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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Olympics Tech

It’s Olympics time again! I’m not typically an avid viewer of televised sporting events, but for some reason, I always get really excited for the Olympics and find the time to watch as much as I can. Well this year, I’ll have many more ways to get my Olympics fix as the world of technology has changed drastically in the last four years.

The idea that mobile technology has been growing explosively in recent years is something I’ve been aware of, but it never really hit me just how much it has exploded until I saw the great infographic from iProspect below. Click on the image to expand it, or download the full PDF here.

Those are some pretty astonishing stats for smartphones and tablets. Also, the growth of Twitter and Facebook is simply mind-boggling. Like I said, I knew it was happening, I just hadn’t realized that it has all happened so fast. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then this is the first Olympics where athletes will have to juggle the opposing obligations of updating their fans through social media, while also trying to keep their mind focused and in the game. Take a look at this amusing (and a bit scary) article about how much of a distraction this new social media craze has become for the athletes.  

Given the growth in mobile, it’s also not surprising that someone finally decided to target those devices for disseminating Olympic coverage. As a mobile technology fan, and an Olympics fan, I’m very excited to see a variety of apps available on iOS for coverage of Olympic news, photos, and video. A big departure from years past is also the availability of live video coverage from web and mobile apps (albeit in a handicapped way, see below).

Here is a brief description of the heavy hitters when it comes to Olympics apps, in order of the ones I like best:

1. Reuters Olympics London 2012: If you like high quality images, and as a photography fan I most certainly do, then it’s possible this app will warm your heart as much as it did mine. The app is all about the high quality images. They take front and center stage, and they are lusciously gorgeous (especially on the iPad). In my opinion, this app is the cream of the crop for Olympics coverage. Also available in the app are news stories results, medal counts, and historical data on Olympic records. Keep an eye out for the icons at the bottom though. Most images have associated news stories, but this wasn’t obvious to me at first. Bonus: The images look equally great on an HDTV using Airplay through AppleTV. If you are as interested in photography as I am, also check out this interesting story from Reuters on the some of the tech they use to capture these images.

Download the app for iPad and iPhone.

2. BBC Olympics: This is a well laid out app with very easy access to news, images, and video, all nicely categorized by sport. If only I lived in the UK, this would be my go to app for live video coverage of the Olympics. It does have an alluring “Live Video” button dead center on the screen, but from what I have read, video through the BBC will only be available in limited form outside of the UK. My other qualm is that this app is iPhone only. Really BBC? Live video and you aren’t targeting the iPad, one of the best mobile media consumption devices around? If you are lucky enough to enjoy live video with this app, then stop reading right now. This app, and the Reuters app is all you’ll really need. Strangely, at the time of this writing, the app seems to have been pulled from the U.S. iTunes store. Perhaps I got lucky and downloaded an app I wasn’t supposed to have? I’ll update this post if I ever find the answer to this quandary.

Download the app (if you can) for iPhone.

3. London 2012: Official Results App: Not much to say here as the app title says it all. While the other apps above also include results, they are the primary focus of this app, and thus very quick to access. I’d recommend keeping this in your stable of Olympics apps over the coming weeks.

Download the app for iPad and iPhone.

4. 2012 Team USA Road to London Olympics: My sincere apologies to my international readers for being so U.S centric in my blog. It is simply where I live, and thus what I know best. One day when I have more time on my hands, I’ll cover more international angles. Until then, Go TEAM USA ;-) ! This app is ranked fourth on my list only because I find it to be a little slow (even on Apple’s fastest mobile phone, for now, the iPhone 4S). I find this app most useful for the athlete bios that provide interesting background information on the US athletes. They aren't anything that I can’t lookup online, but I think it will be handy to have this info close at hand as I watch the live action on the big screen at home.

Download this app for iPad and iPhone.

5. NBC Olympics: Okay, so as I mentioned above, I’m an American. Why then do the apps from my country’s own national television network rank fifth and sixth on my list? Well, because they are abysmally horrible and I’m not afraid to say so. Contrary to the Reuters app above, the images are very tiny and offer no way to go fullscreen. The iPad does have a fullscreen button, but that merely makes the image a little bit larger. Oh and dear god NBC, I know you have to make a buck, but do you have to show me ads incessantly? Even the “fullscreen” view on the iPad doesn’t alleviate the torture of the ads. In addition to that, the app is glacially slow (and that’s on the iPhone 4S, my iPad 1 is another story altogether). One redeeming quality, the news section is fairly decent (except for the persistent ads that even cover up content at times). Sorry NBC. This app will earn a place on my iPhone and iPad, but only just in case you pull a rabbit out of your feathered top hat and make the app slightly less horrible sometime before or during the Olympics.

Download the app (if you dare) for iPad and iPhone.

6. NBC Olympics Live Extra: Why NBC? Why? Why must you confuse the heck out of me (and I’m assuming many others) by putting out two separate apps? One that has news, bad pictures, and video, as well as another that has…video? Granted this one is where it’s going to be at for live video as opposed to the clips in the app above, but seriously, two separate apps? BBC managed to pull it all together in one slick app. Why can’t you? Perhaps there is some business case I am missing here for why, but that’s the crux of the problem. Both of these NBC apps are all business with their ads. You also can't view any live video unless you are a subscriber to one of the major cable or satellite providers in the U.S. It seems more about the buck, than about the enjoyment of the content. Even fullscreen video view on the iPad leaves a persistent ad at the bottom of the screen (but thankfully not on the iPhone since I am assuming someone decided they didn’t have room). Once again, this app will be on my devices, but only because it seems that it will be the only legal way to view live video feeds from the U.S.

Download the app for iPad and iPhone.

Got any other suggestions for great Olympics coverage? Let me know in the comments below! Also, check out my photography work at: