Levi’s Stadium ‘NiNerds’ get high-visibility wardrobe upgrade

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

I needed a one of the NiNerds Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, and thanks to a new wardrobe addition, they were a lot easier to find.

Discovering a problem with the Levi’s Stadium app, I looked around for one of the stadium’s walk-around technology helpers — aka the “NiNerds” — and found one quickly thanks to the new neon-yellow vests many were wearing during Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Washington.

Earlier this season, the NiNerds were much more nattily dressed in their gingham-check shirts, bow ties and fake horn-rim glasses. While cool and cute, the outfits proved hard to recognize in the crowd, especially since the NiNerds’ red check shirts looked a lot like the jerseys and t-shirts worn by the many faithful fans. Perhaps in order to make the NiNerds stand out more, the team dressed them in neon Sunday, like Wi-Fi “coaches” in other stadiums have done.

Unfortunately, the NiNerd I talked to wasn’t able to solve my problem (it seems to be related to a known bug in the newest Android release of the stadium app) but I did notice during my visit Sunday that the NiNerds in general seemed to be more numerous and visible, and they even got a nice shout-out on the Levi’s Stadium big screen (see photos below). Below are some thoughts and observations on the network performance, the app performance and the overall fan experience at Levi’s, which I hadn’t visited since the season opener back on Sept. 14.

Wi-Fi network struggles at 2.4 GHz, soars at 5 GHz

Speed test results from outer concourse location, Levi's Stadium, pregame

Speed test results from outer concourse location, Levi’s Stadium, pregame

On the network-performance side of things, the Wi-Fi system seemed as robust as ever for new devices, including the AT&T LG Optimus G Pro I’ve been test-driving lately. With the Android device and its 5 GHz Wi-Fi connection I hit speeds of 31 Mbps download and 29 upload before the game on the Levi’s Stadium outside concourse, and then had a 14 Mbps download connection in my seat in section 229 (south end zone) at kickoff. In the third quarter I wandered up to the top (7th) level of seats, and got a 28/33 Mbps reading while waiting in a concession-stand line.

With my older Verizon Droid 4 device, however, I struggled to connect to the Wi-Fi network. Since the phone only runs on the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi frequency, it doesn’t do well at Levi’s Stadium, where the Wi-Fi is more heavily tuned for newer, 5 GHz-capable devices.

Full charging station... before the game starts

Full charging station… before the game starts

The best Wi-Fi speedtest I could get with the Droid device was a 1.06 Mbps download/3.04 Mbps upload mark, from the same spot on the outer concourse where the newer device recorded blazing connectivity speeds. Switching it over to its Verizon 4G LTE radio, I was able to get much faster connectivity, including one mark of 21.60/9.58 on the main level inside concourse.

I also ran out of juice on the Verizon phone before the end of the game — which could have been either the device draining due to its inability to get a solid connection, or due to the fact that it’s getting old and the battery doesn’t hold a charge that well anymore. Judging from the crowds around the Levi’s Stadium recharging stations (the picture to the left was taken during pregame) I am not alone in my device-energy woes.

App problem derails beacon test

One of the main tasks I had planned for Sunday was to see how well the beacon-assisted wayfinding feature in the stadium app worked. Only problem was, in the new update of the Levi’s Stadium app that was released in the past week (which I downloaded to both devices Sunday morning), several features were missing, including the “Maps” feature.

Picture of app fail in Levi's Stadium Android app

Picture of app fail in Levi’s Stadium Android app

A NiNerd I talked to outside the stadium on the Faithful Mile area showed me the maps/wayfinding feature on his iPhone, and pulled up a GPS-supported direction message that pointed the correct way for me to enter the stadium. But neither he nor the NiNerd I talked to inside the stadium could figure out why both of my Android devices weren’t showing the maps feature, or several other features on the left-upper-corner pull-down menu.

