December 23, 2010
MLBTR App Review
With the Baseball Prospectus App coming to an iPhone near you (and currently available on Android phones), it's about time we take a look at another potentially essential baseball-related iPhone application: the Baseball Trade Rumors iPhone App. Spawned from Tim Dierkes’ MLBTradeRumors.com, a website self-described as “a clearinghouse for relevant, legitimate baseball rumors,” the Baseball Trade Rumors app aims to bring the interesting and oft-updated content from its web-based cousin to the world’s most popular mobile device. Following in the footsteps of Marc Normandin, I’ll be taking a critical look at the Baseball Trade Rumors app, reviewing the pros and cons of the app’s features, and then finally giving my final grade once all aspects have been considered.
To begin, let’s take a minute to overview exactly what MLBTradeRumors.com, or MLBTR for short, offers as a website. As mentioned earlier, MLBTR was a creation by Tim Dierkes way back in 2005 as a hobby to keep track of pending transactions and potential trades. Five years later, Dierkes has been able to grow the website into one of the most popular public resource for MLB trade and signings information on the Internet among baseball fans and professionals alike. Now that it has essentially cornered the market in the Internet baseball rumor industry, MLBTR is now aiming to penetrate the mobile market with its $2.99 iPhone app.
Upon opening this App for the first time, I was shocked by how basic and light the app looked. While the website isn’t exactly complicated, I was certainly not expecting such a simple interface from their first mobile offering (with “simple” not being a negative critique in this context). Especially with literature-based, content-driven applications, the less complex apps are often the most praised by users due to the convenience and ease of use of their new software. Not surprisingly, this is where the Baseball Trade Rumors App thrives. When one launches the app, the initial screen only has three non-story buttons of which they can engage: a News button, which allows the user to view the most recent posts from the website, a Settings button, which allows the user to adjust the App to their preferences, and a simple reload button, symbolized by a simple curling arrow, found towards the top of the screen, ensuring an easy navigational experience for users looking to get the latest in MLB trade gossip.
Supplementing the undemanding interface that this software provides is the easy-on-the-eyes look of the App. Both the home screen and the story pages share an appearance that evokes what many users will interpret as briefing memos that general managers may find on their desks on a day-to-day basis, complete with offset sheets and a subtle baseball watermark; a clever design idea by the developer(s). In that same vein, the MLBTR devs took a similar approach to the comment posting and viewing functionality of the App, showing each comment as a separate Post-It note found within one click of the story pages. This format should allow users to enjoy long rumor reading sessions without the eye strains that typically go hand-in-hand with text-heavy applications. Even the settings page of the app isn’t hard to look at, plotting grays on darker grays with a typical shadowed appearance.
Speaking of settings, the Baseball Trade Rumors App has plenty of preferences for users to adjust to their liking. Though the settings will only change the push notifications the sends to users, the sheer mass of possibilities and combinations of preferences offered by this app seems to be unmatched. This app lets users focus the notifications they receive from something as broad as National League or American League news to something as specific as a certain player or team of interest, which could come in handy for fans with even the most peculiar interests. Adding teams and/or players within the settings portion is quite easy, though I did find it a little odd that the list of players was alphabetized by first name (a problem that is eased by the handy search bar found at the top of the page). As a fan of the Cubs and Athletics, I was glad to see that I could adjust my settings in order to only include notifications from those two teams. Also, because of the A's gaping, Mount Davis-sized hole at third base, I wanted to follow any and all news surrounding Adrian Beltre as well. With just a few swipes of a finger, I was able to adjust my settings to those parameters with no trouble and, perhaps most importantly, no crashes.
Of course, not all aspects of this app are a glowing success. Take, for instance, the glaring lack of team and league-only pages within the app. Although the push notifications are a major plus, the fact that users cannot customize their experience to view posts regarding only relevant topics is a bit of a disappointment. As many iPhone owners will tell you, push notifications have a tendency of being hidden by other iPhone alerts, including text messages, voicemail pop-ups or just newer push notifications from other apps, thus limiting their usefulness substantially. Though I cannot fully blame the folks at MLBTradeRumors.com for a flaw native to iOS, one cannot help but wonder why push notifications were emphasized so greatly, especially when team-only Twitter and RSS feeds have become a favorite feature on the current site for many fans.
In addition to the push notification issues, the app also does not allow users to see older posts from the website beyond what is loaded on the initial screen. That is, if one wants to see a story that was published before one of the 40-some-odd posts that load upon launch (or those seen when the page is refreshed), they will have to resort to loading the website or the .mobi site in Safari, adding some tediousness to the user experience. If not addressed, I can envision this developing into a very large problem in the future, especially when one considered the massive number of posts added during the Winter Meetings and the days leading up the trade deadline. Furthermore, the app does not provide any easy means of viewing some of the website’s more popular and useful posts, including their 2011 MLB Free Agents List, Arbitration Eligibles page and a inventory of Scott Boras clients. Other cons include minor things such as no available landscape view and the inability to share posts via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.
Even with some flaws, the Baseball Trade Rumors App has a lot to offer its users. After all, with up to about 40 posts automatically loaded, instant alerts about relevant news and uber-customizable settings, there’s very little not to love here. However, even though I’m content with what this application is now, I am extremely excited for what it will become in the future. MLBTR has had a tremendous track record of both inviting user feedback and implementing improvements to address that feedback on its website. That said, I am expecting Dierkes, a former search engine marketing professional, to take a similar (if not superior) approach to this app. Early adopters and members of the early majority should not be surprised if their comments and iTunes reviews of this app are not only read, but also fully addressed in forthcoming updates in exceedingly sufficient fashion. With that in mind, I find the $2.99 price tag more than tolerable in the present tense and as we consider the future of this app.
I know this review has a been a bit more techy than many of you are used to so, to wrap things up, I would like to give the final grades of this app in a way I think we can all understand. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the definitive Baseball Trade Rumors App scouting report:
The Baseball Trade Rumors app is available for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad with iOS 3.1.3 or later, and retails for $2.99. Developed and published by Dierkes Information Services, Inc.