Back in May we began hearing reports that Apple was working on introducing audio versions of news stories for Apple News+ subscribers, no doubt to help sweeten the pot and encourage more uptake for its premium subscription news and magazine service, which by many reports has been struggling to gain traction, especially in comparison to its other services.
The first iOS 13.6 beta released in early June (it was still being called iOS 13.5.5 at that point), also revealed code suggesting that Apple was laying the groundwork for the new service, and with yesterday’s release of iOS 13.6 it appears that the feature is finally live and ready to go, and it’s actually not the only thing that Apple is doing to help promote its paid Apple News+ service.
While audio stories may certainly be the most interesting new feature coming to the Apple News app, Apple has also announced several other initiatives, including expanded local news coverage that will begin in selected regions and expand from there, as well as Apple News Today, a daily news briefing that’s basically the first regular podcast that’s being produced directly by Apple.
With the redesigned News app in iOS 13.6 you’ll now be able to listen to your news in addition to reading it, with the Apple News team producing about 20 audio stories a week that will be spread across diverse areas of interest. Apple has hired professional voice actors to narrate stories ranging from traditional news reports to long-form audio from various sources such as Esquire, Essence, Fast Company, GQ, New York magazine, Sports Illustrated, TIME, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Wired, and more, as well as the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Unfortunately, for now at least it looks like Apple News+ Audio Stories will be limited to subscribers in the U.S., although it seems likely that Apple is already making plans to expand the service to other countries where Apple News+ is available. In addition to dealing with language and dialect issues, however, Apple also has to convince publications to allow their stories to be made available in audio form, which some are reportedly still a bit skeptical about.
Apple News Today
Apple has also created its first regular podcast in the form of Apple News Today, which will be available not only within the Apple News app in the U.S., but also on Apple Podcasts. Hosted by Apple News editors Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino, it promises to be a daily summary of not just the top stories of the day, but also the most fascinating ones.
Apple will be publishing a new episode every weekday, from Monday to Friday, and this is one of the new features that will actually be free to all Apple News users, not just News+ subscribers, since of course it’s also available as a normal podcast anyway.
As a result of these new audio features, the Apple News app has also gained CarPlay support in iOS 13.6, meaning that it will appear as an icon on your CarPlay Dashboard, allowing you to punch it up and listen to audio content.
This will include Apple News Today at the top of the list, which is kind of like the Beats 1 of Apple News, followed by a series of individual Apple News+ Audio stories for those who subscribe to the paid service.
Listening progress will also sync across devices, so users can begin listening to a story in their car and then pick it up again once they return home, even on a different device. Although at this point it doesn’t look like the new audio features are available on the iPad or the Mac yet, they can be used on the iPod touch in addition to the iPhone.
Curated Local News
Apple is bringing a new “local news experience” to several U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York to bring together a variety of content from smaller local publishers, including a major newspaper in each city and region as well as smaller collections of specialty locally-focused topics such as sports, dining, local politics, and more.
Apple promises that each of these sections will be curated by local Apple News editors for that region, and users will be able to personalize them as well to focus on the topics and areas that interest them.
Apple has also signed on several additional newspapers that will be available to News+ subscribers, including regional papers such as The Charlotte Observer, the Idaho Statesman, The Kansas City Star, the Miami Herald, The News & Observer, and Columbia, South Carolina’s The State. While Apple won’t be focusing as much on local coverage in Canada just yet, it is welcoming the French-language newspaper Le Devoir into the fold for Quebec residents, and has promised that the prestigious national paper, The Globe and Mail, will be coming to subscribers later this summer.
This is actually a pretty big expansion for the News+ service, which despite its inclusion of over 200 magazines, launched last year with only three major newspapers on board: The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Toronto Star.
Get Four Months Free
Apple really wants to draw in new users to Apple News+, especially with the new features now available, and as a result it’s been offering a whole bunch of new free trial promotions, ranging from inviting users back for a free one-month trial to partnering with other retailers and carriers for even better offers.
Chief among these is a new promotion with Best Buy that’s offering four months of free access to Apple News+ for anybody who is not already a subscriber, and apparently you may be able to take advantage of this even if you’ve previously subscribed and cancelled — you’ll get three months in this case, since you already used the one-month trial when you first signed up.
While the Best Buy offer is completely free and has no strings attached, Apple has also partnered with Verizon to offer new iPad users a free six-month subscription to Apple News, which should be announced today, according to 9to5Mac. The Verizon offer will require that you have a cellular-capable iPad that you’re activating with the carrier, but it’s a nice bonus if you were considering picking up a new iPad anyway.
In both cases, the subscriptions will continue after the initial free periods end at the normal $9.99/month price, unless of course you cancel before that. However, with such generous offers, Apple is clearly hoping that once users get accustomed to getting their content from Apple News+, especially with all of the new audio features, they’ll want to keep on paying to stick around.