Why MLB.com's New iPhone Application Is A Waste Of Cash

So, bringing my transformation into a New York media douchebag full circle, I bought an iPhone the other day. I'm kind of obsessed with it; I sometimes find myself clicking on the little GPS feature, just to remind myself where I am. "Look! The iPhone knows I'm at Trout! It went all the way to outer space to find that out for me." People love when I do this, particularly because it involves me paying zero attention to whatever they're saying.

I'm not a heavy phone talker — when I was editor of this site, I bet Rick and I talked on the phone maybe four times in the three years we worked together — and I'll always feel a little dorky text messaging, even if it's generally accepted as commonplace now. No, the main reason I wanted an iPhone was to check baseball scores when I'm out. During the ill-fated ESPN Mobile fiasco, analysts openly wondered: Who is this mythical creature who needs constant sports scores when they're away from home? I'm sad to say, during baseball season, I am that creature. My old phone had an antennae, for crissakes, and I'd still spend 15 minutes trying to get a half-hour-late Cardinals update from CBS Sportsline's outdated "mobile" program. An iPhone was a necessary upgrade.

MLB.com has made a big PR push for its MLB At Bat application, which costs $4.95. At first glance, it's awfully impressive; real-time scoring, updated automatically, with video highlights uploaded within minutes. (This allowed me to see Bill Hall gutpunches on successive evenings.) It sounds amazing, and among baseball media folk who understand what an iPhone is — this will exclude, say, Murray Chass — it's garnering some glowing press.


It shouldn't be; it actually kind of sucks.

This is not to trash MLB.com; those folks are awfully smart, and surely, any minute now, they'll recognize just how inferior their product is and upgrade it. But as for now, it's fairly pointless and not only not worth the $4.95, but not even as good as other, free iPhone applications.

First, the problems with MLB At Bat start with the video. Sure, it's kind of cool to watch Ryan Ludwick homer 10 minutes after it happened, I guess, but the video quality is low, choppy and, of course, small. I mean, when you are watching MLB Gameday on your computer, is it that enthralling to watch video coverage of a home run you were informed of 15 minutes earlier? And that at least is high quality video. This is one of those ideas that sounds cooler in practice than in application.

But the real problem, and the reason MLB At Bat is a waste of $4.95, is that front page platform you see above there. You see, that's all you get. What you see on that screen there. You get the inning-by-inning scoring, the count, the outs, the pitching matchup and whether anyone's on base. That's helpful information, and if I had no other options, man, I'd take it. But there's no box score, no scoring recap, no way to check how your fantasy players are doing, no link to current standings, no context, no nothing. That's all you get. I found myself continuously tapping that bottom screen, hoping a box score would pop up. Nope. I'm sure MLB.com is aware that these are serious deficiencies in its product, but until they're addressed, they remain unsatisfactory.

This would all be typical "but give me MORE!" whining about MLB.com if there weren't two applications available for the iPhone that provide everything that MLB.com does (minus the choppy videos) and address all their problems. And even better: They're free. In the iTunes App Store, two programs, "SportsTap" and "LiveSportz," provide real time, automatically updated scoring with box scores, fantasy stats, all of it. And to repeat: They don't cost a dime. (To be fair, SportsTap was having some tech problems last night, problems MLB.com is notoriously excellent at avoiding.) Last night, while drinking mangotinis Wild Turkey, I brought up SportsTap, sat it on the bar and, when my bar companions happened to drop eye contact for a moment, looked down for updates on CC Sabathia's dismantling of the Cardinals. All I had to do is glance, and I could tell exactly what's going on. Not so with MLB At Bat.

I'm sure MLB.com will correct all these problems eventually, but right now, they're charging $4.95 for a product that's demonstratively inferior to products that cost nothing. It's not as bad as when they charged people five bucks for the right to blog for them, but it's close.

/// Sent from my iPhone, because I'm a douche.