Glancing through a beautiful catalog or magazine reveals on each page a new group of thoughtfully assembled images and words. That pleasurable experience, sorely lacking on most websites, has been duplicated on the iPad, which makes reading digital magazines more like the real thing.
This week I tested Flipboard, an iPad app that is a personalized digital magazine made up of content that relates to you and your life. A Flipboard is created when the app automatically gathers social-networking updates from your Facebook and Twitter accounts and displays them on attractively formatted individual pages.
If you’re not a social-networking expert, you can select content for your Flipboard from a list of 20 to 30 categories, including photography, health, technology, film, music, food and others. Behind the scenes, these categories are populated by Twitter lists (groups of tweets about the same subject) selected by the Flipboard team. You can also search for specific lists on Twitter, including lists you’ve added to your Twitter account, and create a section based on that search. For now, the Contents section of a Flipboard holds nine sections, but this will grow in future iterations of the app.
I’ve been using Flipboard for the past couple months, and I’ve grown accustomed to relying on it as a favorite method for checking friends’ updates and news updates. On Wednesday, you, too, can download this free iPad app from Apple’s App Store. For now, Flipboard doesn’t contain ads.
One downside to Flipboard is that it doesn’t cache content for you to read when you’re offline. Other iPad apps, like The Wall Street Journal, do this, and have saved me on countless occasions when my iPad is not in a Wi-Fi zone and isn’t loaded with new material to read. (People who own iPads with always-on 3G network connections won’t have this problem as often.) A Flipboard engineer says that the company is investigating some degree of an offline mode for the app in the future.
Another Flipboard frustration is that the app doesn’t allow enough personal customization of content. It mostly presents status updates chronologically. A new version of Flipboard, due out this fall, will include more personalized content.
One of the more outstanding things about Flipboard is its ability to take plain-text tweets or Facebook updates and turn them into visuals of a shared photo or Web link in a status message. This means that instead of reading a friend’s update that says, “Wildlife news here wwf.panda.org,” Flipboard will already have retrieved a small sample of that website, including images and text, to display on a page of my digital magazine.
Flipboard’s visual effects were so appealing that I found myself wanting to see how the app displayed my social-networking content, even if I had recently checked Facebook or seen the latest updates from Twitter.
Users can flip through pages with right-to-left swipes, which give the illusion that the current page creases in its center as one side of the page flips up and over. If you flip slowly, you can read both sides of a page at once, which looks incredibly cool.
By touching on one status update, you can open a pop-up screen that shows comments made by other friends on Facebook; on Twitter, this menu shows who has retweeted a post. Here, too, you can hit a button to “like” a Facebook update, favorite it on Twitter, retweet a tweet or email an item to others. If one of your friends is too “noisy,” you can click a button to hide that person’s updates from your Flipboard.
A strip of dots at the bottom of each Flipboard page provides a place where you can drag a finger and skip ahead in the Facebook or Twitter feed timeline. Since I regularly check Facebook on my computer and BlackBerry, I found a lot of content on Flipboard that I had already viewed. Flipboard’s co-founder and CEO Mike McCue said the company is considering ways of marking certain content as already read. On Twitter, I follow over a hundred people, so Flipboard’s content was always fresh.
Photos shared on Facebook and Twitter are illustrated on Flipboard in magnified images, and a rotating selection of certain images is chosen for the cover of your Flipboard magazine. More than once, I was startled to see a friend’s new baby or family shot on the front page of the app when I opened it.
Flipboard does an excellent job of taking otherwise plain content and arranging it in a digestible and attractive format. It could stand to make its content more customizable and tweaked to individual preferences, but company representatives say they’re working on these improvements. If you enjoy reading news from the Web and/or keeping up with your social network, this app is a beautiful, visual way to do so.
Edited by Walter S. Mossberg
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