It should be obvious by now that Microsoft is doubling-down on sports apps. The company recently confirmed that ESPN is coming to Xbox One, and it inked a deal with the NFL to bring fantasy football to both Xbox and Windows. Until now, details have been scarce, except that Microsoft's partnership with the NFL would include not just fantasy games, but also Surface apps coaches could use on the sidelines.
Finally, though, Microsoft is giving us a proper walk-through: it's showing off ESPN and NFL for Xbox One, NFL for Windows 8, and not one, but two coaching applications. And according to company officials, that's just the beginning: David Jurenka, Director of Sports for Xbox Entertainment Studios, tells us his group would also like to port over Yahoo and ESPN's fantasy football apps, ideally sometime in 2014. In the meantime, those NFL and ESPN apps will hit the Xbox One in November, around the time it goes on sale, but we've got a sneak peek after the break. Oh, and even if you don't plan on upgrading, you might still want to pay attention: NFL for Xbox 360 and Windows 8 are both available now.
ESPN and NFL Fantasy Football on Xbox One
This thorough, almost obsessive focus on sports makes sense, Jurenka says, not just because sports fans and gamers comprise a similar demographic, but because sports junkies are already using all manner of tech to follow along. "Fans are truly fanatic about scores and stats and buzz, and we use an insane number of devices and tools to keep tabs, any hour of the day." That would explain the approach Microsoft took with the Xbox One's ESPN app: users can now import their favorites from ESPN.com, kind of like how Windows 8 already roams your settings between different devices. So, it should be easier to personalize the app out of the box, weeding out teams and sports you don't actually care about. And the experience of using ESPN's website should feel a little more consistent between the Xbox and whatever else you're using.
Otherwise, this is the same experience WatchESPN already brings to other platforms. Assuming you've got a cable subscription, you can tune into ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU. (You can also tune into ESPN3 for events like the Rose Bowl, though that doesn't require a cable connection. Neither does ESPN.com access, for that matter.) While you're watching a game, you can see a preview of another game as a picture-in-picture. You can also use voice commands through Kinect and see a scrolling banner of real-time scores (2-3 at the top of the 4th, let's say). And, of course, you can take advantage of the Snap feature from Windows to dock a game on the side of the screen while you do something else at the same time, like browse the web. Not too many surprises here.
Moving on to the NFL app, the fantasy football bit lets you view your roster, match-ups and fantasy reel. Throughout the application, you'll find that everything from stats to scores to fantasy football stuff lives in a pane on the right-hand side, ensuring that the actual gameplay takes up most of the screen. (You can also hit the 'B' button to watch at full-screen, or you can use Snap to allow for multi-tasking.) In addition to live games, the app also includes NFL's RedZone, so you can see highlight reels of the games you didn't get around to watching in full. Again, nothing too earth-shattering here: the biggest news doesn't seem to be that the app streams games, but that Microsoft and the NFL are putting out so many gosh-durn apps at once.
Speaking of the sort, Microsoft also detailed its two apps for coaches: eClinicalWorks (electronic medial records) and X2 (for diagnosing injuries on the field). All told, eight teams will be pilot-testing the apps in the coming season, though they'll eventually be made available to the whole league. Of the two, we'd say Sideline is more interesting, with a series of tests designed to gauge whether a player's concussed (coaches can have them repeat five words, for example, or list the months of the year in reverse). The electronic records app, meanwhile, is a repository for everything a physician should be aware of -- namely, open injuries, medications, allergies and the like.
Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, we weren't permitted to film demos of the NFL or ESPN apps, and we could barely take photos either. For now, then, those screenshots will have to suffice, but hopefully we can show you a proper demo sometime soon. Then again, if you've got an Xbox 360 or Windows 8 device, you can just download the NFL app yourself and start poking around.
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