94Fifty – A “Smart” Basketball

94Fifty is apparently a real thing ($199!). It claims to be “[t]he only connected smart basketball for iOS and Android to help improve shooting and ball handling skills – fast.

The product involves a sensor equipped basketball, a mobile app, and some clever cloud processing. It is supposed to deliver “real-time actionable audio and visual feedback from your 94Fifty Smart Basketball to your device with the 94Fifty Basketball App.

Yoiks! This is so wrong in so many ways!

First of all, if it even works (which I doubt), it certainly violates the basic spirit of playing basketball. For one thing, “ball handling skills” are a small fraction of the needed skills, and the device is really only working on shooting, mainly shooting from a standing position. It seems to have nothing to say about layups or any kind of moving shot. Needless to say, this isn’t about defense, dribbling, passing, or teamwork, either.

Frankly, it isn’t even about basketball in a game. It’s just a shooting coach for practicing freethrows. This is surely the most boring aspect of basketball there is.

As an aside, I note the rhetoric about “actionable” feedback, which I think reveals that this is aimed at the golf set, who are less interested in street ball and more interested in prolonged adolescent status games. (Who else would blow multiple hundreds of dollars on a magic ball, anyway?)

Looking at the description, I have to wonder if this device even does anything useful at all. For starters, the videos make clear that the feedback comes from the mobile app, which means you are switching back and forth between practicing basketball and fiddling with your phone or tablet. This seems like a bad training technique to me.

Worse, the feedback appears to be absurd and pointless. The sensors can learn to measure characteristics of the ball motion, including stuff like backspin and the arc of the shot. It apparently can correlate these variable to whether the shot goes in or not. That’s all cool and scientific, but how does that help you score baskets?

You have to translate the abstractions of, say arc, into precise muscle movements. This is difficult to do, and I’m pretty sure that switching attention to a small screen graphic after each try is not going to help. In particular, the goal of repetitious practice must be to develop unconscious muscle memory, so you can snap off shots with no time for thought.

Will it help if I have an app that tells me that 48.6 revolutions per minute backspin is too slow, and 48.8 is to fast, how many people can actually control their backspin that precisely? (And if they can, do they need this app?)

I also wonder if the “smart” system can deal with the variability of the real world. Baskets and backboards are not identical, environmental conditions vary (especially if you play streetball outdoors!)—setting aside the possibility of an opposing defense.

The bottom line is that this is not only useless and stupid, it is an absurd and preposterously Inappropriate Touchscreen Interface.

Congratulations, 94Fifty is now entered in the Inappropriate Touch Screen Files (Internet of Way Too Many Things division).

Thanks to Allison Arieff’s “The Internet of Way Too Many Things” for pointing out this insanity.

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