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Edited by Greg Hill

02/18/2013 03:17:49 PM

 


MLB.com’s “At Bat 2009”: It’s Greatest Features Are It’s Biggest Disappointments

August 18, 2009 By Greg Hill, Senior Editor

 

MLB At Bat 2009 ScheduleI haven’t had my iPod (16 GB, 2G Touch) for a year yet, but I am hopelessly addicted. I may leave the house without essentials like my wallet or car keys, but I never forget it. Also, like any true tech junkie, I always have the latest OS, currently iPhone 3.0, and the latest (free) apps. Being a baseball fan as well, I grabbed the “At Bat 2009” application from MLB the minute it appeared on iTunes. It promised incredible things, including following every pitch of every game played with the “Gameday” module, dynamic box scores, and radio coverage from either team. Then there was the almost instant video highlights, live digital video coverage of two free games per day, and the condensed videos. With another MLB subscription, you could watch most games live. All for $9.99.

It sounded too good to be true, and it was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the application and I wouldn’t go back to living without it, unless they raised the price, of course. That said, the frustration level is almost unbearable, and here is why:

1.       Frequently when I try to start the app, it ignores me. I jab the icon with my finger, the schedule of games page appears with today’s date and a blank schedule, then it goes back to the main icon page. Experience has taught me that it is fruitless to try again at that point, and my only alternative is to reboot the iPod. Even that won’t work if the battery is not fully charged. This happens with other apps occasionally, but not with nearly the frequency of the MLB product. It reminds me of when computers run out memory and won’t start another app until I close something. Only with the iPod, I’m not running anything else. So I reboot the thing, and it usually works, unless the battery is about half charged or less, in which case it stubbornly refuses to start until I plug it into a power source.Ipod At Bat 2009 Audio dropdown

2.       When I finally get into the program, similar things tend to occur. I love to look at the video highlights that are usually posted mere minutes after the event occurs. If you are listening to the audio, or following via Gameday, video clips of any major events, like homeruns or great plays become available quickly, and you can watch them by clicking, at least theoretically. Unfortunately, you have to interrupt the audio feed in order to view a video, then you have to restart it. Did I mention that starting the audio feed is even more difficult than getting into the application to begin with? Well it is. I have spent as much as 30 minutes trying to get an audio feed before finally giving up in disgust. This is getting tedious, I know, but I must mention that the video highlights have their problems, too. You guessed it! Frequently, you can punch on the highlights until you have split your fingernail and bruised the tips of all ten digits, and it will not start. When they start, they sometimes freeze and won’t play no matter how many times you click “Done” and restart them. To add to the consternation, when you give up on one video clip and try to move to another, the stuck one seems to be rooted in memory and comes back to haunt you like a bad dream, no matter what other clip you pick. Then there is only one thing to do: turn off the iPod or reboot.

3.       The condensed game feature is one of my favorites. It distills 3-hour games down to 10 or 15 minutes by only showing the deciding pitch of each at bat. That means you can see every single play of the game without listening to announcers drone on or watching some of the other time wasting rituals of the game, not to mention without any commercials. The only problem is, once again, the same as the other video clips (see number 2 above). You also have to wait quite a while after the game is over, because it takes them a while to edit out all the boring parts, which, after all, is about 90 percent.

4.       If you have an iPhone, you can access all of these features using your cell connection or WiFi. With the iPod, you are stuck with WiFi. The WiFi is a constant problem for me. It frequently loses the signal, even when you are sitting right next to the transmitter. Even though I have three WiFi 802.11g compatible access points (the 2G does not support the stronger and faster 802.11n), set for automatic connection on the iPod, it will still disconnect for minutes at a time for no apparent reason. When it losses the signal, the video freezes, the audio stops, time stands still. Then the problem stack recycles. I have to close the app, go back to the main page, and either wait for the signal to come back, or try to connect manually by going to a browser and hitting refresh, which seems to work once in a while. As a last alternative, I delve into the settings and refresh the connection manually, which seldom works, but, hey, I can’t just sit there and do nothing, can I?

5.       Believe it or not, some of the frustrations are not caused by technical problems. The iPod, as you know, automatically detects your location, usually by the registered area of your provider or access point. The iPhone is even more precise, using GPS or the cell phone tower to which you are connected. MLB uses your location to “Black Out” games being played by your local team, so if your favorite team happens to be the one in your home town, you frequently can’t view their games even if they are not broadcast locally. This is annoying and stupid. If I could watch the game on TV, would I be trying to watch it on a 3 inch screen? Or, is there anyone who would forego the experience of attending a ballgame in favor of experiencing it on their iPod/iPhone? They should understand that anyone trying to watch the game on their mobile device is not competing with any other media, but is purely an add-on – someone who would otherwise not be seeing baseball at all.

6.       Lastly, and these are minor gripes, some of the features are not nearly as good as the ones people are used to from the MLB web site. The player bios have weird information on them and don’t let you click through to the web site for more. The stadium shot is practically static, and such a minor feature that it seems strange to waste a menu item on it. GameDay should take better advantage of the video game features of the iPod to alleviate boredom while waiting for the next pitch.

Again, I want to emphasize that this is a great program, and for the first version out of the box, incredibly well done. The technical execution, given the newness of the platform and deadlines that the programmers must have had is quite amazing. When you combine the limitations inherent in the iPod platform with the "to infinity and beyond" approach of the  designers, it is a miracle the thing works at all. I am sure that one day in the not too distant future we will all look back at these pioneering programs for mobile devices and laugh at how crude they were. In those days, connections will be instantaneous, fast, and rock solid. Clicking on icons will instantly yield the desired result, and the logic of the program will mirror our desires exactly. "Rebooting" will be an unknown term.

I am looking forward to those days, but until then, I will continue to deal with the frustrations the current version throws my way as long as Major League Baseball doesn't start charging me the 70 to 100 bucks they want to charge for the PC version. When that day comes, I will reluctantly delete the program from my iPod and go back to whatever sports reporting service is still free.

©Copyright 2009, The Baseball Observer 

 

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