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Apple’s new Sports app for the iPhone is all about the scores

Apple may be into sports in a big way on multiple fronts these days, but its latest app isn’t trying to do too much.

Apple’s new Sports app for the iPhone is all about the scores
[Source photo: Apple, Tim Gouw]

Since the day the iPhone first went on sale, it’s come with Apple’s apps for checking the weather and monitoring stock prices. Now the company is finally getting around to offering an app that delivers timely information of a different sort with at least as much mass appeal: sports scores.

Named (probably inevitably) Apple Sports, the app is available in the App Store starting today. It features schedules of upcoming games, real-time play-by-play details on ones in progress, player stats, links to broadcasts on Apple TV where applicable, and (though they can be turned off) betting odds. Leagues currently covered include NBA, men’s and women’s NCAA basketball, NHL, MLS, Bundesliga, LaLiga, Liga MX, Ligue 1, Premiere League, and Serie A, with MLB,  NFL, NCAAF, NWSL, and WNBA on the way when their seasons start.

Apple has already offered a way to keep tabs on schedules, scores, and stats in the form of My Sports, a feature in Apple News and Apple TV. But in those apps, scores are just one part of the sports experience, and sports are just one slice of the overall mission, albeit an important one. Apple Sports, which will sync with favorites users have already selected in My Sports, doesn’t do anything but sports. And it isn’t even trying to be the ultimate hub for fans.

“We’re not trying to have you spend 30 minutes on the app,” says Apple senior VP of services Eddy Cue. “You can spend five seconds to go look at the score, or you might spend 30 seconds, or you might spend three minutes going play-by-play because it’s the end of the game. It’s all about that. It’s getting you in, giving you what you need, and doing it really quickly.” Even the getting in part will be optional: The Apple TV app will display scores from synced favorite teams in a widget on the iPhone lock screen.

There’s a much, much larger Apple sports story, and Cue—now in his 36th year at the company and a dedicated sports enthusiast himself–is one big reason why. As GQ’s Sam Schube reported last September, sports streaming has become an important part of Cue’s longstanding services portfolio, most notably Apple’s 10-year deal to offer the MLS Season Pass service. Along with all the sports rights Apple has been acquiring, it’s added twists of its own, such as the ability to multiview four live events in 4K on Apple TV. In December, it announced that it had added The New York Times Co.’s The Athletic to Apple News+’s roster of content providers: “I’ve always been a huge fan of The Athletic from day one,” says Cue.

With so much going on, a scores app might not seem like a particularly huge gambit on Apple’s part. Nor is it a new idea: People have been using mobile devices to get live game updates since long before Apple got into the phone business, and there are already numerous third-party offerings in the App Store. Still, it’s one that could find frequent usage from a meaningful percentage of the people out there who avidly follow one or more teams and own an iPhone. And the app, which I got a demo of but haven’t yet tried for myself, does look recognizably Apple-esque in its simplicity, with clever touches such as how the interface picks up the colors of teams it’s displaying information about.

Of course, weaving together data of various sorts from multiple sports in real time—from pitch counts to yellow cards—is hardly simple behind the scenes. “There’s been a tremendous amount of work on the engineering side to do this that I’m quite pleased about,” says Cue. If Apple has plans to add more features to the app or integrate it with other sports-related offerings in additional ways, it’s not saying. But if the app becomes a daily habit for fans, the opportunity to take it to new places is there, should Apple choose to seize it.

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Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World. More More

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