Charge up your smartphones and tablets; the App Olympics are about to begin.
The London games, which kick off with soccer playoffs on Wednesday, will be the first Summer Olympics of the mobile era. Millions of Internet-connected phones and tablets will get a vigorous workout as sports fans fire up a new crop of custom-built software apps designed to keep track of athletes and events.
There’s never been an online challenge quite like it. During the last Summer Olympics, held in Beijing in August 2008, the iPhone — Apple Inc.’s groundbreaking mobile device — had been on the market for about 13 months and had sold only 13 million units. The App Store, where outside companies could sell software apps written for the device, had been launched just the month before. But today, there are over 200 million iPhones and iPads in the world and 400 million phones and tablets running Google Inc.’s Android operating system, each of them a potential wireless window into the Olympic Village.
The games themselves feature 302 separate sporting events, ranging from synchronized swimming to judo to archery, and at any given moment dozens of events will be happening simultaneously.
“This is probably the largest digital event in history,” said Rick Cordella, senior vice president and general manager of digital media at NBC Sports Group. “At some points, there may be 40 concurrent feeds going on.”
NBC has a pair of apps, one with news about the athletes, another with live video of contests
TEAM USA provides stories about the most promising medal hopefuls and links to key websites
And that’s just video. The apps must also manage a constant flow of Olympic-related news stories, thousands of still photographs, Twitter messages from sports fans worldwide, and traffic and weather reports.
NBC, the television network broadcasting the games in the United States, has created a pair of apps for Olympics fans; one gives cable TV subscribers access to live video streams from hundreds of events, viewable on devices like smartphones and tablet computers. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games has released two apps of its own, offering event schedules, information, maps, and tourist information. The British Broadcasting Corp. has created an app that prominently displays news about the US team, as well as British competitors, and lets users look up news reports on all competing countries. And Team USA has an app with team news, feature stories, and schedules.
Each of these apps is available for the iPhone and iPad tablet computer, as well as devices running Google Inc.’s Android operating system. And each is designed to cope with a torrent of data.
The NBC Olympics app is a good first stop for US fans. The site is full of news updates about American athletes and teams, with plenty of still photos and video clips. The second NBC app, called Live Extra, will serve up live video from hundreds of athletic contests, but there’s a catch: The live streams can be viewed only by subscribers to a cable or satellite TV service that carries the CNBC and MSNBC networks. Users must enter their pay TV company user name and password to access the videos.
The London Organising Committee’s Results app tracks the outcomes in each event, keeps a running count of medals won, and offers a complete Olympics schedule. The committee’s Join In app, designed for visitors to London, includes Google maps that point the way to key venues and listings of Olympics-related cultural events.
The BBC app promises 2,500 hours of live video coverage starting July 25, but only for users in the United Kingdom. Still, it’s an impressive app, crammed with Olympics news. Download the app from the iTunes store and you’ll see news of the US team featured on the front page. The BBC app can also be set to deliver news about every participating country.
The Team USA app, no surprise, features stories about America’s most promising Olympic hopefuls. It also includes links to the Team USA website, where you can find background information about each sport.
Several of the apps feature links to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The NBC Olympics Twitter Tracker, for instance, lets users easily read and respond to tweets about the games. It also has a “trending” feature that measures which sports are getting the most attention on Twitter at any given time.
Armed with apps like these, the only people who’ll miss out on the Olympics are those who want to.