Apple News Today is an Apple News+ promo disguised as a peppy news podcast [Review]

By

Apple News Today review: A daily news podcast with zero partisan rage.
Apple News Today is a news podcast with zero partisan rage.
Photo: Lewis Wallace/Cult of Mac

Apple News Today, the breezy new podcast showcasing the day’s top news stories, sounds perfectly peppy and polished. Maybe too perfectly polished, in fact — you won’t find a single rough edge on this slickly produced daily news report, which Apple unleashed last week with iOS 13.6. You will endure no energized, partisan rants, either. These straight-down-the-middle reports won’t get your blood boiling while you make your morning coffee or tea. If you’re tired of partisanship, this is the antidote.

What you will find in the weekday audio show is steady promotion of the Apple News app, and of Apple News+, the company’s reportedly struggling subscription news service. This upbeat and earnest free daily news briefing basically functions as a Trojan horse for getting in the ears of potential Apple News+ subscribers.

Late to the news podcast game

Apple News Today arrives on an increasingly crowded podcast scene. Serials twisty-turny, nonfiction recounting of a teen murder became a podcasting hit in 2014. And in the past few years, shows like The Daily (from The New York Times) racked up accolades (and millions of listeners).

Apple added podcasts to iTunes in 2005, but has barely taken advantage of the boom. With podcasting going mainstream, Apple’s competitors are looking to corner the market and cash in. (Spotify recently signed Joe Rogan to an exclusive deal, which means the popular podcaster will no longer appear in Apple’s Podcasts app.) Now, Apple wants a slice of that daily news podcast pie — and maybe a subscription cherry on top.

Apple News Today review

Editors Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino host the free Apple News Today show five days a week.
Editors Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino host the free Apple News Today show five days a week.
Image: Apple

As with the launch of Apple TV+, Cupertino is coming late to the news podcast party. At least it brought a looker like Apple News Today. The shiny daily news roundup is hosted by Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino, a pair of Apple News editors with plenty of poise. The show is nothing if not professional. In fact, it sounds like a cross between NPR and the kind of Disney-fied audio station you might stumble across on an airplane’s in-flight menu.

The pair could literally be synthetic AI newsreaders, carefully tuned to deliver the news in the most straightforward, vanilla way possible. They sound ceaselessly chipper, avoid opinion and offer up plenty of solemn and supportive “hmmms” in between mildly dramatic audio swells.

No opinions, please

If you’re a certain sort of news junkie — addicted to the rage-fueled, highly partisan hot takes of talk radio or opinionated TV like Hannity or The Rachel Maddow Show — this straight-down-the-middle approach likely won’t get you high. Apple News Today is the methadone of news podcasts. Maybe there’s a market for something less insane, but outrage seems to be the “news” drug of choice these days.

U.S. listeners can find the under-10-minute blasts in a new audio tab within the News app on certain devices. Oddly, Apple News Today is not currently available on iPad or Mac. (“Apple News Today and audio stories are available only in English in the U.S. for iPhone, iPod touch, and CarPlay,” Apple says.) As with typical podcasts, you can sync playback between multiple devices.

It’s all terribly upbeat, delivered with a spunky optimism that will leave cynics shaking their heads. It definitely won’t put you to sleep like NPR’s somnambulant droning. But at this point, Apple News Today doesn’t pack a ton of personality, either. Basu and Geraldino deliver the headlines in familiar back-and-forth fashion, tossing in the occasional harmless joke but nothing really memorable.

Admittedly, it’s early days — we’re only four episodes in. But this is definitely no beta. You don’t get something this smooth when you’re working fast and cheap and struggling to be first to market. This is a slick service aimed at people in a hurry.

Headlines of the day

As with virtually all such newscasts, Apple News Today starts with a quick rundown of headlines with ambient music puttering in the background. Then, the hosts move on to in-depth topics that get more than a sentence or two of air time. The hosts clearly lay out the stories’ main elements, and which Apple News publications’ reporting they will draw from.

In the show’s first week, these deeper packages covered broader topics like voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and the death and legacy of civil rights leader John Lewis.

The only thing that doesn’t prove completely straightforward is the shapeshifting Apple News app itself. When I first tapped its new audio tab each day, I got Apple News Today immediately. On subsequent visits that day, I would see only the previews of Apple News+ audio stories. To find the daily podcast, I needed to go back to the app’s main page and scroll until I found the Listen Now module.

Nearly five years after its launch, the design of the Apple News app remains occasionally confounding. The easiest way to find it might be to simply say, “Hey Siri, play Apple News Today.” Or to simply subscribe to Apple News Today in your favorite podcast app.

A pitch for Apple News

Apple News Today lives in the News app's audio tab in iOS 13.6.
Apple News Today lives in the News app’s audio tab in iOS 13.6.
Photo: Apple

Throughout, Apple News Today serves as a carefully scripted advertisement for Apple News. Probably more importantly, it also flogs Apple News+, the subscription upsell that costs $9.99 per month. Here’s the pitch, directly from co-host Basu: “Every day, Duarte and I will bring you some of the best pieces of journalism that you’ll find in the Apple News app — stories that we think will make you see things differently, and sometimes hopefully make you smile.”

Each episode wraps with a blast of precision self-promotion. The hosts give a shout out to the Apple News app, where you can find links to the stories mentioned. And you get a plug for Apple News+ audio stories.

… and for Apple News+ audio stories

The promo usually doesn’t stop there, though. When an episode of Apple News Today finishes, the audio stream continues seamlessly. (Note: This didn’t happen on subsequent playbacks.) If you’re not an Apple News+ subscriber, it rolls straight into a short, minute-plus preview of one of those audio stories available on the premium service.

Similarly soothing, these audio versions of long-form journalism sound like typical audiobooks. Professional voice actors read these stories, taken from the pages of Apple News+ partners like Vanity Fair, Wired, Essence, etc. And the previews end with yet another pitch: “To continue listening to this story, subscribe to Apple News+.”

Will Apple News catch fire?

Will Apple News Today bring more daily users to the Apple News app? And will all the teasers convince people to pony up and subscribe to Apple News+? With publishers apparently unhappy with Cupertino’s terms — The New York Times recently bailed on Apple News — Apple seems increasingly desperate to shake things up.

Podcasts are undoubtedly hot, but these flashy but faceless offerings don’t seem like the kind of thing that will make Apple News+ catch fire.