Users of the Apple News service were until now indistinguishable from the ones surfing through web views of in-app browsers.
The Apple News User-Agent in iOS 9 was also the default for in-app browsers (“web views,”) and didn’t contain anything to separate it from other apps. It notably didn’t contain the Safari component, at least setting it apart from the Safari web browser:
However, in iOS 10 Public Beta 1, a new User-Agent was introduced that for the first time advertise that the request is coming from the Apple News app:
A few days later, yet another new and more condensed User-Agent was observed. Sometime between the public build 582 (iOS 10 Public Beta 1) and the internal build 587, this new User-Agent was introduced:
At this point, it’s safe to say that iOS 10 will use a unique User-Agent for the Apple News app. Whether it’ll be the newer compact form seen from Apple employees using the new internal builds (the third example above) or by intruding an additional “News/” component as they’ve done with the public beta (the second example), is hard to say.
I’ll update this article when the final release of iOS 10 is made available and we can say for sure what the final User-Agent string will be.
Update (): It would now seem that a third and a fourth variant has appeared. However, as neither doesn’t contain a Mobile component, this is likely not the final User-Agent string either. A mobile component has been included with every mobile web browser for the last couple of years, and is relied upon heavily by web publishers to serve mobile-friendly content.
And I believe this to be the final User-Agent, plus or minus a Mobile component.
Having an identifiable User-Agent for the Apple News app will make it easier for web publishers to track their success on the Apple News service. Previously a black box to non-paying publishing partners, The new User-Agent will make it easy for publishers to measure their success without relying on analytics data provided by Apple.
Apple’s own news analytics service is still only available to paying publishing partners, whereas the User-Agent is available to any publisher who publishes to Apple News using standard web syndication feeds.
The new User-Agent will make it easier for publishers to create tailor-made experiences for Apple News readers without adopting the Apple News Format. For example, a publisher can adapt their articles by including an additional stylesheet or choosing different advertisement partners when their articles are requested through the Apple News app.
For the first time, it will also be easy to block the Apple News app based on its User-Agent. Something which was previously very difficult to do as there wasn’t an easy way to distinguish users of Apple News from users of other in-app browsers.
I believe that Apple originally feared that publishers would block the Apple News app if they made it too easy to identify. As there hasn’t been much — if any — criticism of the Apple News service from publishers, this doesn’t seem to be a concern anymore.
The Apple bot for fetching syndication feeds (Atom and RSS), webpages, and resources for the Apple News service remains the same as before:
Publishers who are interested in more detailed tracking of their Apple News readership across all versions of iOS can modify their syndication feeds to include tracking information when the User-Agent matches “AppleNewsBot”. For example, by including a Google Analytics tracking tag or a custom metric tag in their links.
Are you interested in learning more technical details about the Apple News service? Read my other article on how AppleNewsBot isn’t fond of encryption certificates from the free certificate authority Let’s Encrypt.