According to Louise Callagy, vice president of marketing for app developer VenueNext, the new version of the app released this week did have a known Android bug. In an email response Sunday night Callagy said, “we know we have a bug where Android gets confused and won’t return results from the network,” adding that rebooting the device might have fixed the problem; however, I did reboot both devices during the game and the problems were not corrected.

Callagy said the Levi’s network also had issues Sunday in getting location information from the beacons. “Our plan is to re-write the code [for the app] and solve this issue, releasing a new version before the Seahawks game on Thursday,” Callagy added in her email.

On the good-news side the replay function of the Levi’s Stadium app was more impressive than earlier versions, with highlights appearing in the app in mere seconds after the original play had concluded. After the Niners’ first TD pass of the day, I was able to view the highlight of the Colin Kaepernick-to-Anquan Boldin pass just after the extra point had been kicked.

I was also able to see the red light/green light system for restroom wait times that drew so much attention when it was talked about earlier this year. However, in real-life practice it’s doubtful anyone thinks of looking at the app when it’s time to go. (It’s also quite likely that while you are looking at the app for a short restroom line, a natural break in action will occur and restroom lines will predictably lengthen everywhere.) I found a quick trick for Levi’s attendees that might pay off in the future: If the restroom you’re aiming toward has a long line, walk a small bit farther to find its back door — where there is often no line at all.

New version of app, with clearer icons on main screen

New version of app, with clearer icons on main screen

I messed up later in the game, however, in thinking that it would just be easier to find a concession stand than to use the app’s express window ordering function. At least the 10 minutes I spent in line behind three women who were apparently ordering for their entire row (five hotdogs, six orders of fries, two orders of wings, two beers and one large ice water) gave me time to conduct a couple more Wi-Fi speedtests. Next time, I’m using the food-ordering features on the app.

I also made great use of the app’s ability to let fans watch live game action (I chose the feed from the main video screens in the stadium). Since I had to leave early I was on the first VTA train when I saw the game-winning TD run courtesy of the app’s live action broadcast. The live video, incidentally, kept playing seamlessly over the AT&T 4G LTE network as I sped away from the stadium, allowing me to watch the final game-sealing sack as I beat most of the traffic home.

VTA trains a smooth ride, once you figure out how to get on

I also had another smooth ride to and from the stadium using the VTA light rail trains from Mountain View — once I was on the train it took just a little over 30 stress-free minutes both coming and going. Getting on the trains, however, is a process that could still use some work. The Mountain View station, which is logistically hampered by having to share space with the Caltrain tracks and station, has very little signage on game day, and has a lot of confusing temporary gates to try to flow foot traffic toward the ticket-verification checkers.

Packed VTA train en route to Levi's Stadium

Packed VTA train en route to Levi’s Stadium

Once I figured out the maze and was guided across the Caltrain tracks I was directed to one of two waiting trains — but then a VTA staffer looked into the train and told people there were also express buses that wouldn’t stop on the way to Levi’s (unlike the trains, which stop at numerous stations en route). The quizzical advice — nobody said if it was any faster to take the buses — had many people wondering what they were supposed to do, causing a delay in closing the train doors as people made up their minds without any more information.

Once we arrived at the stadium, on the exit platform there was no person or sign directing fans in the proper direction. Good thing for the many newbies on the train (the train 2 hours before kickoff was packed) several of us were veterans and directed everyone down the proper ramp. For the return trip the Mountain View line suffered from similar lack of information and signing — and after one train passed the station with signs that said “Not in Service” we got on a second train that also said “Not in service” but whose doors opened anyway and one person in a yellow vest told everyone, “get inside.”

Overall impressions: Levi’s experience and technology still a work in progress

While I continue to be impressed by the network and app performance at Levi’s Stadium, I also felt several times on Sunday like the technology, the stadium and the entire fan experience is still a work in progress — perhaps something to be expected for a venue in its first year of events. But I have to wonder a bit about releasing a new version of the app in midseason, without apparently testing it enough to make sure it worked well on all devices that might want to use it.

