Flipboard leverages the iPad's Web-connectivity and large 9.7in display to cull blog posts, social networking feeds, images, video, and articles into a slick, print-like layout that closely replicates the traditional reading experience. The latest update, version 1.9, brings in a number of new features (audio support, Readability support, and more) that make an already good content-gathering app, even better.
Flipboard's main page features boxes where you can add content. You do this by tapping a blank, square pane, which opens the new Content Guide that lists Flipboard categories: including Art & Design, Business, Food & Design, and Tech. By default, the Featured category is highlighted, which showcases several popular brands such as Fast Company, Make, and Popular Science (as well as Flipboard-curated top stories, Flipboard tips, and Flipboard-related news). Bringing a finger to Sports revealed a Bill Simmons sub-category (one of my favourite writers), which I tapped to see a list of his stories, tweets, and stories he's shared. After deeming the Bill Simmons category worthy, I tapped the "Add" icon, which placed it in the blank square. Pressing and holding a square gives you the option to delete it. More Flipboard's latest update adds an Audio category that features the likes of CMJ Network, Slate Internet Radio, and TWiT in the USA - the UK might be different. Tapping the "+" icon adds that feed to your Flipboard library. Once a feed is add, you simply launch the pane, and tap the play icon inside. Music streamed over the CMJ network played without a hitch, which made me supremely happy as the lack of audio support was Flipboard's one glaring omission.
The panes are continually updated as the sources feed fresh content into their streams, so you'll see different images in each one when you launch the app and new stories are available. The first screen has enough real estate to house nine squares, while the second page has the capacity to house twelve. This was the maximum number of favourite items you could have on screen when Flipboard first launched, but now you can add as many as you like. Still, you're limited to just two pane pages; the other saved article streams are seen when you tap the red "More..." icon. That's a definite improvement, but I'd still like more pane pages.
Tapping a content box opens articles in a print-style page, with a top story and three more along the bottom. You can read an article by tapping on it; otherwise, flip the page over and you'll see more stories. Depending on the story and source in question, a particular article could show up as an entire page of photos, one third of a page, or a small box. You can share stories by e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
In fact, you can almost use the app as a substitute for visiting those social networking sites. Its presentation of your friends' status updates and new photos is much more attractive than on those sites' own home pages. Naturally, you can use Flipboard to update our status and share content. Since everything is integrated, in a magazine-style layout, the app also improves on Facebook's ungainly method of displaying the latest news from "liked" sources in a single column.
Flipboard displays content in several ways. If the viewed content comes from one of Flipboard's partners (ABC News, All Things Digital, Bon Appetit, Lonely Planet, SB Nation, SF Chronicle/Gate, Uncrate or The Washington Post Magazine - in the USA) the new HTML 5-powered Flipboard Pages versions of their websites are displayed. Non-content partners have stories pulled from RSS feeds, and if that isn't available, the Web page itself is shown. Flipboard now has Instagram support, so you can view snapshots uploaded to the social photo network. A new social search feature lets you search for content or hashtags across your various networks, and save it as its own dedicated content box-very cool. Pages are extremely clean with excellent use of photos and white space, but The Daily, another iPad news reading app, has a layout that truly adopts the magazine aesthetic with its colour pages, excellent photography, and full page ads.
In testing, Flipboard performed admirably. Page layouts always looked great, and I rarely waited more than a second or two for a story or Contents page to load. Overall, Flipboard came the closest to feeling like a "live" magazine than anything I've tested on the iPad; even The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad magazine, updates only a few times per day (unless breaking news occurs). Flipboard now highlights popular stories with a red "Popular" icon, and you'll occasionally find an ad placed between content pages. These ads (so far) aren't as energetic as animated ones found in The Daily. The one that I encountered while reading The Economist was an ad for The Economist's own iPad app. Flipboard has stated that more will roll out in coming months. By default, you can't read articles without an internet connection, but you can save individual pages for offline reading if you have an Instapaper, Pocket, or Readability account. Google Currents (Free, 3.5 stars) lets you save articles without third-party apps.
Flipboard was plenty of fun to use in its first iteration, and has gotten better over time. Flipboard is a superb alternative to standalone RSS feed readers, browsing individual sites, and following Facebook and Twitter feeds, making it an award-winning app.
Pros: Streaming audio support; Print-style page layouts; Content partnerships with major publishers; Strong social networking features; Fast page-swiping; Looks sharp in both portrait and landscape modes; Aggregates news, images, video, social networking updates, and shared links.
Cons: Still limits the total number of panes you can include; Can't read stories when offline without a third-party service.
Manufacturer: Flipboard (iTunes link)