looking at, rather than the whole publication, which can be confusing because the icons look very similar.
Will an outlet disappear from your feed altogether if you dislike its stories enough? It's hard to say without asking Apple, itself. The app's minimalist interface gives very little feedback when you tap on the like and dislike buttons, and there's no information within the app or its settings that explains how much these two buttons influence what you see.
On the bright side, you can at least block sources within the app, whereas Google News & Weather, Apple News' chief competitor, only lets you do that in the web browser version of the service.
Apple News has a few usability quirks, but the presentation feels generally smooth and highly customizable.