Apple made a big deal about its updated News app when it first revealed iOS 9 back in June.
Essentially a swanky RSS feed, replacing the outmoded Newsstand, it was Apple’s way of saying that iPad and iPhone magazines were a thing of the past.
The way to get news on your iPhone was to have it pulled through one slick looking news reader.
The service launched in the US when iOS 9 went live last month. UK and Australian users will be next to get the service and you can snare it now if you change your home territory to the US.
One country, however, won’t be getting Apple News. China. Over the weekend, it was revealed that Apple was disabling its News app in the People’s Republic, denying users access to news and content.
Major tech companies struggling with Chinese censorship is nothing new.
Google ran into trouble with its search results when it censored them, while accessing Twitter in mainland China is all about impossible, thanks to ‘The Great Firewall’. Facebook and Instagram have suffered the same fate.
What makes Apple’s move troubling is the fact that it appears to have made this move preemptively.
This isn’t a case of China not allowing users access. Rather it is Apple bowing down to Chinese laws on the media.
US users say that they can see and access content from Apple News when they travel overseas, even though different territories don’t support it.
In China, they simply get the following message: “Can’t refresh right now. News isn’t supported in your current region.”
Apple has made an official comment. But an off–the–record briefing to the New York Times said the app had indeed been disabled.
Whether this was at the request of Chinese authorities is unclear. But it’s pretty obvious Apple doesn’t want to rock the boat.
Arguably the key reason behind the iPhone 6s smashing opening weekend sales records was the fact that Apple launched the device in China at the same time as the US and Europe. It was the first time it had done so.
China now represents the company’s second largest revenue stream. Stories about issues with iOS malware in China due a swift response from Cupertino last month.
Would it have been so PR–focused if it had had such issues elsewhere?
Apple has been working for years to break China and it looks as if it finally has. Samsung has been cowed by the iPhone’s success there, a burgeoning middle class driving demand for Apple kit.
But is it really worth it? Financially, it must be.
But as Google can attest, when big western tech firms allow themselves to bow to controversial censorship laws, the backlash can be swift and ultimately embarrassing.
The bottom line may not be enough for Apple to convince others that disabling access to its News tool is a smart idea.