If we're being honest, last year's NFL app on Xbox One was a rookie. It got the basics right – like keeping up-to-date on multiple games at once and showing highlights from last week's games – but the execution wasn't perfect. The app could show you one game at a time, but moving in between different games felt like a fourth and long scenario: impossible.
But that's the just way rookies are. They're new and inexperienced. But give them some time on the field, and they're bound to get better (if they like their contract).
Going into its sophomore year, the Xbox One NFL app is stepping up its game, having undergone a major face change. The user interface will be re-organized in intuitive sections, creating enough room to see stats on your fantasy football team as well as up-to-the-minute information on your favorite real-life athletes. Microsoft is calling this new setup the Command Center view and, considering the ESPN-like look to it, it makes sense.
But the Redmond-based software (and hardware) firm has something else at its disposal. Something that Microsoft paid dearly for a few years back and is, for the first time, using it for the benefit of the viewers: an exclusive partnership with the NFL. This means all the data coaches collect can be sent directly to your big screen for you to use in your fantasy league.
Want to know which quarterback scrambled the farthest last week? How about the top speed of your favorite running back when he got that drive-saving first down? Now that's possible.
Strap in for Sunday
Using the new NFL app feels like you're in a game of Madden. After you pick your favorite NFL team (or more, if your loyalties are divided), you'll be greeted by a Windows 8-style tile grid with options to view live coverage from the NFL network, watch highlights from the past week or dive into your fantasy team – all using a layout that will feel instantly familiar to anyone who's ever touched an EA Sports game.
The layout isn't completely customizable. You're always going to see a spot for fantasy football – even if you don't use it. But it's versatile and responsive enough to make up for any shortfalls.
At the start of last season, the NFL app only supported fantasy leagues established on its own website, meaning fans with heated rivalries on Yahoo! Sports or CBS couldn't partake on Xbox One. This year, all of the above will be supported right from the off, allowing you to snap the NFL app on the screen Sunday morning and watch the points roll in all day long.
Jeff Tran, Director of Sports & Alliances at Microsoft, says the two additional spots on the interface – the ones not taken up by your fantasy and favorite teams – will be used as a spot for Microsoft to highlight its favorite players and must-watch plays from the past week using "Next Generation Stats."
More than just a highlight reel, "Next Generation Stats" feeds on-the-field information to Microsoft and coaching staff via a wireless microchip embedded into every player's jersey. Using the data, Microsoft can create visual overlays that look like a coach's playbook with moving x's and o's, highlighting exactly where and when the defense made a mistake or, adversely, came to the rescue in a time of need.
Taking this concept one step further, Tran says that he envisions a poll taking place at the start of every week that asks users to pick who they think will run the farthest or fastest during the next set of games. In a sense Microsoft's gamifying the football-watching experience.
Poll results, alongside liking and sharing video clips inside the app, will then show up on your activity feed and can be viewed on both Xbox One and Windows 10. You'll be able to see notifications on both systems, too, if your team makes a big play or if you pull ahead in a fantasy football match.
It's when these elements come together that the new app really shines. Imagine switching between live games and highlights, sharing the best plays with friends and competing using the built-in fantasy app, all of which is seamlessly connected to the command center.
The NFL app on Xbox One will be available in late August. By the time the 2015-2016 NFL season officially kicks off at 5:30pm PST (8:30pm EST) on Thursday, September 10, you'll be able to put the app through its paces on your own turf.