Appiphilia: Baseball iPhone apps for major league fans
Spring has sprung. The first pitch has been thrown. It's time to play ball!
If you can't get out to that ballgame -- or to a radio or TV -- and would rather not get busted using the work computer to track your favorite game, your iPhone or iPod Touch can bring the action to you.
In this week's Appiphilia, we take a look at four baseball-related offerings. Some of the apps are power-slugging all-stars; others are competent minor-leaguers.
What it is: MLB.com offers an upgraded version of its At Bat app with an upgraded price.
What sizzles: At the end of last season, some of us were skeptical when MLB.com said it wouldn't update the At Bat app that so many of us had downloaded.
And then the 2009 version showed up. At first, I was less than thrilled with the $10 price tag. I mean, it's a pretty huge jump from free to $9.99. That is, until I started digging around. ...
... When you tap a game on the main page, the details show up across the bottom for a quick look -- pretty standard, just like the lite version. Then you can tap the arrow on the right to really get into the game.
The app gives you Gameday, which is live play-by-play animation of big-league games. The virtual game automatically refreshes. You also get details on pitch type and speed as well as real-time box scores. While you're watching Gameday, you can click on the players currently on the mound, at bat and on deck to call up their individual player cards.
But wait, there's more! My favorite part of this app is that you can listen to every regular-season and post-season game -- and choose between home and some visiting team feeds -- with no blackout restrictions. (For iPhone users: The audio plays over 3G and EDGE as well as Wi-Fi.) On Monday night, I listened to the Padres' home season opener against the Dodgers and toggled between two feeds offered: KABC (790 AM) and XPRS (1090 AM). Frankly, this is a blessing for those of us who cheer on a team in another market. Or, you could tune into another game you're interested in while sitting at Dodger Stadium.
While listening to the game, you can tap back to the main page to find out how other games are progressing, for instance. As with its predecessor, this app offers MLB.com video. And when videos from the game you're watching and listening to are available, a red number shows up in the lower right corner over the video icon. Obviously, the video runs a bit better over Wi-Fi than anything else.
The app basically brings just about everything I loved about my favorite team's regular website to the iPhone and iPod Touch.
What fizzles: First there's the multi-page display of terms and conditions that pops up when you initially launch the app. There's also the fact that listening to your favorite calls of the game while watching Gameday eats up the battery faster than you could gobble down a Dodger dog. Also, the app crashed several times early in the game.
Another thing that kind of fizzles is the navigation in the Extras area, where you can find standings and video. Once you get into the standings, you have to navigate back step by step to eventually return to the start page. The MLB.com logo in the right corner is a bit misleading. I kept tapping it, hoping to return to the main page.
Bottom line: This fan says it's worth the price of admission. A major league home run!
What it is: If MLB.com's At Bat is original Coke, this app is kind of like Coke Zero -- a lighter version but with enough sweetness to distract a bit from what you're missing.
What sizzles: There's enough detail in this app to keep those occasionally glancing at the screen engaged. You can see a quick breakdown of the game, the count and who's pitching, batting and on deck.
It gives you the option to automatically update every 30 seconds or to toggle it off. You can also hit the refresh icon in the top right corner. Another option is to disable the automatic screen-dimming function while using the app.
Frankly, I am a little surprised this app even exists, since Major League Baseball, like most professional leagues, guards rather jealously its rights to convey, portray and display game action.
Since it is updating less frequently than MLB.com's At Bat, it seems to use less juice -- a plus in the event you might want to use your iPhone as, say, a phone at some point during or after the game.
The app also provides news feeds from ESPN, Fox Sports, MLB.com, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and Yahoo Sports.
What fizzles: Although the stories and updates from multiple sources are a nice addition, seeing them in regular Web format is less nice than seeing them in an iPhone-optimized environment.
Bottom line: A decent scale-down option for following the action during a game. We'll call it a ground-rule double. Although, I'm not yet convinced that MLB won't decide the app is as wrong as a corked bat.
What it is: Sporting News extends its brand onto your iPhone, with stats and news.
What sizzles: From the home screen, you immediately get a quick overview of what’s going on around the league. Once you select your favorite teams, you can get a quick snapshot of their last games and next match-up, and and tab across the top without leaving the home screen.
If you select a game in progress, it updates with runs scored.
Under the "teams" heading, you can find a breakdown of American League and National League teams by region, with schedules, stats, rosters and news. The players each have a stats page and a news feed.
Navigating among the news and content offerings in this app is very easy.
You can also create your own fantasy team, check player rankings and check out Sporting News' fantasy baseball blog.
What fizzles: My one gripe is that it gives game times in Eastern only. The app should be able to adjust to your local time by tapping either the internal clock or GPS.
Bottom line: Lots of good news for baseball fans. It's a solid base hit.
What it is: The sibling of the At Bat app.
What sizzles: In addition to the price being a bit plus, the app gives a decent overview of what's going on in Major League Baseball. You can tap into games happening that day, go back a day for a stats recap or move forward to find out who and where teams are playing.
It has the same "extra" offerings as its fuller for-fee sibling, with one additional inclusion: With a few clicks, you can sign up for team alerts via SMS for $3.99 a month.
What fizzles: The details on the game weren't always as prompt or accurate as you might like. In that same Padres-Dodgers game, Drew Macias was up to bat for the Padres in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs in the inning. At Bat Lite had only one out recorded. But it all caught up by the time Luis Rodriguez was up to bat. Of course, the game ended seconds later.
Bottom line: We'll call this a hit-by-pitch: It's not pretty and hurt a little, but it gets you on base.
-- Michelle Maltais