Apple News is getting a big update through new software that's rolling out to iPhones on Wednesday. Additions include the option to listen to premium Apple News+ stories, a local news section and a daily news recap podcast that will be available to everyone.
Apple says it has more than 125 million active users of the free Apple News app, which comes preinstalled on iPhones, iPads and Macs and includes free stories from publications including CNBC. But its subscription service, Apple News+, has reportedly gotten off to a slow start. Apple hasn't provided any official subscription figures.
CNBC reported in the fall that Apple News+ has struggled to add subscribers since its launch week in March 2019, when it added 200,000 sign-ups in 48 hours for the free trial. Apple News+ costs $9.99 per month and includes access to hundreds of magazines and stories from newspapers including The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
Wednesday's update adds a few features to both the free and paid versions of Apple News but seems to be an effort to attract more people to pay for Apple News+.
The biggest change is Apple News+ Audio Stories.
Each week, about 20 stories will be available in audio form, narrated by voice actors. Apple said it's working with publishers to select the best stories for voice narration, but they'll generally be long-form articles. Partners include GQ, New York Magazine, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and others.
If you're an Apple News+ subscriber, you'll access these narrations through a new Audio tab. If you already started reading and got partway through, the audio will pick up where it left off. A new CarPlay app will let you listen in your car as well.
Users will be able to add stories to a playlist, and they'll also download automatically for offline playback. There aren't any ads.
People who don't pay for Apple News+ can get free samples of each story.
Apple News Today, available to all users, will be a seven- or eight-minute daily audio show that recaps the biggest news of the day. While Apple didn't call it a podcast specifically, it seems like it's trying to dip its toes into original content. And that makes sense given the recent explosion in popularity of podcasts.
It's hosted by Duarte Geraldino, formerly of Al Jazeera and PBS NewsHour, and Shumita Basu, formerly of WNYC, and will be available each morning both inside the Apple News app and inside Apple Podcasts. Like Apple News+ audio stories, you'll be able to listen to the daily briefing through CarPlay in your car, too.
Finally, Apple announced a curated local news experience for Apple News. It's starting out in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Houston and Los Angeles and will provide stories on local politics, sports, business, restaurants and food, commutes, real estate and education. Apple didn't comment on when it'll expand to more areas.
It's largely free, but you'll get access to premium content from large local newspapers if you pay for Apple News+, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the Houston Chronicle and several others. While Apple didn't announce local news in these markets, the Kansas City Star, San Diego Union Tribune and Charlotte Observer are some of the other outlets joining Apple News+.