Flipboard for iPhone is a Beautiful App – for Your Commute Home

I am a huge fan of beautifully designed, useful apps that solve problems or generally make my life easier. Throughout my day I primarily use just a few apps to keep in touch with friends and keep up with news in both the technology and business sectors. One of these apps includes an RSS reader, which I change frequently as I find new apps with new features. Regardless of which RSS I use, though, I find most are always clunky, slow, and require a constant back-and-forth to the home screen to read what’s most important. I also juggle the typical native social network apps to keep up with news and personal updates shared by friends, and also use things like email and SMS.

Over the past few months I’ve had slight envy of my friends and other bloggers who have been using Flipboard on their iPad to keep up with constant evolution of tech and related business news, though I’ve been mostly impressed with the UI rather than the accessibility to news itself. Admittedly I spend most of my day sitting in front of my MacBook Air and rarely even use my iPhone unless I am away from my desk running errands or commuting via my car or other mode of public transportation. My iPhone is a — get this — mobile device that I actually primarily use as a phone. If I need to take a phone call, I usually use Bluetooth, as I’ve already faced the legal consequences of actually holding the phone while driving here in Washington State. As a result, even texting while driving is obviously off limits. The only time I’m actually thankful for the “smart” part of my phone is when I’m stuck in traffic, or otherwise sitting still in my car. (And when you rely on a boat for daily transportation, this happens often.) During these moments, I scroll through Twitter, Facebook, and my RSS reader, sometimes check Techmeme, and send a few emails. This is not only sufficient, but I never feel like I’m missing any content — or experiences. Perhaps this is why I am not blown away by the features of Flipboard for iPhone. I just don’t really need it — ever.

flipboardThis is because I am one of about 46% of US workers who have unlimited access to both social and traditional media while I am on the job, according to a survey by Robert Half International in 2009. The other 54% of US employees work for companies that block access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter completely — but not necessarily traditional media sites like CNN or Forbes. Employees at these companies can continue to browse traditional news throughout the day on their work computer, but tend to turn to their smartphones — such as iPhones — to check Facebook, Twitter, or even Gmail throughout the day, even if this is against company policy.

So where does Flipboard fit in? For the 46% of US workers who are able to consume both social and traditional media throughout the day (including at home), there is little to no need for Flipboard, however beautifully designed the app — except perhaps while lounging in front of the television, reading in bed, or during the stop-and-go commute home. And since much of the news featured on Flipboard is a compilation of top stores from throughout the day, including those sourced from Twitter and Facebook, there is little you may have missed if you really are glued to the news and social media during other parts of your day.

Unfortunately, the other 54% may find that Flipboard is actually not the best all-one-on app for sourcing all that is important from their social media feeds and the top news stories of the day — especially if their social networks are notably noisy. The latter is arguably a problem of the social networks, and not of Flipboard, but does make Flipboard especially difficult to use as an all-purpose app to consume the most important news stories as it lacks the ability to filter news by Twitter lists or Facebook groups. For users with thousands of friends or followers, this can make using these features of Flipboard an overwhelming and borderline impossible experience.

If you’re in the majority of US workers unable to access social media throughout the day (and have large networks), you will likely still want to use the native Facebook and Twitter apps on your iPhone to keep in touch with not only the news but also updates shared by your friends and followers, and perhaps also use Facebook and Twitter to source news from the outlets you care most about (as opposed to the automatic feeds generated by Flipboard). Flipboard can be a great addition to these sources, but isn’t a useful replacement for the casual consumer of social media and news — especially when they can only use social media for a few minutes every day without risking their job.

Is Flipboard awesome? Yes. It works. It’s intuitive. It is, perhaps, one of the most delightful apps to use. I’d love to use Flipboard before I see the same content in other social streams, such as before I use Twitter first thing in the morning and before I check Facebook shortly thereafter. However, I have set up so many lists, filters, columns, and folders in my social networks and in my RSS reader that Flipboard doesn’t (yet) know which news and social media sources (or types of news sources) are truly most important to me on both a personal and professional level. It’s true that using Flipboard in the last 24 hours has been an enjoyable experience that has revealed a few more news stories that are interesting on a multitude of levels — and it’s a joy to use. However, as I still need to source news shared from other outlets and social networks from their respective platforms, Flipboard requires at least an extra 10 minutes of my day to flip through.

Which is about what equates to being stuck in traffic on the commute home (on a good day).

Flipboard is now available for free for iPhone users from the App Store. Will it change how you consume the news? Or is it just another app to waste your time? Let us know what you think of Flipboard in the comments.