Ever since the WWDC, Apple has been very discreet about Newsstand and what it really will be like. This week, Apple finally released, to some developers, a special FAQ document detailing how the feature will work and affect them. We have received a copy of these details, here they are:
For starters, in case you forgot, Newsstand is new feature in iOS 5, which comes with a dedicated folder on the homescreen of your device and will allow you to easily find and subscribe to all sorts of magazines and newspapers. The most exciting part about the feature is that Newsstand apps will have the ability to update their content automatically in the background. So when you leave for work with your Wi-Fi only iPad in the morning, today’s edition of The Daily will be waiting for you.
Fundamentally, it’s important to understand that Newsstand apps will be much like the apps you already know on the inside, but simply with a few extra features. For example, the first thing that you’ll notice is that their icon will automatically place itself in the Newsstand folder, and it will often differ from a regular icon as it can be shaped differently, with a ratio closer to a magazine (up to 2:1). Furthermore, this icon will be able change on its own once a day, just like your calendar app.
As far as content goes, Apple encourages developers to let users purchase renewable subscriptions to their content, with the possibility of also selling single issues through in-app purchases. However, if you want to make a free magazine to promote your business that updates every day, you’re also free to do so.
Further, we finally have an answer to one of the biggest unknowns about Newsstand; where it will be placed. Apple has decided that Newsstand apps will form a dedicated section in the App Store, just like Games or Lifestyle. So it will be easy to access, and you’ll be able to find Newsstand apps through a regular search. This leaves us wondering if this will affect any other categories, but no details were published on that matter.
The background downloading feature of Newsstand is interestingly handled by push notifications. That is, when new content is ready, the developer can, once a day, send a push notification to your device with special data, and your iDevice will then (if it’s ready to do so, battery and connection-wise) start downloading new content in the background.
The interesting part about this feature is that it can only be initiated once a day, so your RSS reader can’t take advantage of it. Also, publishers won’t be able to use it to push out breaking news in the background if they already updated their content that day. However, they’re free to let you know, via a regular push notification, about any breaking news. Then, the app can update as often as necessary once it’s launched in a regular manner. Also, if you don’t like the whole concept, you’ll be able to turn off background downloading in the settings app.
By now you’re probably worried that these Newsstand apps will be clogging up your iDevice’s tiny memory by downloading enormous PDFs every day (like The Daily). Yet, they won’t.
Content downloaded by Newsstand apps is treated as cached. Therefore, iOS 5 is free to manage that cache as it pleases, and delete old content when you run out of space on your device. To avoid unpleasant surprises, developers have to make sure that their apps specify which issue you’re currently reading, or what you don’t need anymore to help iOS in its decision. Either way, I feel like this is going to cause some frustration very fast, but we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.
That’s all we have for now. As usual, we’ll keep you posted if we find out anything else. In the meantime, you can let us know how you feel about all this in the comments.