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Apple's $9.99-a-month news service is great if you like magazines and use Apple devices, but it leaves a lot of people out

Key Points
  • Apple News+ is great if you love magazines and reading on your iPhone, iPad or Mac.
  • But it's very locked down, requiring you to only read that content within Apple News on one of those products.
  • It should open its platform to other devices, such as the Web, so that people can read wherever they want, even if they don't have an Apple product.
Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses Apple News during a launch event at Apple headquarters on Monday, March 25, 2019, in Cupertino, California.
NOAH BERGER | AFP | Getty Images

Apple News+, the company's new $9.99/month all-you-can-eat magazine subscription service which includes content from The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, is really good.

Apple News+ was introduced at Apple's unusual event in late March, where the company revealed its plans to offer more services to people who use its devices. As iPhone and hardware sales plateau, Apple is putting a bigger focus on creating content that people will continue to pay for over and over again, such as subscriptions to news and TV shows.

Apple News+ has lots of material that will keep people who like magazines coming back for more, but it isn't perfect. If you don't have a Mac, iPhone or iPad, you can't read Apple News+. That means billions of potential subscribers can't access the app, which seems silly. After all, Apple Music is available all over the place, from Android devices to Amazon Echo smart speakers.

I've been using Apple News+ for about the past two weeks. Here's what you need to know about it.

What's good

Apple News+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I read a lot on my iPad but, until now, I mostly read websites, free articles in Apple News or The New York Times subscription I pay for.

Now, when I'm sitting on the couch relaxing, I have a virtual coffee table of magazines I can browse through whenever I want. There are a lot of good magazines to pick from, too, including The Atlantic, National Geographic, Wired, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. There are magazines for all sorts of hobbies, such as Hot Rod, PC Gamers, Car and Driver, and Boating, too. And you get all of these as part of the $9.99 monthly subscription, which is a steal compared with what you'd pay for those at a newsstand or for in-home delivery.

The formatting is great in some magazines and subpar in others.

Most magazine apps I've used just look like PDF scans of a magazine, and you need to zoom around in them to read stories. This is still the case for magazines such as Boating, which haven't been updated to Apple's style.

But Apple beautifully lays out other magazines, such as The New Yorker and National Geographic, allowing you to quickly flip between articles and read them in clean formatting that's catered to the iPad and iPhone. There are even a few nice touches, such as animated magazine covers, which make the app feel a bit more alive. I preferred the magazines with this improved formatting, and I hope others adopt it in the coming months.

Apple News+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Also, you don't need to open the magazines to find some of the most popular stories within their pages. If you just click the Apple News+ tab in the News app, you'll see a curation of stories about travel, fitness, music, business and other topics that are gathered from all of the magazines in the library. There are also sections that show highlights for Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times stories, which I liked.

I also like that I can save magazines to read when my iPad or iPhone doesn't have a connection, such as on a train or an airplane. My iPad doesn't have cellular, for example, so this content wouldn't otherwise be available unless I had Wi-Fi.

Finally, I also love the option that lets me save a story to read later. That means I can pick up my iPad or iPhone at another time, see the stories I want to read, and pick up right where I left off. Unfortunately, Apple News+ doesn't support other services that also do this, such as Pocket or Instapaper.

What's bad

Apple News+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You're locked into Apple News, and this can be frustrating at times.

You have to read it in an app on an iPad, iPhone or Mac. I preferred reading on an iPad, since the text is nice and large and I felt more like I was relaxing with a magazine. It works just OK on a Mac and is perfectly fine on an iPhone if you want to browse for stories to read later. Apple needs to go beyond these devices, though.

Apple should consider building a web version of Apple News+ that could appeal to not only owners of its products but also to PC users. At work, for example, I use a Windows 10 computer. I can't read any of the stories that I've saved to read later or browse new content.

Also, because you're required to read in the app, this sometimes gets in the way of how people actually consume news.

For instance, if a friend sends you a link to a story they liked in The Wall Street Journal, it's not necessarily easy to pull it up. Just because you have a subscription to the Journal in Apple News+ does not mean you can access that subscription on the Journal's website or app. There's an option to "Open in News" in Apple News+ if you choose "Share," but it doesn't always work and usually just lands me on the Journal homepage of the app. You'll spend time trying to dig for the story instead of actually reading it.

Apple should create an easy way to open any link inside its Apple News app.

Apple News+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Also, Apple News+ can be buggy at times. The app crashes on me about once a day, which isn't a big deal, but more often it fails to load the big image at the top of a story. Unless I scroll down, I can't tell that the story has already loaded. Until I knew this, I often just stared at a blank screen wondering why the story hadn't appeared.

I wish Apple was able to get other news providers on board, too. I pay for The Washington Post and The New York Times separately, but Apple did not get deals with those publishers at launch. I don't mind paying for either service, and I can still see premium content from them inside Apple News by linking my accounts, but I could save money each month if those subscriptions were also included in the $9.99 Apple News+ fee.

Should you subscribe?

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Tough call. It totally depends on how you consume the news.

If you're like my father-in-law and read newspapers cover to cover every day, then this isn't for you. If you consume news on your iPhone or iPad, then maybe it is.

I dig the service because I get access to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair as part of the $9.99 subscription, which saves me the money I was paying for those services separately. Plus, I get content from The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, to which I didn't subscribe, and access to around 300 magazines. I like that I can dig into a bunch of those magazines when I'm looking to unwind at the end of the day, or that I can save some to read before I get on the train or a flight.

But you don't need to buy this if you don't already pay for magazines, have no interest in reading them or don't frequently read news on your iPhone or iPad.

If you haven't already, I suggest just getting acclimated with the free Apple News app — which curates free content from around the internet — to see if you like that. Or take advantage of the one-month free trial for Apple News+ and see if you end up reading magazines in the first place.

I'll pay the $9.99 a month for the foreseeable future, because I think there's a lot of good content for me. But, I really hope Apple has plans to launch a web version of this that lets me open links people send me and allows me to keep up in other places, such as when I'm at work on my PC.

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Apple announces new Apple News subscription service