by Bill Snyder

Apple iPhone, Meet Flipboard

Dec 12, 2011 3 mins
Enterprise Applications iPhone

Flipboard is wildly popular on the iPad. Can it bring the same magazine-like experience to the iPhone's small screen?

Fipboard is pretty cool. But until now, the only folks who could enjoy it were iPad owners. That changed late last week when Flipboard came to the iPhone, and its new iteration is impressive.

As you may know, Fipboard takes various forms of digital content — social-networking posts, articles, photos and videos — and presents them in a magazine-like format to flip through. You can make a Flipbook by searching and selecting content, share one with friends on Facebook or other social networking site, or simply try your luck by selecting “Flipboard picks.” You’d think you would need a rather large screen to take advantage of that. Surprisingly, though, that magazine metaphor, those it’s been tweaked a bit, works quite well on the iPhone’s small screen.

The iPhone version introduces a new feature called “Cover Stories,” that pulls together content from a variety of places that you visit. As you use Flipboard to view or post on Twitter or Facebook and go to various Web sites, the company says the app will analyze your choices and present content accordingly. I haven’t used the iPhone application long enough to tell how well it tailors content for me, but I find the idea intriguing.

What impresses me more than the content is the clever way in which the application takes advantage of the iPhone’s strengths. On the iPad, you do your flipping horizontally, with a swipe; on the much smaller iPhone screen you flip with a flick of your thumb. It’s a bit like having a stack of cards in your hands, only they are virtual.

Instead of scrolling through a longish article, you read a relatively short amount of text on a page and then flip to the next. I’ve always found scrolling through text articles on the iPhone rather annoying; this is a notable improvement. It also makes slide shows, an increasingly popular way to display photos and so on, easier to watch.

The interface is simple, well-thought out and context sensitive. Swipe on the bottom of a page while your browsing cover stories or topics and it will flip to the next. Tap on the side of the screen and it will take you inside your selection. There’s the usual iPhone search icon that takes you to your virtual keyboard while other icons across the top of a story or photo let you share it or Tweet it, once you log in to that service.

Content from some publications appears to be tailored for Flipboard; those that aren’t can be somewhat uneven. Sometimes you’ll get a snippet of an article; to read the rest you tap a button and are taken to the article’s Web page. You’ll find quite a few of the usual tech suspects like Mashable and Venturebeat, along with content from the UK’s Guardian, and Telegraph, a smattering of content from The Economist and one of my favorites, the New Yorker’s cartoon of the day.

When the iPhone version launched, there was so much demand for the Flipboard service that many users reported that they couldn’t sign up, a problem confirmed by the company. That’s apparently been cleared up, because I had no problems or delays creating an account once I downloaded the free Flipboard app from iTunes.

What I like most Flipboard is that it makes the iPhone a more comfortable device for casual browsing or reading anywhere you have a connection. The iPhone screen is still small, but Flipboard makes the most of every pixel.