ESPN’s iPad site could use a little Flash (Steve Jobs)

Since bottom line readers are often betting on the sports bottom lines, they’ll want the best site to access scores. ESPN delivers a hit with the iPad enabled web site.

ESPN’s iPad site has

  • all the traditional site’s features (but one)
  • high resolution streaming video
  • excellent navigation

It lacks one thing.

  • The Flash enabled gamecast.

And whose fault is that? Not ESPN’s.

In addition, I royally dis the Dallas Cowboys, explain why the time spent of watching True Blood is time better spent than watching mediocre NFL teams, and explain to readers why instant update gamecast is really important to sports fans watching operas (even though spouses might say different).

A number of sites provide mobile versions, but ESPN was quick to leap in with an iPad capable version. This means the site is fully Apple functional and takes advantage of the the iPad’s high quality display.

It should also mean that the video and bandwidth delivery are optimized for mobile devices. The site should consume less battery life and reduce the hit on your 3G connection. I can’t verify either. I don’t know a good battery life test other than to spend…. Well, now that I think of it, I can’t think of any way to test battery life. And I’m not willing to push the 250 MB limit on my ATT 3G account just to see how well the site works in 3G.

I would have been willing to test ESPN on 3G during the opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, but for reasons I’ll explain later, it didn’t happen.

The real reason for the iPad version was that so much of the original site relied on Flash, especially the live gamecasts. If you wanted to track a game and you couldn’t be near a TV, you could log onto ESPN and watch the game in progress. Or, if you had to choose between watching True Blood on HBO or the Sunday night football game between Houston and whoever is in next to last place, you could do both.

A die-hard sports fan would say there should be no contest between football and True Blood, and I agree. I would rather watch Anna Paquin any day over watching the Texans fumble the ball on their way to a six-win season. She’s cute and funny and too hot for words. The Texans are inconsistent at best.

This may piss off a number of Cowboys fans but if Carol and I were faced with a choice of True Blood or NFL teams it would be the Redskins, then True Blood, then the Cowboys. But the Texans would rank higher than the Cowboys, along with the Forty-Niners, the Lions, the Bears and most Junior College teams and probably the entire USA network series line-up, including repeats of Law and Order, SVU, Criminal Intent and even the ill-fated and mediocre Trial by Jury.

It isn’t the team, although they manage their best to look like winners just before they blow it. It’s the owner, Jerry Jones. Every time I think I might like the Cowboys again, Jones shows up on a Pizza ad and reminds me why I just can’t bring myself to like the Cowboys any more.

I think the most we’ve enjoyed watching the Cowboys in the last decade was the video tape of Barry Switzer being arrested for carrying a gun through the airport.

On the other hand, the only reason we would miss a Longhorns game is because the UT regents are too cheap to broadcast games that aren’t sold out at the stadium. That’s when the gamecast really comes in handy.

The gamecast was a poor second to the real thing, I must admit, but it was better than waiting for the final score on the news. The gamecast would essentially simulate the most important elements of the game with only a moment or two delay from the real game. If you wanted to watch baseball, you could see the runners on base, the pitcher and batter, the pitch count, and a little dot for the ball. If you watched football you could see the team’s current position, the first down marker, down, yardage on the updated play and the score.

Then Steve Jobs decided Flash was a bad thing and forbid its use on iPhones and iPads. Steve swears that ESPN and other developers won’t need Flash because they can do everything Flash does with CSS and streaming video. So I decided to see how ESPN responded with their iPad capable site.

My first opportunity was the World Cup Final. I intended to take my iPad and see if ESPN had an iPad gamecast while attending the chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (you thought I would forget in that long string of digressions didn’t you?).

Carol made it very clear that would never happen in her lifetime. So we recorded the game, which was pretty tense when we got home to watch the recording. With the score nil-nil (soccer vernacular for scoreless) going into the closing minutes of overtime, it dawned in me I should see if the gamecast was still on ESPN’s iPad site.

