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April 5, 2019, 10:28 a.m.

My quest to find Vox’s new Apple News Plus vertical: A UX parable in ∞ parts

If a digital news product falls in Apple News Plus, does it make a sound?

Eleven days ago, Apple unveiled its premium news subscription service, Apple News Plus. And as I wrote at the time, it was kind of disappointing. Apple News Plus is based on Texture, a “Netflix-for-magazines” app built by the magazine industry — and thus structured to favor the default atomic unit of the magazine business, the individual issue. That’s fine, on a big-enough screen and when limited to the digital-magazine universe. But no one other than the magazine industry wants to be limited to the digital-magazine universe.

Apple bought Texture a full year ago, which meant its engineers and designers had a full year to figure out how to fit, say, individual articles from digital-native and newspaper news sources in amongst the newsstand-ready PDFs. At least in 1.0, they haven’t pulled it off.

Apple News Plus launched with two U.S. newspapers (The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times) and a handful of digital news sites (including The Skimm, TechCrunch, and verticals from New York magazine). They’re shoehorned in oddly: With a few exceptions they don’t appear inside “Apple News Plus” at all, but rather back in Apple News proper (Apple News Minus?), which is built around articles. But they’re not easy to find and they’re not labeled to distinguish themselves from the free content you’re not paying 10 bucks a month for.

Yesterday, I got frustrated enough trying to find one of those digital news product — “The Highlight” by Vox — that I was driven to tweetstorm.

For the record, the lion’s share of the blame here goes to Apple, not Vox. (Versions of the same problems exist for all the other non-magazines in Plus.) Apple had a year to figure this out and they didn’t. (They also had a year to negotiate deals with publishers, but by all accounts, things were being thrown together at the last minute.) From working with Apple News’ backend in the past, I think Vox could take one valuable step on its own, putting all The Highlight’s content into a separate section. But that would still leave most of the UX contradictions in place.

In all honesty, after I sent out that thread yesterday, I fully expected I’d have to add one more tweet at the end: Duh, you can actually find all of The Highlight’s content by doing XYZ, don’t know how I missed it, thanks to @randomvoxemployee for pointing it out. But the only messages I got from @randomvoxemployees were frustrated DMs from staffers who’d like to be able to find their premium content, too. Maybe it was all a dream

POSTED     April 5, 2019, 10:28 a.m.
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