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The Sporting Life

By John Moore for Digital Innovation Gazette

Athletes need feedback to optimize their performance, and video has proven a key tool for improving form. TechSmith Corp., based in Okemos, Mich., offers an app that brings slow motion, frame-by-frame analysis and other capabilities to iOS and Android devices. Elite athletes, coaches, the parents of scholastic athletes, and even occasional competitors use TechSmith’s Coach’s Eye to fine tune performance in a range of sports.

We recently talked to Mike Kujansuu, Coach’s Eye marketing manager, and Brooks Andrus, Coach’s Eye product manager, about the app’s users and the company’s strategy.

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team coach uses Coach’s Eye. Did other teams and coaches use the app during the London Olympic games?

Mike Kujansuu: Due to the nature of how mobile apps are delivered, we don’t always know who is using our apps. But we saw the report come out where John Geddert was using the app -- he was the U.S. women’s gymnastics coach and also Jordyn Wieber’s coach. That was the first time we heard about that one.

In terms of other people we know who are using it, we have a pretty big adoption in USA Track & Field. We started to see Coach’s Eye clips of professional sprinters Wallace Spearmon, Darvis Patton and Monzavous Edwards as they trained for the U.S. Olympic Trials. We also have people in the video and coaching side of U.S. Track & Field that are using Coach’s Eye with different athletes and events. Ato Boldon Olympic sprinting medalist and now broadcast analyst and coach uses Coach’s Eye for his speed training. He uses it for track and field and for NFL athletes, focusing on people who are training for the Combine so they can hopefully get drafted or increase their position in the draft.

We are already seeing Winter Olympic hopefuls who are reaching out to us, sharing their training clips online.

What programming languages or development frameworks did you use to create Coach's Eye?

Brooks Andrus: We are now available on two different platforms: our Apple iOS client -- iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches -- and also on Androids. On the iOS side, everything is written in Objective-C. We make heavy use of AV Foundation -- Apple’s media framework -- for a lot of the lower-level programming. Anytime you want to manipulate media, whether audio or video, it gives you a lot of tools to do that. We use that literally for the guts of the app -- our slow motion is built on top of AV Foundation. We use some of the other Apple frameworks for doing the compositing.

On the Android side, it doesn’t have the rich media frameworks. It’s a much more difficult technical challenge in some regards. Everything is written in Java. We use Java Native Interface and write the lower level stuff in C. We had to write our own video codec.

An app like this seems to be in a narrower niche than general productivity apps. How do you market Coach’s Eye to your target audience?

M.K.: The storefront for our app is the App Store and Google Play. What we want to do is spin up as much positive word of mouth as possible. If you are familiar with TechSmith, we have a long history of software designed to capture and share screens as images and videos the company makes the Snagit screen capture tool, for example.

The sports market was one area where we didn’t have as much experience coming out of the gate. For us, it is all about listening to and learning from the market and our customers. We have customer conversations wherever we can and we make sure the whole team is involved in them. We want to make sure we are building the best product possible, so we definitely talk with the customers and build that into the products.

B.A.: We like to think of the market we are going after as actually a pretty big segment. When you stop and think about how many people watch sports, participate in sports, have children who play sports, all of a sudden the numbers get pretty big. We also have strong participation in things like cheerleading. We have seen drum corps and color guards who are picking up the application. Add to that the nice overlap we get with education. It is a focused market, but it is not the small niche that everyone thinks it is.

Looking ahead, do you plan to add any functionality to Coach's Eye?
Would you develop apps geared to specific sports?

M.K.: That is the approach that some companies take: They make different versions that are slightly different for different sports. We are not sure that is going to end up being the right approach for us. We do get feature requests that come in and we take everyone very seriously. What we have to do is translate: Is that something that can go across a broader range of sports? That is definitely something that keeps us busy. It is not your traditional roadmap.

B.A.: It is not our intention to build different apps for different sports. It’s a lot harder to get word of mouth started on 50 different sports. Instead, we think there is a lot of cross pollination.

There are all kinds of enhancements in the works for the video analysis tools that provide really sophisticated comparisons. And we think there is a lot of opportunity in the social space.

Photo: Corbis Images

Copyright (c) 2012 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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