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Following last month’s release of iOS 13.5 and its addition of Apple’s new Exposure Notification API for contact tracing, Apple has once skipped ahead a few minor point versions and released its latest developer beta as iOS 13.5.5, likely to leave room for a few other bug fix point releases in between, such as yesterday’s iOS 13.5.1 release while allowing developers to stay a bit further ahead of the curve.
Apple actually made a similar move at the beginning of April when it released iOS 13.4.5, but after announcing its new contact tracing APIs, it clearly realized that it would be more appropriate to renumber it to iOS 13.5 instead, as sub-point versions don’t normally include new API’s.
Likewise, it looks like iOS 13.5.5 could follow the same sort of path; while you’d normally expect such a minor point release to include no significant new features, it appears that this latest version lays the groundwork for a new feature that could allow Apple News+ subscribers to listen to audio stories.
Reports appeared last month that Apple had been approaching publishers who already run their content on its News+ premium subscription service to request permission to product audio versions of their stories, and although some have appeared to be skeptical about the proposal, the fact that Apple is willing to foot the entire bill means that Apple has undoubtedly found a few that are at least willing to give it a shot.
Based on text found within the iOS code, it looks like one of the features Apple will be offering at the outset is a daily audio digest of the day’s headlines, with a string that offers the option to “Listen to a quick recap of today’s top stories.”
According to 9to5Mac, which has managed to activate the new “Apple News+ Audio” feature, it will be available within the Apple News app through a new “Audio” tab at the bottom, and will have an interface very similar to Apple News, with headlines shown that lead to audio news playback instead of text. Users will be able to hit a “Play” button to listen to all of the recent news, or choose to hear individual stories.
Listening to a story will present a “Now Playing” screen similar to the one shown in Apple’s Podcasts app, with a 15-second skip-back button, as well as buttons to adjust playback speed or skip to the next story. It also looks like the Audio section will be available for all users, however those who don’t subscribe to Apple News+ will only be able to listen to previews of the latest news.
Based on the code that 9to5Mac found, it also looks like Apple News+ Audio will integrate with Siri, allowing users to ask to hear the latest news on their iPhone, iPad, or even the HomePod using just voice commands.
It’s unclear when Apple plans to launch the feature, but by all indications, it looks like it’s ready to go in iOS 13.5.5, as it’s fully working but simply hidden until Apple flips the switch to enable it. It’s likely that Apple is simply waiting to get enough publishers on board to ensure that it has sufficient content to properly launch the feature, however, while the publishers who have come out and spoken about Apple’s proposal have indicated that they’re skeptical, there could very easily be others who have already eagerly jumped on board that we haven’t heard from. Either way, as iOS 13.5.5 has only entered its first beta right now, it’s still likely at least a few weeks away from being released to the public anyway, so Apple has plenty of time to get everything lined up.