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Flipboard iPad app could turn page on magazine industry

by Brad Spirrison

While Wired, Time and Sports Illustrated are among the iconic magazine titles beautifully displayed on the iPad, the new Flipboard app is a more natural fit for tablet computing.

The free iPad app, which debuted on the App Store July 21, is a “social magazine” that extends  links your friends and contacts are sharing on Facebook and Twitter into beautifully packaged articles. The app also comes with existing content from third-party providers. The “FlipTech” section, for instance, has articles from TechCrunch, VentureBeat and Private Equity Hub.

Additional content channels exist for FlipStyle and FlipPhotos. Users can also create channels for additional titles, which can be tapped into and re-arranged on the device very much the way apps are on the iPad’s home screen.

Concurrent with Flipboard’s app release came an announcement that the company raised $10.5 million in venture capital financing and also acquired the Ellerdale Project, a Palo Alto-based semantics analytics firm. Veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur Mike McCue founded Palo Alto-based Flipboard after selling his previous company Tellme for $800 million.

The lead investors in Flipboard include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Index Ventures. Notable angel investors including actor Ashton Kutcher, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, and former Newscorp senior executive Peter Chernin also participated in the Series A financing round.

Will other publishers get the message?

Famed media critic Marshall McLuhan theorized that the content of any new medium initially comes from pre-existing media. Early radio programs largely consisted of broadcasters reading from a page, while pioneering television shows often featured a camera documenting what transpired in radio studios.

While early iPad apps based on magazines are cool to flip through and pleasing to the eye, they are largely cut-and-paste jobs that place existing content into digital form. Sure, there are elements of interactivity and forward-thinking sales promotions, but no standalone magazine app to date has stretched the imagination of what can be accomplished on an iPad or tablet computing device.

Flipboard, while far from perfect, is a good step in that direction. It’s hard to imagine, much less replicate, the app’s socially-driven construct in any other form. The context of where articles are coming from is more significant than the content within them.

Pay attention to not only how this app evolves in the weeks and months ahead, but also how traditional publishers respond to and cherry-pick its most innovative elements. Check out Flipboard's promotional video below.