I’ve been using Flipboard on my iPad since it was first released. It’s a fantastic application, and has won a ton of awards as a result. Apple named it the 2010 App of the Year, Oprah raved about it with MC Hammer, and Time Magazine called it one of the Top 50 innovations of 2010.
So what is so great about it?
Flipboard allows you to view articles from all sorts of sources. It’s a great way to view blogs, but it can also take your Twitter stream, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, and present those streams in a beautiful and efficient presentation. And it automatically resolves links; when your friends post a link to an interesting article, Flipboard goes out and downloads the article. In fact, this is pretty much the only way I look at Facebook now. It’s a great way to see my friends’ updates without all the visual clutter I don’t care about. And Flipboard curates a few channels on subjects such as tech, sports, and movies, where they aggregate interesting stories from around the web. Flipboard refers to all of this as a social magazine, in that your social networks actually find and recommend articles for you to read.
Above All: Style
But the truth is, I think Time Magazine got it wrong. Flipboard is innovative, sure. But so are a lot of other apps. No, what really sets Flipboard apart is not so much its innovation, as its style. It is an absolutely beautiful application to use. A real pleasure, that will make you enjoy reading articles about any subject. Screenshots simply do not do this app justice. You have to see it and use it to really understand how great this app is. They’ve done a brilliant job of creating a powerful, simple interface that gets out of the way of the content. Want to share an article with your friends? Easy—you can email it, send it to Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Or save it for later reading. Yet all of this is hidden until you need it.
And Flipboard has worked with content producers, such as National Geographic, Wired, The Economist, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone, so they have custom-designed pages which really match their respective brands. Open the National Geographic tab and you really feel like you are reading a National Geographic magazine. Stunning.
Flipboard is the future of publishing, and the sooner the content creators, aggregators, and publishers understand this, the better off they will be.
As I understand it, Flipboard was actually the first application designed exclusively for the iPad. There is no web version–not even an iPhone version; it just wouldn’t make sense in either of those formats.
The story goes that the creators of Flipboard came up with the idea during a brainstorming session, when they asked themselves what the web would look like if it were designed from scratch. I think a better question might have been “What would magazines look like if they were designed from scratch today?”
Flipboard has no advertisements on content pages, but they do sometimes incorporate full-page, interstitial ads; when you turn a page, you may occasionally get a single advertisement page. But just like a magazine, you can turn the page again to get back to great content. And even the advertisements tend to look beautiful.
There are a few things I hope Flipboard considers for future releases.
First, as my eyes get older, I find it harder to read small type. Being able to double-tap or pinch the page and have the entire page expand or shrink appropriately would be a huge help, particularly for images that have been shrunk to fit the format. As it is, I do sometimes find myself reflecting on the fact that the design team must be pretty young not to have realized this.
Second, I would love to see an auto-curated section, or sections, similar to Zite (another great iPad news app)–one that learns from your usage and pulls new articles for you from sources you’ve never experienced.
Third, I’d love to see Flipboard release a standard set of WordPress templates so that any site can easily format their content for Flipboard. As it is, only sites that have explicitly worked with Flipboard to develop custom templates get the most beautiful treatment. It would be nice to enable smaller blogs with some sort of standard template.
The bottom line is the more I use it, the more I love this app. Each release has been an improvement until finally I must pay it the highest compliment I can: Flipboard is one of the only six apps that occupies a space at the bottom of my iPad screen.