Fix This App: ESPN ScoreCenter

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[We spend a lot of time with mobile apps. We know what we like and what we don’t—sometimes within the very same app. Each week in Fix This App, we’ll take a mobile offering that’s not without its share of flaws and try to nudge it a little closer to perfection.]

ESPN has dubbed itself the Worldwide Leader in Sports, and just a glance at its vast cable empire confirms that’s more than just an idle boast. But that’s just TV—when it comes to the mobile world, ESPN is more follower than leader. And its promising-but-flawed ScoreCenter app for smartphones illustrates just how much ESPN needs to step up its game.

What it works on: After debuting on the iPhone back in 2009, ScoreCenter arrived for Android phones a year later. The iPhone version requires iOS 3.1.1 or later, while Android users need at least version 2.1 of that mobile OS. The app also is available for Windows Phone 7 but with a decidedly different feel than what iOS and Android users may be familiar with. (We’re concentrating on the iOS/Android iterations of ScoreCenter in this post.) And there’s even a ScoreCenter for HP’s webOS, which must make dozens of people very happy.

You can customize ESPN ScoreCenter by designating selected teams as your favorites; their scores appear on a separate myTeams screen and float to the top of a specific sport’s scoreboard screen.

What it does: ScoreCenter is a basic scoreboard app—launch it to find out the score in the big game—stamped with ESPN’s imprimatur. The app features some headlines, video, and alert capabilities, but by and large, this is an app you use to get the latest scores. You have the ability to designate favorite teams, which floats their games up to the top of any sports’ scoreboard page and creates a separate myTeams page with news and scores.

What it gets right: ESPN correctly recognizes that just because you’re a sports fan, that doesn’t mean you like each and every sport. Hoop fans may not care for hockey, and soccer devotees who want to know every score to come out of England’s Premiere League may not necessarily give a hoot about who’s in the pole position for the next NASCAR race. Thus, ScoreCenter gives you the very welcome ability to customize which sports appear in the app and in what order.

That customization trickles down to the kind of alerts you can elect to receive. If you have a favorite baseball team, you can set ScoreCenter to alert you whenever there’s team news, a game starts, a run is scored, the score is close, or the game goes final; you can also set alerts at three-inning intervals. The app also lets you set alerts for individual games and breaking news in any selected sport.

ScoreCenter also leverages one of ESPN’s greatest assets—access to lots of video—by including a video tab for most of the major U.S. sports. Tap the Video tab on the hockey scoreboard, for example, and you can watch a three-minute highlight package of the New Jersey Devils advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. The videos are pretty topical, usually reflecting the top plays from the previous day’s action.

Favorite teams may appear in a single column of the Baseball score screen, but other games are stacked in two-column layout that makes scrolling difficult.

What it gets wrong: For an app that’s been around for three years, ScoreCenter has been remarkably resistant to change, particularly in terms of its interface. And that, unfortunately, is the app’s weakest spot. Take the Baseball page, in which scores are stacked in two columns that fill up your smartphone’s screen. ESPN manages to pack a lot of information onto a single screen, but scrolling without inadvertently tapping a score is a tricky proposition, particularly for those of us cursed with fumbling fingers.

You jump from one sport’s scoreboard to another primarily by swiping to the right or left. There’s another navigation option, but it’s not terribly intuitive: You can tap on any of the dots at the bottom of the screen to jump directly to a particular sport’s scoreboard. The dots aren’t persistently labeled, so you either have to hold your finger and wait for a pop-up label to appear or commit to memory the order in which you’ve organized your assorted scoreboards. It seems like there could be a better way to move between screens.

ScoreCenter also struggles with an issue common to many mobile scoreboard apps—just how much information do you pack onto the screen? Tapping a score in ScoreCenter brings up a detail screen with some information about in-progress games. For more details—or for a recap of a game once the game is final—you need to launch an in-app browser that provides slightly more depth. Whether you’re looking at the detail screen or the game summary, however, ScoreCenter doesn’t do a very good job of displaying that data in an easy-to-digest format.

How to fix it: The good news for ESPN: The most badly needed changes to ScoreCenter are cosmetic ones. But they’ll go a long way toward making the app the leader in the clubhouse. And a few other changes would leverage the ScoreCenter’s existing strengths to turn it into an MVP contender.

ScoreCenter could do a better job of making it clear at a glance which stats belong to which teams.

  • Unstack those scores. I can certainly appreciate the desire to pack in a lot of information in a limited amount of screen space. But when navigability suffers, you need to rethink things. Sports screens with a lot of scores—I’m looking at you, Baseball—should be re-organized into a single column. Yes, it will mean users may have to scroll a bit to find a particular score, but it will reduce the instances of inadvertently tapping on a game for more details.
  • Make use of drop-down menus. Speaking of navigation, ScoreCenter would do well to take a page from Sportacular, another iOS/Android scoreboard app. While Sportacular has issues of its own, it also features a clever drop down menu for switching between sports in as little as two taps. It’s certainly a better approach than ScoreCenter’s over-reliance on swiping.
  • Make key details easier to see. Different people are going to have different opinions about which stats ESPN needs to include on the detail page for games. But I think we can all agree that the developer could do a better job of calling out key details in ScoreCenter. Take who won the game—ScoreCenter designates the winner with a tiny white triangle next to the score. Highlighting the game’s winner would make things easier to see at a glance. Using teams colors to differentiate stats for each team would also help things stand out.
  • Beef up the myTeams section. Having a single screen on ScoreCenter devoted to the teams I’m interested in is a stroke of genius. But the content on ScoreCenter is a little lacking right now. For example, I’ve designated the Oakland A’s as one of my favorite baseball teams. As I type this, the news feed for the A’s on the myTeams page includes stories about Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies; Tony LaRussa, who last managed the A’s more than 15 years ago, being named grand marshall of a NASCAR race; and the unseasonably warm weather in San Jose. ScoreCenter could do a better job delivering more relevant news, I think. And the app already features solid video content—if it’s relevant to a team I’m interested in, that video should be viewable from the myTeams page as well.

This story, "Fix This App: ESPN ScoreCenter" was originally published by TechHive.

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