If you’ve ever wanted an exact measurement on how good your spiral is, or needed proof that you are better at throwing the football than your friend, Wilson has you covered with its new $199 smart football.
The “Wilson X Connected Football,” as it’s formally known, is both fun and frustrating.
The “fun” comes from how many different things the ball can tell you. It tells you how tight and fast your spiral is, the length and velocity of your throws, and even a combined rating of how good a quarterback you are. The “frustrating” comes from the various game modes, which aren’t perfect for casual play.
At $199, the market for these balls seems to be people who are serious about quarterback training.
“I’m there every week, for 25 years, and I know how these coaches obsess over numbers and how they want as much information as they can possibly get,” Gus Johnson, a sportscaster and voice of the Wilson’s app, told The Verge. “You just made everybody’s job really easy for the most important position in the most popular game in our country.”
ow the ball works
The Wilson X football is filled with sensors, mostly accelerometers. These sensors send data to the ball’s dedicated smartphone app via Bluetooth. There’s no way for you to charge the battery in the ball, so eventually it will run out of juice and lose its smart functionality. Fortunately that’s after about 500 hours of active play, according to the company (you have to do a motion to “wake up” the ball when you start playing).
Once you’ve connected the ball, you can fire up the app and choose what sort of game mode you want. There are a few games you can select: basic warm-up; “precision,” in which you try and throw 10 passes as crisply as possible; “game time” and “final drive,” which are more advanced simulations of NFL games you can play with friends; and “elimination,” which lets you compete with up to 8 people on various stats, with the last one standing crowned as the winner.
Here’s the problem: “elimination” is the only real compelling game you can casually play with friends. It’s easy to get into. Basically you choose a stat — say velocity — and take turns throwing the ball. Those who don’t meet the escalating goals get booted from the round. The rounds keep going until one person is left. He or she is the winner. It’s competitive, fun, and simple.
The other modes are more role-oriented and harder to set up. They can be fun, but they feel more like drills, and don’t capture the competitive spirit.
What I wish the ball was
Here’s are a few things I want out of my Wilson X football, as a casual player.
First, I want to be able to select my mode and then put the phone off to the side. The app requires a bit too much “checking in” when you’re trying to play. The app needs to understand that I don’t want to be constantly dealing with my phone when I’m playing football. That might necessitate a different design approach for the app.
The second thing I want is the ability to let the stats work into my normal routine. I want to play a pickup game and be able to track how well everyone did at quarterback. Even if that means I have to hit the app every time we switch quarterbacks, it’d be worth it. Give me the option to use stats to make the games I normally play more fun. The game modes, while they’re fine in terms of design, feel confining. Just a little customisation, please!
The main issue the ball struggles with is trying to be both a “pro” tool for serious athletes, and also a cool tech gadget you can use to play games. If the point of the game modes is to make training a bit more fun, then they succeed. But they feel a bit like a playdate your mum set up for you: fun, but very structured. Give me a bit more freedom and I’d definitely plunk down money for this. But then again, I’d probably be looking to spend more in the $100 range than the $200, so I’m likely not serious enough a customer for Wilson to go after.
Bottom line: the sensors work, and the amount of data you can get on your football game is delightful. The drawback is that the game modes aren’t engaging enough to make shelling out $200 worth it if you aren’t doing some serious training.
Photography by Hollis Johnson