getting apped up at the world cup

Since most of the games so far have been rather tawdry, and since the new "Jubalani" soccer ball represents a new low in sport technology, the current South African World Cup will probably be most remembered (by me, at least) primarily as the world's firs

Since most of the games so far have been rather tawdry, and since the new “Jubalani” soccer ball represents a new low in sport technology, the current South African World Cup will probably be most remembered (by me, at least) primarily as the world’s first mobile-info-friendly FIFA championship.

Being both a soccer fanatic and an iPod app-addict, I have of course stuffed my iPod’s memory with a plethora of World Cup related apps – many of them, unfortunately, as feeble as most of the games, but some of them inspiring examples of what can be done in this new medium.

During the last World Cup in Germany in 2006, a number of cell companies fielded television ads hyping how you could get text-based score updates pushed to your cellphone.

That is what passed for high tech mobile information, those long and forgotten four years ago.

With the advent of the iPod Touch in September of 2007, though, and then the iPhone 3G and Apple App Store in July of 2008, that old SMS technology quickly started looking pretty lame.

So it was more with a sporting interest, over the past few months, that I allowed myself to give way to temptation and start piling up World Cup related iPod apps, telling myself it was my journalistic duty to my readers to be on top of this new development in information technology.

What quickly became apparent in this effort is that, in the iTunes App Store, you don’t always get what you pay for, and sometimes – rarely, but sometimes – the best things in life are free.

Most of the apps are basically much of a muchness, in terms of content.

After all, there are only so many things you are really looking for in a World Cup soccer app: You want to know the tournament schedule, today’s scores, the group standings, team and game stats, and maybe a few things about past competitions, so you can win arguments with that other soccer nerd at half time.

Virtually all of the apps I accumulated covered these basics, with varying degrees of ineptitude or elegance; and several added little extras that made them worth the 99 cents to pull them down.

Without putting you through a long, dull series of product reviews, I will limit myself to a few highlights and lowlights, and let you explore for yourself the in-betweens, assuming you are interested in buying iPhone apps (and if you aren’t why the heck to you have an iPhone?).

First, a special lowlight.

The most heinously amateurish World Cup app I came across was World Football Calendar 2010, by MagicSolver.com.

This app is so bad it manages to be worthless, even though it is free.

It promises you the usual calendar of matches, instant access to news in six languages, country and team information, and “a new surprise everyday!”

What you get it a graphically amateurish user interface, divided into “news”“teams”“match calendar” and “info,” with a space in the middle for “today’s surprise.”

What you get under “news” (after you choose you initial language, you can’t choose more than one) are “news” stories that are really little more than short SMS messages about obvious subjects of the day.

What you get under the “match calendar” is a list of all the past and coming games in a long row (requiring some unpleasant finger-scrolling); and none of the games in that list have had their scores updated since the first one between South Africa and Mexico.

The “today’s surprise” section is the most embarrassingly lame of all: It consists of a daily graphic of some soccer players on a soccer field, in different formations and different national uniforms; your job is to tilt you iPod and manoeuvre a soccer ball through this formation into a net.

Getting the ball in the net is actually so painfully easy, you realize the only surprise each day is that these guys are doing the same, lame thing.

Leaving aside that silliness, the two best apps I came across, and have no problems recommending, are quite different in look and feel, but equally successful in what they offer.

The paid one, called Go Africa! 2010 Complete Guide, by a private developer named Gabriel Silviu Stefan, charges you 99 cents, but gives you all the expected information in a clean, professional, swift-moving interface that tunnels down into substantive information about players, teams and the day’s news (though that is actually just copped from the website at fifa.com).

For my money, though – or, more to the point, for my no-money – I would go with ESPN 2010 FIFA World Cup, which has a different, but equally efficient interface, and offers pretty much the same portfolio of information. It adds some nice little extras, though, like the ability (one you register with espn.com) to select a favourite team or teams, so that they are featured on your start page for quick access to information about them.

Yes, folks, we have come a long way from the days when high tech sports communication involved a beep on your cell and a text field saying something like “GER 1 UKR 0.”

We are still in the early days of mobile app development, and will have to endure the customary sorting-out period where you have to wade through the crap to find the apps; but the apps

are out there – and, in the case of the World Cup so far, have proven to be more interesting to look at than the event they were designed for.

Now, if only someone would come up with an app that would neutralize those despicable vuvuzelas on our TV sets…..

Rick Steele is a technology

junkie who lives in Whitehorse.