Of course, it wasn’t. I was watching a recording. What I did get to see was the final score about three minutes before Spain kicked the only goal.

So my next move was to see if ESPN provided a gamecast of the All-Star game. Then I would be able to truly compare it to the main site. I had both gamecasts playing, the Flash version on my MacBook Pro and the Flashless version on my iPad. This also allowed me to watch the season premiere of White Collar on TV because, quite frankly, the game itself was pretty boring except for the game winning double which I would have missed because I was in the bathroom when it happened anyway.

That is, I would have missed had I not had my handy portable iPad with me.

ESPN iPad is Flashless but first class.

iPad users have two choices, standard mobile and iPad.
Take the iPad.

ESPN’s iPad implementation is nothing less than first rate. The links are fast and the video streams smoothly and quickly. ESPN’s mobile site, by contrast, is pretty good but good only for viewing on smart phone small screens. Your options are limited and it has all the visual appeal of plain, clear gelatin.

ESPN’s rather limited mobile site.

ESPN’s full featured (but Flashless) site

Solid navigation

The navigation is fairly easy once you figure it out. All of the backward navigation and links to other sections of the site pop up from the home button (although it took me a while to find them), and you can follow breadcrumbs under the menu bar back to the home site.

High-quality video

The video streaming is among the quickest I’ve seen on the iPad and the playback is among the clearest and most crisp I’ve seen. As with the main site, the iPad site offers you as much information as you could possible want about any event. Now that the World Cup is over, of course, that would be the Tour de France.

Plenty of Tour de France coverage on the iPad.

In fact, there was only one criticism I could find to make. ESPN is still locked into twentieth century gender stereotyping.

Still locked in outdated stereotypes

When I went to create a new ESPN account, just to see how well their e-features worked on the iPad, I was only offered two choices for gender, “male” and “female.”

ESPN, this is the 21st Century, we are no longer just “male” and “female.” There are plenty of transgender sporting fans as well. Transgender, gay and lesbian fans love the World Cup and Tour de France as well as straight guys like me. They also like tennis too, and figure skating. And they would love the visual dazzle of ESPN’s iPad site.

Flash vs. Flashless showdown

This brings us to the real question. How well can web sites deliver interactive features without Flash? According to Steve Jobs, the new HTML design tools he personally helped usher in will make Flash a thing of the past. Web developers will be able to do it better with HTML and CSS.

So how does the gamecast broadcast on the iPad compare?

Not well. The Flash version of gamecast is a delight, emulating the field of play and with live updates and statistics.

ESPN’s Flash enabled gamecast.

The Flashless version is functional, but in no way stands out from standard HTML driven sites. The information is relayed line by line down the page, which means you have to scroll back and forth to see everything as it happens. Furthermore, you have to manually refresh the page to see game updates.

ESPN’s Flashless gamecast

Who’s to blame for this shameless state of affairs?

It isn’t ESPN. They didn’t decide that Flash was an inappropriate development tool for the iPhone and iPad. Steve Jobs did. Steve Jobs decided he knew what his customers wanted better than his customers.

This is the same guy, remember, who decided the iPhone 4’s antenna should fit underneath your fingers where it would block reception.

Steve, you deliver wonderful products but you always find some way to shoot yourself in the foot because you refuse to think in the long term. Remember how much money you would have made on the original iPad if you had only thought to charge a few dollars more so people could replace their batteries? Remember how far Macintosh application development lagged behind development on the PC because you insisted developers had to buy the $10,000 LISA first?

Sure you always come out ahead, but never as far ahead as you could be. Sooner or later you’re not going to be able to replace that foot you keep shooting off.

Let us have Flash back, even if only for web sites. Please.

Jenny Manytoes rates

Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits over ESPN iPad if only Apple would let them keep their Flash enabled gamecast. Instead, she merely purrs and this time ESPN isn’t to blame for the problem.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
iPad Envy.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in Browsers, Entertainment, Free, iPad and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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