Today we’re going to look at an iPad application that has received quite a bit of hype over the past few weeks – Flipboard. Aiming to be your “personalised social magazine”, Flipboard comes with a gorgeous interface, and a wonderful concept.
Although there are plenty of RSS, Twitter, PDF and eBook readers available for the iPad, there hasn’t yet been anything along these specific lines. Flipboard sets a lofty target in terms of functionality – one that was never going to be easy to meet. Read on to find out how well I think they pulled it off!
Watch the Video
This is the best place to start when trying to get an understanding of Flipboard. Because it’s such a visual app, watching it in action is a great way to understand how exactly the app works.
When you’ve finished watching the video, read on for some more information about the specifics of how Flipboard works, and where its main strengths lie.
Connecting to Your Social Networks
The first thing you’ll want to do with Flipboard is connect it up to your social networks – Twitter and Facebook to be precise. A larger surge of interest than expected at the outset means that Flipboard are going through a process of staggering new users.
If you find that you’re able to add your Facebook/Twitter accounts immediately, great. If not, be prepared to wait for a couple of days. Frustrating, but seemingly a necessary evil of receiving so many new users, so quickly.
Finding New Content
Once hooked up, you’ll discover that there are a few ways to find new content, and display it on your Flipboard. Clicking “Add a Section” brings up a new window:
This lets you do one of the following things:
- Add a Flipboard Section – These are pre-defined sources of news that you may find interesting. Lots of them are really great blogs/sites to follow!
- Add a Twitter User – This will collect all the information they share on Twitter, and put it into one central place.
- Add a Twitter List – By far the most useful option, in my opinion, this collates a group of Twitter users into one section of your Flipboard. Perfect for generating your own news feed in a specific niche.
One huge, notable, omission here is that of RSS feed (or Google Reader) support. This is still a popular way to consume news, and seems like the perfect fit for Flipboard. I’m not sure why it isn’t included – either purely down to the fact that the developer wanted to get the app live, and didn’t have time to add this in, or because they feel the ongoing trend is to find news via Twitter rather than RSS.
Personally, I’m undecided. I already have a brilliant RSS reader, and am quite happy to simply follow particular news sources and Twitter lists through Flipboard. It works fine for me, and gives me a different collection of news to that contained in my RSS reader.
The downside of not connecting to RSS feeds in any way is that it isn’t possible to read full articles within Flipboard. You need to click a link through to the original website. This is quite frustrating, and means that Flipboard feels like something of an intermediary app, rather than a full-fledged magazine.
When reading an article, you’ll find yourself regularly clicking the “Read on Web” link:
Something along the same lines as Instapaper would be incredible here, and really make Flipboard a more integrated solution for reading content.
Browsing video and photo content is a real pleasure, and works well both for Facebook albums, and pages that include a large number of images (our reviews, for instance):
Sharing & Interacting
When you’ve found a brilliant article, you’ll want to share it with your friends. Flipboard is already connected to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and makes this process very straight forward.
Two icons at the top of the screen let you either Favourite/Like a particular post, or forward it on to your followers and friends:
One feature I particularly like when viewing an article is the display of retweets on the right, and the ability to quickly post your own message to your followers (with a link included automatically).
Don’t like a particular article? It just takes a couple of taps to hide all future content from a particular friend. This is a great feature, and lets you quickly prune down a content source to just the best bits.
Is it a Magazine Replacement?
First off, I really love Flipboard. The animation and design is second to none, and it’s by far and away the best type of application in this particular category. I’m hoping that a few of the features I’ve mentioned as lacking here are in the works, and due to debut in a future version.
One thing that takes a little getting used to is that Flipboard isn’t meant to be a replacement for RSS and Twitter. You can’t flip back through a long timeline of tweets, or read a few days of RSS news content. It’s more of a real-time magazine that you pick up and browse through when you have a spare minute. If you need to be sure you never miss an important piece of news, Flipboard isn’t for you.
I can’t wait to see how this app evolves and grows over the coming months. Everything has been handled professionally so far (even the unprecedented launch demand was dealt with intelligently), and I really do hope that Flipboard can turn into my go-to news application on the iPad.