Pearltrees, the Paris-based curation and discovery startup, just launched its long-awaited iPad app earlier this week. The company’s service allows users to bookmark interesting websites and arrange them into hierarchically organized tree structures – or “pearls” in the company’s parlance. I’ve been a fan of Pearltrees ever since I first met the team in Paris about two years ago and have been using their service here for my daily “Catching Up” posts. What makes the service stand out from its competitors is the visual appeal of how you collect and organize your “pearls.” The drag-and-drop interface takes the work out of bookmarking, but while the web interface works quite well, one can’t help but feel that the touch interface on the iPad is actually the most natural way to use the service.

Pearltrees ipad large pearls

The Pearltrees team managed to keep the interface very fluid and responsive, while keeping virtually all of the functionality of the web app in place. There are a couple of interesting twists in the iPad app, too, though. While the web interface directly takes you to a website once you click on a pearl, the iPad app actually opens a preview of the site with an Instapaper-like view of the text on the site on the right and a screenshot of the page on the left. Depending on the site, the text may only be an excerpt or the full text, but this is still an easier way to browse than having to load the full page on a potentially slow connection (you can, of course, always bring up the regular website, too).

Another features of the app is the ability to find related sites, which works surprisingly well. As the company’s CEO Patrice Lamothe told me earlier this week, the idea here is to show you interesting content based on what the Pearltrees community has collected. He also stressed that users should think about the service as a social system that based upon shared interests and not so much the follower/fan idea of other networks.

Pearltrees related interestes

Browsing and organizing pearls, then, is pretty easy in the app, but what about the actual curation? Apple, after all, doesn’t allow users to install plugins for mobile Safari. Instapaper and similar app all use JavaScript-based bookmarklets to give their users some of the functionality of their full-blown browser extensions on iOS and Pearltrees decided to do the same. While this process is often a bit daunting, though, the app actually includes a step-by-step guide that makes it pretty easy.

Getting Started

The app is available for free in the iTunes store. An iPhone/iPod touch version is also in the works and should come out before the end of the year. For now, the service remains free. Pearltrees plans to institute a freemium model soon, with a focus on private sharing and curation.