Wednesday, July 17, 2024

ICC Immersive App knocks it out of this world

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We have seen the future, and it is brilliant

The 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup featured 55 scheduled matches packed into less than a month. The cricket world was captivated from the launch on June 1 – when the US kicked off its unlikely run to the Super 8s by chasing down Canada’s 194 runs in Dallas – until the very end on June 29, when India defeated South Africa at the Kingston Oval to regain the title after seventeen years. In between, there was no shortage of heroics and upsets.

With all that match-related drama, it’s not surprising that a technology announcement made half-way through the tournament did not receive the focus it probably deserved. 

But although this news was upstaged by the various World Cup subplots, it was at least as significant for the future of the sport as what happened on the pitch.

On June 18, the ICC’s digital team rolled out the ICC Immersive app for the Apple Vision Pro: a virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) app that places users in the middle of actual cricket matches and uses interactive data overlays and visualizations to create a truly unparalleled experience.

Literally a game changer

As Finn Bradshaw, Head of Digital for the ICC says, the app “places [fans] in the middle of one of our World Cup stadiums and then using real time data we can recreate the greatest moments from the match so that fans can experience what it’s like to face a Jasprit Bumrah Yorker or to be Rishabh Pant ramping the ball for six.”

Short of trying it for oneself, perhaps the best way to grasp the power of the experience is to watch the reactions of fans giving it a try. This is a next-level experience like nothing ever previously experienced in cricket. 

Bradshaw continues: “Thing I love is watching people put on the device for the first time, and the first first time they face a ball you can see them actually flinch because the ball zips past their nose at 150 km an hour – because it’s the same speed as being in a match.”

Helping introduce cricket to the US market

The Apple Vision Pro was launched in February 2024, initially only in the US market. With the USA co-hosting the T20 World Cup for the first time, it provided a great vehicle to help introduce the sport to a new audience, even if fans in the rest of the world could not experience it yet. 

Said Bradshaw: “We knew one of the challenges… would be [American fans don’t] know anything about the game. So we did want to create an experience that enabled fans to understand the complexities and the skill of our players out in the middle.”

Moving mountains in time for the World Cup

The timeline for creating such a groundbreaking app was extremely ambitious, so the ICC partnered with a known quantity to get the job done: Mumbai-based Quidich Innovation Labs.   

Quidich has partnered with the BCCI on drone technology for over five years, and has also worked with the ICC on technologies used in broadcasts. 

That said, this app was orders of magnitude more ambitious than Quidich’s previous undertakings. 

According to Rahat Kulshreshtha, Quidich Co-Founder, “different data sources are all pulled from the field, taken onto the cloud and then pushed onto the device. So the complexity of it is massive: creating the stadiums, creating 3D replicas of stadiums, of players, of all the data.”  

“(We said) the only way this is going to happen is to… build a dedicated team for these 6 weeks. We chose to do it in an isolated place in Goa and we literally flew in almost 40 people.”

This is just V1. Up next: live in-app game broadcasts 

While this V1 of the app is wow-ing users, it is limited to highlights of completed games. 

The next contemplated feature is the holy grail of cricket consumption: in-app live broadcasts. 

Kulshreshtha emphasized the game-changing nature of “the ability to watch the game live [in the app] and not just be highlights… Highlights was a step one because there’s a lot of complexity to it.” 

How far away is that? According to Kulshreshtha: “I think technology-wise we’re not very far. I think the challenge has far more to do with device penetration.”

Device penetration will happen… 

The Apple Vision Pro is a $3,500 futuristic device that sold just just under 500,000 units in the US before production was cut.   

Translation: it is the first version for the earliest of early adopters. And the percentage of those buyers who are cricket fans is likely very small. 

But that’s not the point. 

This is very early in the game. Like most new technologies, adoption will likely happen slowly at first. Then as costs come down, competitors enter the market with similar products, and an app development ecosystem grows around the technology, adoption accelerates. Mobile phones followed just this path. 

In the first year of the iPhone’s existence (2007 – coincidentally the same year of India’s triumph in the first T20 World Cup), it sold a paltry 1.4 million units at just under $500 each. In 2023, Apple sold 235 million iphones, and there are currently 7.2 billion smartphones of all kinds worldwide. 

As the influential tech news website Engadget argues, the Vision Pro could be just that kind of paradigm-shifting device: “[It] might be the first step towards a platform that could reshape the company’s entire trajectory like the original iPhone did back in 2007.” 

Sounds like something to get in on early. 

Because what is for certain is this: some version of this technology, at some point in the future, will not only become very popular but likely a primary way users enjoy live sports broadcasts.  

…and cricket will be ready

At this juncture, the top priority for content and rights holders should be to familiarize themselves with the format, experiment with it, and push the boundaries to learn its possibilities. 

The oft-cited example of this process is that the first television shows were nothing more than filmed radio broadcasts. It takes a while for human creativity to unearth the most compelling applications of a technology. That happens through testing, trial, and error.  

With its immersive app, the ICC aimed to do just that: take the first step in this process. 

As Bradshaw said: “you go into something like this and you’re not sure how it’s going to come out to be honest… it’s a whole new area for us but we felt it was important to experiment… You can never push things forward if you don’t start somewhere.”

But it is clear that the ICC team and their partners did not merely start, they approached it in the right way: by trying to take advantage of the capabilities of the format.  

Bradshaw continues: “We were really determined if we’re going to do this it needed to be an experience that took advantage of what the Vision Pro is really great at: which is this sort of spatial experience they talk about. 

“Where not only [are] you making use of the whole 360 viewing experience but the sound – the sound is one of the amazing things about this device – and really utilize that to create a whole new experience.”

Even better than the real thing

There are many compelling use cases of the Apple Vision Pro that will enhance the viewing experience of virtually every sport. For example, watching several games at once. 

Yet, something about the inherent 360 degree nature of cricket lends itself particularly well to this format. 

All other major sports involve a more limited playing field, or have action headed from one end of a field to the other. Only in cricket does a player stand in the center and focus simultaneously on opportunities in all conceivable directions. So it was important for cricket to get a head start on this. 

In fact, while a few other sports leagues (NBA, MLB, PGA) also dipped their toes into these Vision Pro waters, some chose not to – most notably the NFL, but also the various football/soccer leagues, and the NHL.

And in taking this experimental leap, the ICC digital team has revealed a future viewing experience that – like the technology that it is built on – takes the best that our current reality offers and makes it even better. 

A future in which, Quidich’s Kulshreshtha says, “you’ve got the stadium experience merged with the broadcast experience.” 

In which as a fan, you can be at home, but transport yourself to anywhere in the stadium while still enjoying all the benefits that broadcasts and screens can offer. 

A future in which you can experience what it’s actually like to be your favorite player as he or she faces the best in the world in real time, as it all happens. 

Bradshaw sums it up: “We wanted [to take] the fan from just sitting on their couch and looking at a TV on the wall or looking at their phone and put them in an experience where they wanted to look around, that they wanted to be immersed in – hence the name ICC immersive. We think this has taken one small step in that direction.”

But this first ‘small step’ has not only managed to thrill fans, it has even impressed the likes of the Universe Boss himself – who raved about it to us: “You’re pretty much right in the middle of the stadium. You’re up close and personal with the players… great technology work, that’s super cool!” 

So we can only imagine – and wait excitedly to see – what v2, 3 or 4 and beyond of this experience will be like. 



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