Google’s Play Newsstand app lets you read news from free and paid sources ranging from blogs and newspapers to The New Yorker and everything in between. The app has been available for Android for about a year and the iOS version launched only a week ago.
Today, Google is launching a big update for the Android app that it says is meant to improve the magazine reading experience on phones and allows you to subscribe to specific topics you are interested in, including international ones.
Play Newsstand now also features many aspects of Google’s new Material Design user interface language, including smoother transitions and bigger images. That’s a change many of Google’s apps are going through right now, but Newsstand is a nice example of what Google is striving for with this new design and a bit of a reference app for similarly content-heavy apps.
More importantly, though, reading magazines on a small screen is now much easier. If you’ve ever subscribed to a print magazine through this or similar apps, you know that magazine layouts simply don’t convert well to phones (though they often look great on tablets). You are often forced to zoom in and out and scroll around a page as you are trying to read an article on what was once meant to be a page in a print magazine. Now, you will get a standard list of articles that you can browse and when you want to read a story, the experience is just like reading a blog post or any other content in Play Newsstand.
A Google spokesperson told me that the company is extracting the text and image data from magazines and then reformats it for the different screen sizes.
The rather annoying reading experience on phones is probably one of the reasons why print magazines never sold all that well in digital stores (though there are surely other issues as well, including all of the free web-based competition these publications face). Maybe this change will bring some life back into some of these publications.
The new version of the app will start rolling out to existing users in over 40 countries today and all users should have it by next week (or — if you are impatient — you can download it here).