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Have you “heard” the news? Apple leak reveals audio stories for News+

Apple’s WWDC20—the first global, all-online WWDC—is just around the corner, and the Cupertino rumor mill has gone on overdrive. Some of the leaks appear to be pretty credible, and the company seems to have a trick or two up its sleeve that may be of publisher interest.

There was already talk of Apple News+ pivoting to audio, with multiple publishers participating in the program to produce audio versions of stories for the company’s digital magazine and newspaper subscription service.  

Now, 9to5Mac reports it has been able to access a new “Apple News+ Audio” feature, which is hidden in iOS 13.5.5 beta that rolled out to the public this week.

Apple is working to offer audio stories for Apple News+ subscribers, and now we can confirm that with iOS 13.5.5 beta. Apple News+ Audio will be available through the existing News app, which will get a new “Audio” tab.

Filipe Espósito, 9to5Mac

“The interface is very similar to Apple News,” Filipe notes, and “users will have access to several recorded audio news instead of text. You can tap the Play button to listen to all the recent news, or choose a specific story to play.”

The feature can be quite a game-changer, given the increasing popularity of podcasts, and the fact that users can consume the content while doing all sorts of activities — driving, working around the house, walking, exercising, etc.

Here’s a first look at Apple’s News+ Audio, from the 9to5Mac team:

“Apple is asking publishers for permission to produce audio versions of stories distributed via News+,” reports Jeff Benjamin from 9to5Mac, “and Apple is planning to use actors to read long-form pieces.”

If Apple gets permission to create audio articles based on content, it’s increasing the value of Apple News+ with minimal effort. Having audio versions of this content may make the service more valuable in the eyes of current subscribers, and perhaps draw in new subscribers.

Jeff Benjamin, 9to5Mac

And given Apple’s continuing struggles with News+, this might prove to be a shot in the arm for Cupertino’s services initiatives, which have till date seen mixed success. Some publishers are reportedly skeptical, given the fact that existing revenue from News+ is already lackluster.

According to an earlier report, Apple plans to handle all production costs for the audio news recordings and compensate publishers in the same way ‌Apple News‌+ payouts work, i.e., “50% of subscriber revenue to publishers based on how much time those subscribers spend with publishers’ content in a 30-day period.”

The 9to5Mac team also confirmed that while the Audio tab shows up for all users, only subscribers to the $9.99-a-month News+ service will have access to full stories. Someone who’s not a subscriber can only listen to previews of the latest news.

Based on the iOS 13.5.5 beta code, it appears that Apple News+ Audio will support integration with Siri. Users can ask for the latest news on iPhone, iPad, or HomePod using just voice commands. 

Another Apple observer MacRumors also discovered an icon depicting the ‌Apple News‌+ Audio feature, along with some related imagery:

An ‌Apple News‌+ audio icon in the beta

An icon that might indicate when a news story is available with an audio version

An icon displayed when an audio news recording ends

Although it’s not known if Apple News+ Audio is planned to be released with iOS 13.5.5, it appears very likely, since the feature is fully working.

With WWDC20 just a couple of weeks away, it’s fairly certain that we’ll get to hear a more formal announcement shortly.