Browse and Manage That GIF Collection with Tumblr for iPad

Not everyone wants to have their own blog, because that requires too much responsibility. Sometimes a little Posterous or Facebook is the only thing people need to express themselves. Even a Pinterest account is perfect for that daily inspiration that you might need or have to contribute. When it comes to such things as blogging, quoting, linking, photographing, videoing, and, most of all, GIFing, the only place to go is Tumblr.

You’ve always been able to access your Tumblr on an iPad by maximizing the iPhone app or browsing the desktop website, but there hasn’t been a solid way to follow your favorite microblogs on a tablet until now. In December, the developers of Tumblr’s iPhone app introduced a universal version that added full iPad support and a completely different experience for the tablet. Does it make you want to use Tumblr more, though?

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Start Discovering

A bunch of GIFs that look like still images.

A bunch of GIFs that look like still images.

The first time you launch Tumblr, you’ll be presented with a lot of art, pictures and other media in a grid layout. It’s the developer’s way of giving you an idea of what the service is about. You can tap any of the media to expand its tag (#Artists or #Food, for instance), which will yield a scrollable list of all the content available in that section. It’s sorted chronologically, so if you see something featured at the top of the main screen and tap it only to find that it’s halfway down the tag list, that’s because it’s older than it appears.

Tumblr enquires about your interests.

Tumblr enquires about your interests.

Once you’re ready to personalize the content stream, either sign up for an account or log in to the one you already have using the corresponding button in the bottom right corner of the main screen. Tapping the Sign Up option will start by asking you what tags you like so the service can get a better idea of what you’ll want to follow. Select all that apply and tap Next. Tumblr will then load a list of “amazing Tumblrs” that it thinks you should follow. The list is comprised of anything from sterxy to pbsthisdayinhistory. Instead of a predefined list, there should be a way for you to input a custom username that you want to follow, but sadly that’s not an option.

Tumblr asks for access to your contacts.

Tumblr asks for access to your contacts.

When you’re finished following the suggested accounts, you’ll be prompted to allow the app to use your contacts or Facebook account (if you have one connected) so it can find people you know that are already on Tumblr. Sadly, there’s no Twitter connectivity if you have friends from that social network, but you can always follow an account manually later.

Browsing Your Account

Tumblr lets you do three main things with your account: post, explore (or browse) and get notifications. The first and last one will be discussed later, but the second is vital to how you use the app. You know that main screen that you saw when first launching the app? Don’t worry about it disappearing — it’s in the Explore tab of your account. There you can scroll through the same tags as before, or even search for something specific using the text field at the top of the screen. Also, when you tap the “Search tags” button, the app will show you the featured tags of the day to give you an idea of what people are looking at.

In most areas of the app you can pull down the screen to refresh it.

The Tumblr dashboard.

The Tumblr dashboard.

Another way to browse Tumblr is by using the Dashboard tab. There you will find a timeline of all the accounts that you follow, with images, videos, audio and even GIFs displaying nicely. The funny thing is that when you visit a Tumblr blog in Safari, audio doesn’t typically play due to the need for Adobe Flash. This app is much more friendly to iOS devices, though. It’s easy to access most the content created by your favorite people. YouTube videos, however, are opened in the integrated browser rather than shown as embedded QuickTime videos.

Finding Users

You’ll find that Tumblr’s one area of shortcomings is finding a user. First of all, it’s not even a little self-explanatory. It takes a good while to sift through the few screens of this app, and when you’re finished, you’ll still be puzzled as to why simply following a username is so hard.

Finding blogs by tag.

Finding blogs by tag.

To follow someone specific, tap the Account button. Now tap “Find blogs” and type the username of the person you’re looking for into the search field. With accounts that have no content, you’ll see a username that you can tap and then press Open to view in the integrated browser. However, if you don’t know the specific username of the person you are seeking, this search can’t help you. In fact, there’s no way to find someone by their name. You can add a contact and then input the person’s email to find him in the app, but other than that you must either use Facebook or direct username input. It’s rather confusing.

Don’t forget the heart button for “liking” a post and the Reblog button for sharing it with your followers.

Now when it comes to finding a blog based on the tag it has, you can scroll down the same page and tap any one of the 14 tags available, which range from photography to science. On the Tags page you will be shown a list of ten accounts to follow. All of them are “featured” and it’s hard to tell whether or not they even look nice since you can see a partial description of the account (there’s a character limit followed by an ellipsis) and there’s no way to expand the timeline natively. Instead, you must follow the account and then decide if you like it. This is a horrible way of browsing for new users.

Tumblr's tags.

Tumblr’s tags.

It’s nice that Tumblr included a way for you to browse the service’s tags, because that’s the main way that things are organized. Besides that, though, there’s no way to truly “discover” through the “Find blogs” function. Instead you must use the Explore tab, which works well but has a different goal: to introduce a tag to you. It really doesn’t make sense to have both functions if they both do such similar things. On top of that, why is there no way to preview someone’s microblog in the “Find blogs” feature? You shouldn’t have to follow someone just to find out if you like them or not.

The limitations of account discovery in “Find blogs” make this app an unbearable alternative to the Web site. If you want to actually find something, there’s no reason to use it. Sure, you can refresh the limited list of ten blogs by going back and then tapping the same tag again, but that’s not at all user-friendly.

Posting

The posting carousel.

The posting carousel.

If you’re one of those people who likes to share his thoughts with his followers or post a photo for the world to see, this app has ways you can do that too. Tapping the blue compose button in the left-hand side of the screen will toggle six options: a new post, photo, quote, link, chat or video. The post button brings up a small text overlay that you can type your microblog post in, along with an Options button for custom URLs and formatting options. Sharing a photo is much the same: you take a picture or import an existing one, give it a caption and some tags, and publish it.

Something someone said about quoting someone.

Something someone said about quoting someone.

A quote is the same as a regular text post, but you can add a source. Link posts are perfect for link-bloggers who like to spread the word about cool new gadgets or photos that aren’t on Tumblr. As for chat posts, they’re really nothing more than a transcript — a quote that looks like a conversation, so long as you format it correctly with the names of each person preceding the text. Lastly, a video can be uploaded with a caption just like a photo. That’s all there is to posting with Tumblr for iPad.

A Nice Way to Browse and Post to Tumblr — A Bad Way to Discover

This app is a much better way of browsing Tumblr than visiting the website. However, it’s truly terrible at letting you discover things in the service. If you’re looking for anything outside of the predefined “featured” tags, finding it will be a nightmare. Most of the app is user-friendly, but some of it is very hard to understand and there are even redundant portions, like the “Find blogs” feature and Explore tab.

To wrap it up, this app is unbalanced. Part of it is great, and almost all of the main features are easy to use without error. Discovering new things though — that’s where the app becomes tedious.


Summary

As hard as it tries, the first version of Tumblr's iPad app just isn't as user-friendly as it should be. Browsing what you already have is fine, but discovering is too outside the box for this app.

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