Apple News Plus’ new Audio stories appear in iOS 13.5.5 beta

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The latest iOS 13.5.5 beta has revealed a new audio feature for the company’s Apple News Plus service that adds podcast-style recordings of longform articles to the app, as discovered by 9to5Mac. Apple was reportedly working on the feature earlier this year, but the newly revealed section of the News app marks the first real look at the audio endeavor.

The beta adds a new “Audio” tab to the Apple News app where the audio versions of stories will be collected. The tab isn’t fully functional yet; right now, there are no actual recordings that play. But in the version of the app found by 9to5Mac, articles from The Wall Street Journal, Wired, People, Variety, and New York Magazine had audio versions, although it’s almost certain that Apple is still working out licensing details.

As 9to5Mac notes in its video, the interface here is extremely similar to Apple’s Podcasting app UI, with a quick 15-second rewind button and options for faster playback. There’s also a quick link that can take listeners from the audio version of the story to the written one, allowing them to follow along with the original text while listening to the article.

Notably, the original report for Apple’s audio ambitions indicates that the company isn’t looking to just license existing podcasting content, but rather produce its own audio versions with professional actors of the same premium news content that it offers with Apple News Plus.

Photo: 9to5Mac

The audio stories are only available for subscribers to the $9.99-a-month Apple News Plus subscription. Apple’s subscription services (including Apple News Plus) are critical to the company’s long-term plans, and offering a premium, podcast-like experience for major features and longform articles could help draw in more customers.

It’s not clear when Apple is planning to launch Audio for Apple News Plus, but the fact that it’s in the current iOS beta would seem to indicate the company is closer to a release than not. With WWDC 2020 just around the corner, it’s possible that a more formal announcement could be coming soon.

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