Although most of the attention on Apple’s upcoming March 25 event has been focused on the expected launch of its streaming video service, Apple is also expected to take the wraps off a new premium news and magazine subscription service; in fact, early reports suggested that Apple News would actually be the main focus of the event.
New code found in the latest iOS 12.2 beta this week has provided a sneak peek into what the new service may look like, laying the groundwork in particular for handling magazine subscriptions within the existing Apple News app.
Discovered by iOS developer Steve Troughton-Smith, the Apple News app in iOS 12.2 now lists a whole collection of typical magazine genres, such as Automotive, Business & Finance, Crafts & Hobbies, Entertainment, Fashion & Style, Food & Cooking, Health & Fitness, and more.
Troughton-Smith also adds that the magazines appear to be PDF-based, rather than using a special Apple News format, and users will be able to download and store content locally for offline reading. It appears that the general layout of the Apple News app will remain the same, with a “Magazines” section simply added, which will appear in the sidebar in the iPad version of the News app, although it’s less clear how this will be presented on the iPhone.
Some have also suggested that the choice of the PDF format means that the iPhone may be excluded, but as Troughton-Smith notes, the PDF format allows for multiple variants, suggesting that publishers could easily provide both an iPad and iPhone format. Apple will also presumably release guidelines and recommendations for publishers on how to best present their content on the entire family of iOS devices.
Despite the use of the PDF format, the app will still be tied into the Apple News service, meaning that magazines will only be available through Apple’s own channels; users won’t be able to add their own PDF files to Apple News, although of course this is already handled by iBooks anyway. For those looking to publish their own grassroots magazines, however, Apple could conceivably offer an open publishing platform similar to what it does for podcasts.
Apple’s choice to embrace PDF as the format is an interesting one that’s undoubtedly motivated by pragmatism; the company tried to encourage a more advanced interactive magazine design with its app-based Newsstand years ago, and while a few publishers initially embraced the model, it ultimately proved to be far too expensive and complex, resulting in the service never gaining critical mass. After languishing for a couple of years, Newsstand was finally killed off and reborn as Apple News back in 2015.
Of course, Apple News wasn’t quite the same thing as Newstand. While the former allowed for full magazines — publications like National Geographic and TIME were well-known inclusions in Newsstand — the latter simply focused on providing access to traditional newspapers and other news publications. However, many felt that the expansion of this back into traditional magazines was inevitable, and last year when Apple acquired Texture, an extremely popular third-party magazine app backed by media giants like Condé Nast, the question was no longer whether Apple News would offer magazine subscriptions, but simply when it would actually happen.
In fact, Texture itself, which was founded in 2010, existed in direct competition with Apple’s original Newsstand project, but had clearly figured out how to do it right. While Newsstand required developers to build their publications into app frameworks, and offer subscriptions independently, Texture’s business model from the beginning was to provide a single “all-you-can-eat” subscription price for unlimited access to over 200 publications. In exchange, publishers were happy to give up 50 percent of their subscription revenue in exchange for the wider audience that Texture could deliver.
After Apple’s failed experiment with Newsstand, the company also began offering its first major subscription service in the form of Apple Music, which arrived only weeks before Apple News debuted. The shift from traditional song purchases on iTunes to a streaming subscription model undoubtedly got the company thinking about other content that they could sell in that manner, so it’s a safe bet that Apple had ambitions to eventually turn Apple News into a premium subscription service before it even launched.
Although Apple had to renegotiate terms with magazine publishers after acquiring Texture, by all reports almost all of them have remained on board, so while some big news publishers may still be holding back, it looks like Apple’s premium news service will at least offer a smorgasbord of magazine content when it launches later this month.