Flipboard is rolling out the first major update to its social magazine tonight since its December launch on the iPhone. The new release brings the iPhone app's most popular feature, "Cover Stories," to the iPad's bigger screen. Now, iPad users will see a large, double-tiled pane on the first page of their Flipboard app. There, you'll find a mix of stories popular among your friends, those that are popular across Flipboard's network, as well as those that are uniquely relevant to you.
Also new in tonight's release are a number of design tweaks, meant to give Flipboard a print magazine-like appeal, as well as a much-requested third page in Flipboard's Table of Contents. And for international users, there's even more big news: Flipboard just launched its first standalone European edition with the arrival of Flipboard in France, and is promising more localized editions to come.
The company already has a localized version in the Chinese iTunes App Store, however, so this isn't Flipboard's first effort at targeting the international market with specialized content. But it is the start of a planned rollout that will bring localized editions to other regional markets. The company tells us that it expects to launch versions of its magazine app in other countries, including the U.K., Japan, Korea, as well as in other European and Asian countries where readership is high.
The regional versions are written entirely in that country's language and include editorial selections and social networking options popular in that given locale. For example, the Chinese edition supports that country's social networks, Renren and Sina Weibo.
All the regional editions will include the same features that are being launched today in Flipboard's flagship product. The most notable change here, of course, is the arrival of Cover Stories on the iPad. As a regular Flipboard mobile user, I know from personal experience how useful this feature is, and have missed it myself when reading on the iPad. It's Flipboard's one-stop shop for catching up with the day's news.
Cover Stories, for those unfamiliar, are those stories selected using technology Flipboard acquired from Ellerdale, an early semantic web startup. It's how Flipboard knows which stories you and you alone would want to see. The system doesn't just focus on general popularity (likes, retweets, etc.) but on relevance. That means, for example, if you always interact with a particular person on Facebook, even if they post infrequently and receive few likes or comments, that's still a post you would want to see. Every single time.
This is just one of a handful of improvements found in Flipboard's update tonight, but it's by far the most critical. Personalization is key to startups like this (and there are plenty!), as it's the noise-reducing functionality that helps you actually enjoy reading the news, without being consumed by it.
Also new today are improvements to layouts on interior pages, which involve more full-bleed layout designs, and text that overlays the graphics in the right places. These are features that are easy to do in print, but harder when done algorithmically.
In addition, users will have a new, third page for subscriptions, a new set up process on iPad that now mirrors the iPhone, adjustable font selections, access to international content from the Settings menu, and improved handling of Google Reader subscriptions. (For the 10 of us still using Google Reader, that means folders as tiles! Hooray!)
The Flipboard app updates and the French edition are rolling out starting now (midnight Eastern). Check your local iTunes App Store for the download.