Jaded, bitter old hacks that we are, it's a rare piece of software that causes everyone in CNET UK Towers to go "ooooh" and feel the infantile delight of toying with something that might -- just might -- be really brilliant. We got that feeling with Flipboard, a free app for Apple's iPad that turns your social networks into a virtual magazine.
What is it?
Flipboard takes your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and aggregates every link your friends, or the people you're following, have posted. It then takes the content and images from those URLs and tiles them on your iPad screen, in the style of a magazine. A variety of different information sources, from Twitter and Facebook to Flipboard-managed news feeds, can be accessed from a contents page, which has a maximum of nine tiles.
You can flip through the many pages of 'news' with your finger. At any time, you can tap on one photo or news item to make it full-screen. In that view, you can comment on articles, reply to the original poster via Twitter or, if you're looking through links from Facebook, hit the all-important 'like' button.
To see Flipboard in action, check out the video below. Be warned, though, that the tinkling piano and ostensibly hip presenter may make you seethe with rage and punch your fist through your monitor.
Why should I care?
What impresses us most about this app is the seamless way in which you can skip through various articles. We don't know what black magic Flipboard uses to load so many different URLs and images and tile them so quickly and beautifully, but the app's streamlined user interface makes it a joy to use.
This is the kind of application that works perfectly on the iPad. We can't see it working so well on any other piece of hardware. The touch interface is perfect for flipping through pages, and Flipboard really makes the best of the iPad's gorgeous display, with both high-resolution photos and murky Facebook snaps rendered very well indeed.
We usually get a creepy sensation every time we feel like we're in an Apple advert. But we could happily strap on our Converse, ride a moped over to our local park, sit in the shade of a leafy oak tree, and check out our Flipboard feeds for hours on end.
There are a couple of features that are missing from Flipboard. For instance, it would be great to be able to apply a few filters in the Twitter feed, so you could block entries from annoying friends who spam you with endless links to some boring foolishness.
Also, Flipboard currently lets you add your own tiles to the contents page, but you can only add Twitter accounts or Twitter lists. It would be great if you could add an RSS feed so that you could check out all the latest news from your favourite tech site, for example.
We'd like to be able to see further back through a feed's history too. We were able to check out a fair few pages on both Facebook and Twitter, although the option to load more content when we hit the end of our feed would be appreciated.
For a long time, we've suspected that the real value of social networks is the ability to share links with friends and contacts. As far as we know, Flipboard is the first service that actually puts this functionality first. It's a great way of finding news that's relevant to you -- after all, you're reading links from people you're friends with, or whom you've chosen to follow. As for the future, we'd love to see Flipboard on other mobile devices, and generally becoming an industry-standard platform rather than something tethered exclusively to the iPad.
Not only is Flipboard a really innovative service, but it's beautifully implemented. There are a few missing features, but, for now, we're perfectly happy to use the service as it is and wait patiently for updates. This is the best social app we've seen for the iPad so far, and one of the best apps we've ever seen on any platform. Costing exactly zero pennies to download from the App Store, you really have nothing to lose by trying it.
Edited by Charles Kloet