newsstand icon

Why Newsstand needs to go away

Newsstand was one of iOS 5’s banner features when it was introduced back in 2011, but its time has come and gone. What was intended to be a special collection of apps has, instead, become a second-class collection. That’s why it would be better for everyone concerned—Apple, users, app developers, and publishers (including Macworld)—if Newsstand just vanished.

Newsstand was introduced as a way to add some special features to the content apps offered by magazine and newspaper publishers. This special class of apps live in a dedicated folder. In iOS 5 and 6, that folder looked like a wooden bookshelf—which is not a newsstand at all, a metaphorical quibble mooted by the replacement of the wood with a formless gray background in iOS 7.

One of those special features: Newsstand app icons aren’t static, like those of other apps. Rather, they’re representations of magazine or newsstand covers that change regularly. Unfortunately, in iOS 7 the Newsstand icon itself changed, from showing teeny-weeny thumbnails of newspaper and magazine covers to a static icon with stylized representations of newspapers and magazines. That means you can’t see those custom cover icons until you tap to open up Newsstand.

Another special feature has been that newsstand apps could update themselves in the background, so that when a user opened the app, they’d find the latest content waiting for them, already downloaded. (That background-download feature of these media apps was so great, in fact, that as of iOS 7, all apps have access to something similar—and, in some ways, superior.) Those apps could also offer auto-renewing subscriptions—the first time that was allowed within iOS apps.

The Newsstand folder was intended to be a showcase for media apps, but it has had the effect of sequestering them all inside a folder. You can’t move your favorite media apps out of the Newsstand folder and into some other more prominent place; if you don’t own any media apps, you still can’t delete the Newsstand folder. The Newsstand folder also doesn’t behave like other folders: You must press the home button to exit from it, unlike all other folders which close with just a tap on the screen.

Developers of Newsstand apps aren’t allowed to remove those apps from Newsstand, either. Newsstand is like the Night’s Watch, I guess: Once you’re in there, you’re in until you die. Or maybe until Apple forcibly ejects Newsstand from iOS—which is what I’m hoping.

If Apple did so, it'd be nice if it could find some way to allow media apps—outside of the Newsstand folder—to update their “cover icons.” I wouldn't want every app to have that ability, since icon consistency is important. But since Apple curates the entire App Store and makes apps follow specific rules, it seems like it would be simple enough for the company to allow updating icons just for this one class of apps. But if the death of Newsstand meant that all media app icons had to be as consistent as those of my other apps, I’d be fine with that.

We should all get our first glimpse at iOS 8 in early June at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Though Apple introduces big new features with every major iOS release, my guess is that this release will be largely focused on tweaking and improving many of the features introduced in iOS 7. But I think it’d be a dandy time to remove Newsstand.

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