The best iPhone sports apps of 2011

by Dan Kricke

Because sports are largely seasonal obsessions, rating sports apps can be incredibly difficult in context. As great as I think the MLB At-Bat 2011 app was this season, you won’t find it on this best-of list because it’s no longer relevant for anyone and will be replaced by a brand new app in March.

Instead, here’s a look at 2011’s best relatively timeless sports apps. It’s a mix of newcomers to the App Store along with two older apps that brought a few new updates in 2011 that kept them ahead of their competition.

Bill James Baseball IQ (Free)

When I reviewed this app back in May, I thought it was already a must-buy for any stat-obsessed baseball fan. And that was when it cost $15. Now that’s it’s free, it should probably be illegal not to download Bill James Baseball IQ.

Baseball IQ goes so far beyond the normal slash-line stats that it can be a little intimidating at first. You’ll wonder if you really need to see the K-Zone for the 24th man on the Baltimore Orioles. In fact, you absolutely do need to see it. This is an app filled with charts and graphs that appear to be on the same level that I assume serious scouts look at. Bill James Baseball IQ is as essential as any baseball app available, and one of the best I’ve seen in 2011.

ESPN Radio ($2.99)

ESPN Radio wasn’t brand new in 2011 but it added some features in the middle of the year that made it an entirely new experience. The most important update was the rather obvious addition of being able to listen to the app while using other ones. No offense to the developers who take the time to create unique game soundtracks, but sometimes I want to keep up with Mike & Mike in the Morning while I play some arcade games.

That feature alone with the addition of being able to listen to ESPN Radio affiliates all over the country would get the ESPN Radio app on my best of list, but there was also the addition of a quick playing, constantly updating “SportsCenter” clip to keep you abreast of all the top news and an ability to “favorite” the stations you love listening to most for easy access. ESPN doesn’t call itself the worldwide leader for nothing.

PrePlay (Free)

Even my family members who don’t really have an interest in football end up buying “squares” for the Super Bowl in order to potentially win a few bucks, so it’s probably no surprise PrePlay wound up in my top five.

PrePlay takes the idea of football betting and then increases the volume ten-fold. Do you think the next play will be a running play or a passing play? Will it be successful? Will it result in a touchdown? You can pick every single play for a game and then compare your score to other degenerates to see just how well you know the NFL.

When you combine that with the ability to talk smack against your rival gamblers via a live chat function, you’ve got an app that’s hard to beat. The only thing missing from PrePlay is the ability to use it for other sports.

Tiger Woods: My Swing ($4.99)

Even if Tiger’s swing isn’t quite where it was a few years ago, there’s still plenty of benefit to looking at video of his form, complete with digital swing lines, to see how your own golf swing matches up. My Swing combined great, in-depth instruction on swing lines and form with solid video editing ability that allowed you to put yourself right in the app.

Even for a golf novice like myself, I found watching side-by-side video of mine and Tiger’s swings to be really revelatory. This sort of home video analysis could help a lot of weekend warrior golfers who don’t have the time or money to spend with serious golf instructors. As far as instructional sports apps goes, Tiger Woods: My Swing was in a class of its own in 2011.

Yahoo! Sportacular (Free)

Plenty of sports apps will give you the latest scores. Only a few will keep you up-to-date on every single play of the game. And even fewer will do all of that plus let you pick games, chat with other sports fans and set alerts for numerous game scenarios.

Yahoo! Sportacular continued to operate in a special stratosphere in 2011, making it a continued must-download for the sports fan who wants everything under one app. This year’s additions of a more fully integrated game-picking system and Facebook connect for live smack talk during games might not seem like much, but when the live score coverage was already so well done in the first place, there’s not much left for the app to conquer. Sportacular is one of my very first app recommendations for any new iPhone user, and it’s one of the best sports apps in 2011, too.