As part of a new effort to move beyond mobile devices, Flipboard is making its first big jump to the web. Prompted by the success of its user-created magazines — Flipboard says users have made over 2.5 million — the company is today launching full HTML5 versions of its magazines. Unlike the the magazines that launched as part of Flipboard 2.0 earlier this year, these will work on any browser, whether you’re on mobile or desktop. It’s only the first step towards the larger web experience though. The company plans to bring articles into the mix in the next few months, with the full Flipboard experience (with search, your subscriptions, and table of contents) rolling out to users around the end of 2013 or early 2014.
CEO Mike McCue told The Verge about the backstory of bringing Flipboard to the web. “When we started,” he says, “we thought we were going to build a website.” Hearing rumors about Apple’s iPad, they bet on a tablet app, and now, three years after launch, they’re moving back to the desktop. Though McCue agrees that the recent demise of Google Reader played into the decision to build for the web, the team wanted to open up its users’ magazines to a bigger audience, instead of keeping them stuck behind an app wall.
The trademark paginated, card-flipping experience is reproduced in your browser
On loading one of the new magazines in a browser, you’re greeted with a UI that fills your browser window, and it dynamically resizes as you expand on a big monitor or shrink the window down to the size of a single article. If you’ve used Flipboard on a phone or tablet, you’ll feel right at home here. The app’s trademark paginated, card-flipping experience is reproduced in your browser, and it’s oddly effective on a big screen. They’ve built a surprisingly fast experience, and while there’s no offline mode yet, Flipboard’s caching makes browsing a more seamless experience than on any of the latest batch of feed readers. Text loads instantly, and there’s little noticeable image loading lag.
As for the flip animation, Flipboard tested out countless interactions, from card reveals to endless scrolling. McCue says today’s launch was “delayed … by a month and a half because I wasn’t happy with where we were with transitions.” He explained that they knew they wanted to keep the page as the “elemental unit” of Flipboard’s experience on the web, and curiously, they found flip interaction was most effective. It worked best with arrow keys and the spacebar, and because it’s using HTML5, they didn’t have to compromise with trackpad interactions. And, by maintaining strict pagination, images would always be fully on screen and not cropped by page or card limitations.
At launch today, Flipboard’s only offering its own editorially curated list of magazines built into the web experience, so you’ll have to do the hard work of searching out additional magazines. As we’d mentioned in March, Flipboard still hasn’t quite explained why the average person should be building magazines instead of using a site like Tumblr. But if you are doing it, you no longer have to worry about a small subset of friends being able access your magazines now that anyone with a web browser can access them. While today’s announcement is a small part of the bigger picture, Flipboard’s finally showing it’s taking the desktop seriously.