Inside Flipboard’s Project to Rethink Its iPad App for the iPhone

12/7/11Follow @wroush

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the company doesn’t want individual publishers to figure out how to game the system. “The bottom line is it’s based on your usage,” Doll says. “If you tend to view articles from a certain source, and in particular if you share that article with someone else, that will make that source more likely to come up in your Cover Stories.”

The Flipboard app for the iPad will soon be retrofitted with Cover Stories feature. And Doll and McCue say it’s just the first example of a series of personalization features that are coming to both versions of the app.

Last year the company acquired a startup called Ellerdale and said that its semantic analysis technology and its index of social-media messages would ultimately become the “relevancy engine” for future releases of Flipboard. Ellerdale co-founder Arthur van Hoff, one of the original developers of the Java programming language at Sun Microsystems, is now Flipboard’s chief technology officer, and McCue says he’s hard at work on new ways to surface the stories that best match users’ interests.

“We’re just dipping our toes in the water on this,” she says. “The goal is to try to make it easier to access all the things that are important to you. Do you keep liking the photos that Evan is posting to his Instagram account? Then next time we have a photo let’s make sure that is in your Cover Stories.”

For any veteran Flipboard user, the new iPhone app will feel comfortable—and in many ways more convenient than the iPad version. But over time, Flipboard expects that the iPhone app will help it reach an entirely new audience of users who don’t have iPads or haven’t tried news-reader apps on their tablets. For them, the goal was to keep the app clean, elegant, and intuitive.

“I think the core principles remain the same,” says Doll. “Those are basically a focus on the content, not letting in too much chrome, letting the content be the interface. You need information density without clutter. We have a stellar design team, and the amount of polish that has gone into every single one of these screens—deciding hat information to show, how big it should be, and what do leave in and leave out—has been borderline obsessive. But it pays off.”

[Update, April 2, 2012: Craig Mod, a former employee at Flipboard, has published a fascinating personal essay about the creation of Flipboard for the iPhone, and about the physical book he created to document the project.]

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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