June 8, 2015 Last Updated 3:49 pm

WWDC keynote fails to mention fate of Newsstand, but unveils new content aggregation app

Apple previews new Mac OS (OS X El Capitan), iOS 9 and its second generation watch OS software, as well as demonstrating Apple Music, its new subscription music service

The keynote for this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference previewed the next versions of OS X and iOS (as usual), and introduced the watchOS. Missing was any hardware introductions or updates and instead the big “one more thing” moment was the introduction of Apple Music, Apple’s new music streaming service. In other words, Apple had nothing up its sleeve this time around.

WWDC-screen1For publishers, the big news broke well before Apple CEO Tim Cook hit the stage. Re/code leaked the demise of Newsstand, something hinted at by the Financial Times on Friday. On stage Apple’s Craig Federighi also unveiled Apple’s News app, though he did not mention the demise of the Newsstand.

Though Re/code said the Newsstand is dead, and no one doubts it, Apple said nothing. When does the Newsstand die? It is with the launch of iOS 9? Will apps automotically be moved over? Will it require an app update from publishers? No one said.

Also, missing, and important to publishers, was any mention of an update to the current version of iOS 8 which should bring in iPhone support for interactive eBooks. That is supposed to come inside iOS 8.4, which will appears now won’t be released now until the end of the month to coincide with the launch of Apple Music.

The new News app is being compared to Flipboard and Zite, but one really should understand that aggregation apps go back to the RSS feed app, one of the first apps released for the iPhone back in 2008. When RSS feed apps started appearing, publishers wondered whether they should allow their stories to be picked up. With the launch of Flipboard, publishers enamoured with new technology leaped to become part of it. Others had their doubts, saying that they saw what was in the new app for Flipboard, but not what the benefit would be for them.

News-icon-screenLet’s face it, Flipboard is popular, with millions of people using the app. But publishers have come to the conclusion that the app is not going to be a money maker for them. Now comes News.

The New York Times has come in as a partner, as the company does with every new solution that comes down the road (they also have signed up for Facebook’s new service). The Times will lower their paywall a bit to allow 30 articles for free. But the decision to not drop their paywall completely really is a statement that the NYT is not betting on News to be a gamechanger. ESPN and Condé Nast were also mentioned as companies coming on board right away.

The News app will not be limited to partners, but anything on the web can come in. That may sound great for smaller publishers, but it is also a sign that News is less a real app than simply an extension of the web and the content publishers put online. While the demo of News showed beautiful layouts, complete with video and slideshows, Apple prominently displayed Daring Fireball, the relentlessly pro-Apple blog written by John Gruber. Daring Fireball includes no graphics at all and that it would be left out of the demo is no accident. The News app is, remember, all about aggregation, just as other aggregation apps are – so you can only work with what is created by the original publisher.

The best feature of News is deep linking, which may promise to drive some traffic to the publisher’s app, assuming publishers stay committed to their digital editions following the failure of the Newsstand, and Apple’s willingness to abandon a solution at their whim.

Those on the tech side of the business feel very strongly that publishers need to uncouple their content from their traditional products to succeed. For them, the News app, and others like, are a step in the right direction.

“The end of Newsstand marks the beginning of the era in which mobile is just another distribution platform for publishers,” the folks at 29th Street Publishing (presumably David Jacobs) wrote on Medium. “Mobile’s dominance of the publishing space becomes less of a talking point and more of an accepted reality. The most important thing for app publishers to do is experiment, gather results and feedback from their readers and find new avenues.”

No one mourns the end of the Newsstand (assuming it’s really happening), but I know most media executives will look at Apple new News app cautiously.

Note: there will be a follow-up story concerning how to become a News Publisher with Apple. (Now live here.)

The stories leaked to the NYT (no Apple TV), the Financial Times (new News app) and Re/code (death of the Newsstand) ended up all being true as it is obvious that Apple didn’t want to cover these topics during the Keynote. Apple’s executive team probably didn’t see much value in talking about iOS 8.4 (and iBooks) either, except in reference to Apple Music. So the rest of the week may well reveal further details about these things.

The conference continues through the week, and Apple often spends the week with smaller announcements such as hardware upgrades and software fixes.

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