I'm a voracious magazine reader.
For my entire life, since I was old enough to fill out the little subscription card for Sports Illustrated, I've devoured magazines. I like the format, the design, the writing--everything. It's no secret my love for magazines led to a journalism career and writing for Inc. these past 10 years (starting with a column in the magazine that ran for three years).
I'm a borderline magazine fanboy. I look forward to Mondays, because it's when the new issue of The New Yorker comes out. I love Wired, Macworld, Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. (If you're in P.R. or follow my work, you know I've written for all four of those at various times in my career. If you're into magazines, you know it's even stranger that I was writing for both well-regarded "Popular" magazines at the same time.)
I tend to read almost every article in a magazine like Harvard Business Review or Harper's, cover to cover. It helps that I'm a fast reader. I like the digestible format. I was one of the first customers for an app called Zinio way back when (I even reviewed it), and then signed up for the Next Issue app (now called Texture) long before anyone else. In fact, I signed up the same day Next Issue came out. I might be their first customer ever.
Recently, I tried out the News+ app from Apple. It's part of the normal News app many of us love to hate. You swipe left on your iPhone or iPad to see a daily digest. It's clunky, not that searchable, only runs on iOS devices and the Mac, and seems to emphasize tabloid news (e.g., an alligator ate my laptop) too often.
I still love it. I use it everyday.
That's why, when Apple announced they had acquired the Texture app, then released the News+ app about a week ago, I was pretty hopeful. I imagined something that was incredibly useful and similar to the Texture app, which is still available.
I even ended my paid Texture subscription. Fingers crossed, right?
Then, the problems started.
First of all, the interface is terrible. To subscribe to a magazine, you have to click the logo at the top of an issue or do a search, then tap the heart icon. I conducted an experiment with a few users and none of them liked how that worked...and none of them found the feature on their own. That's not a good sign. Searching is also weird, because there's no search field in the actual News+ section, only at the top of the sidebar used for all news searches (e.g., type "Popular Science" and you see the magazine cover).
It feels like you have to browse for them in alphabetical order. Hashtag sad.
I used to lead an information design practice at Fortune 500 company. We studied these things and even ran a usability lab. Before that, I worked at a startup and designed software and hardware. The mistakes the News+ app makes are so obvious. I'm amazed this app even exists. The few people I had test it were not impressed.
It's also confusing that The New Yorker magazine forces you to browse articles as though you are on the web, but other magazines act more like PDF files. Nothing is intuitive and it all feels untested; some of the sections available for finding a list of articles (like Earth Day and On the Money) are perplexing; and, the app crashed on me a few times during my tests. I prefer how the Texture app has sections to help you find long-form stories or those that fit a specific genre, like business or sports. The News+ app is jittery and slow.
It's surprising because Apple is obviously known for making well-designed products.
How did this one make it out into the wild?
Trying to wedge a magazine app into the News app was doomed from the start. People don't think about content that way. When a new issue of Inc. Magazine comes out, most of us don't want to wade through a bunch of political news about President Trump and alligators eating a laptop. Each issue is an entity on its own, sticking to a specific theme and genre, and most of us like to digest the stories that way. Imagine having books squeezed into the same app--it just doesn't feel right.
The News+ app is the same price as the Texture app at $9.99 per month. If you like the Texture app, here's the bad news. Apple is discontinuing it on May 29.
Hopefully Apple figures out how to make a better News+ app by then.