Its early privacy controversies aside, Path has been a model of a wonderfully articulated user interface on mobiles. Its latest iPhone/Android app has all the visual simplicity of Instagram, coupled with all the backend check-in and mixed media support of Facebook.
Now, Path has just released its long-promised iPad app. What you may expect it to be–Path on a slightly bigger screen–is there through and through. The same basic scrolling navigation, the same status updates, even the same fundamental menus and settings are fully intact. Somewhat strangely, however, the app splits about half the screen to always have your settings panel up. With so much of the screen dedicated to housekeeping, your traditional feed borders on an afterthought, but maybe for good reason.
Because the biggest, best change is Life in Landscape mode. Whereas Path on smartphones works only in portrait mode, Path on iPads supports landscape, too. But when you turn the device, the columns aren’t simply reformatted wider; your day’s feed is completely reimagined as a truly beautiful montage of photographic tiles. Swipe right and see the day before. You can continue swiping as far back as you’d like.
In terms of rendering/caching speed alone, it’s a bit of an engineering feat. But more than that, you get to experience a very satisfying snippet of each day, rather than another list, assembled from activity tiles from all of your friends. You’ll notice that some of these tiles are images, others are movies, while others can even be GPS locations or Nike+ runs. When you click any of these windows, the story goes full screen in a seamless animation. You can see the comments on a photo from last week, or preview a track someone listened to months ago. (Note: my stills are a bit sparse compared to their max capacity since I don’t really use Path.)
It’s a content-is-king approach to UI, passing even Pinterest’s photo-heavy aesthetic to create something similar to what we see in Microsoft’s Metro. Nearly every frame and flourish of the desktop melts away, and you’re left with a buffet of visual delight.
And that buffet metaphor is an apt one. Like a steaming vat of chicken marsala next to a lukewarm plate of smoked salmon, Path’s tile sizing and arrangement of content is largely meaningless, just expecting you to munch on what you like. I can’t help but to wonder if this randomness is a lost opportunity–if larger images could cater to my predicted topical interests (like buffets, obviously) or popular stories that many of my friends have liked. But at the same time, it’s as if the company is making a statement: “It’s up to you to explore and care about what your friends are up to. We just enable it.”