Flipboard Expands: Adds Audio From NPR, Public Radio & SoundCloud; Introduces Japanese Version

“Social magazine” Flipboard may have to think up a new tagline for itself, as tonight the company is rolling out an update which greatly expands its focus beyond text-based content to also include audio. The rollout features integrations from NPR, PRI (Public Radio International) and social sound platform, SoundCloud.

Also of note, Flipboard is launching its third localized edition with the debut of a Flipboard app for Japan, following its previous launches in China and France. And there’s an update which will matter a lot to a smaller number of users: integration of Apple’s VoiceOver controls to provide better access for the visually impaired.

Unless you’re based in Japan, the biggest news today is the introduction of the audio content to what’s primarily been a text-focused, magazine-like platform for reading news, blogs and updates from your social networks. But when you think about it, the addition makes sense – news is often delivered through multiple formats, not just text. And Flipboard already has a video section, we should point out.

The audio integrations will be highlighted in a newly added category, simply called “audio,” which will appear after the Flipboard app update (version 1.9) gets pushed out tonight. The section will showcase the curated selections from NPR and PRI including content like NPR’s “Fresh Air” and PRI’s “The World,” for example, as well as content from SoundCloud. However, a search option will also be available so users can find any audio content that Flipboard might now host. SoundCloud users will be able to listen to their sets, favorites, and people or artists they follow, but you won’t need to have a SoundCloud account to take advantage of the new offering.

Audio is background-enabled, too, allowing you to exit the app while continuing to listen, or while continuing to browse through Flipboard.

In speaking with the company earlier today, it becomes clear that the new audio integrations are only the start of what’s next for Flipboard, which is aiming to move from “magazine” to more of a digital entertainment hub. While the company won’t go on record with detailed plans to integrate more audio sources, it does intend to “do more with audio,” given that there are already “lots of great services to work with” out there right now, including on-demand streaming music and radio offerings like Spotify, Rdio, MOG and Pandora, for example.

While deals with those would help Flipboard beef up its music selections, another obvious focus for the company would be the integration of more podcasts – a part of iTunes which today is somewhat of a sub-par experience. (There’s a reason why iTunes/Apple users often turn to third-party apps, like Instacast, e.g).

Further down the road, Flipboard will look into other ways it can do more with video, too, which could mean that it one day will compete with social video services like Twitvid, Showyou, Shelby.tv and others.

As for all that buzz about the Flipboard Android app, which is arriving on the Samsung Galaxy S III and already available as a hacked version, the company would only say that it’s currently working on a broader Android release. But the unintentional beta Flipboard found itself in is somewhat of a blessing and curse for the company. On the one hand, it’s getting much-needed feedback on how Flipboard works on unsupported phones and tablets, but on the other hand, for many Android users, their first experience with the app may be one that’s less than ideal.

Flipboard says it plans to officially come to market this summer on Android, but doesn’t have a date to announce yet.

The Japanese version, audio integrations and voiceover controls are all rolling out tonight on iOS. Or, if you’re new to Flipboard, you can grab it from iTunes here.