I’m also still skeptical on how well the wayfinding feature will work in real world situations; though it sounds great to be able to get GPS-like directions to places inside the stadium, the reality of trying to walk around looking down at your phone on one of Levi’s Stadium crowded concourses is more likely to lead you into someone’s backside. Anyone with tales to tell of Levi’s Stadium technology experiences, please chime in below in the comments or send me an email to kaps at mobilesportsreport.com. I’d be especially interested to know if anyone else saw my app problems Sunday on Android phones. More Levi’s pictures below.

A NiNerd (no vest) helps fans outside the stadium.

A NiNerd (no vest) helps fans outside the stadium.

Kickoff view from Section 229. Thanks to the Niners for the free media access.

Kickoff view from Section 229. Thanks to the Niners for the free media access.

Niners fans get their phone cameras busy for kickoff ceremonies.

Niners fans get their phone cameras busy for kickoff ceremonies.

Scoreboard plug for the app.

Scoreboard plug for the app.

Scoreboard promo for the NiNerds (one in a series)

Scoreboard promo for the NiNerds (one in a series)

Second in the series. This one got laughs from the crowd.

Second in the series. This one got laughs from the crowd.

Probably the first time many fans heard the term "NiNerds"

Probably the first time many fans heard the term “NiNerds”

Nothing says geek like a bow tie

Nothing says geek like a bow tie

Google seeks to expand ‘wearable’ options with Android Wear program

The Moto 360 Android

The Moto 360 Android

Google made a lot of noise a few years back with its push for Google Glass project, a pair of glasses that are connected to the Internet and now it is adding a second front in the wearable war with a push that it calls Android Wear.

The company has launched the Android Wear project in an effort to greatly expand the market for wearable hardware and related technology, with but not limited to helping a new generation watches running the company’s Android operating system.

The core of the effort will be a Software Developers Kit (SDK) that the company will be delivering to interested developers later this year.

While connected watches seem to be the first area that this effort will have an impact Google sees the effort expanding into other areas including bringing additional technology to more established platforms such as tablets.

However watches seem to be at the forefront of this space and potential developers that include everybody from Nike to Apple have indicated some level of interest in developing a watch. In addition there are already several connected watches on the market such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble’s Steel Watch. Google has a number that have now announced their intention. With such a huge position in the smartphone operating system already Google has a huge advantage and it looks to be building on it quite quickly.

Several partners have already announced intentions to build watches and in some cases have shown examples of their development efforts. Motorola, unsurprisingly, has one in development called the Moto 360 Android that it said will be available this summer while LG Electronics said it would introduce its first Android watch, the G Watch, sometime this quarter.

The watches will be equipped with a variety of sensors and the ability to connect to an Android phone. So it can sub for the fitness trackers that are popular with the athletically inclined. It will allow notifications and text messages to be forwarded from a user’s phone and enable voice replies.

I imagine it would be a great tool to use to cheat on exams, but that might just be me. However being in a meeting and getting, say, March Madness game updates, could be a boon for those times when it is frowned upon to look at your smartphone. However the flip side of this is that many, at least those of us old enough, might just see this as a glorified pager with a bit more functionality.

LG Helps Kick off the Fall Rollout Season with LG G Pad 8.3


The IFA show in Berlin is almost upon us and as usual a number of major tablet developers have indicated that it will be the venue for new product rollouts, but at least one, LG, has jumped the gun and taken the wraps off of its newest pad just prior to the show. Of course it will be displaying the device at the show later this week.

Designed to compete at the larger end of the mini tablet pace the LG Pad will be the company’s offering to go up against products such as Apple’s iPad Mini, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.0 and Google’s Nexus 7.
Late last week the company admitted to the details of its G Pad 8.3 tablet. It will be powered by a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor running at 1.7GHz, with 2GB of memory and 16GB of storage.

Operating with the Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2 operating system it has a 1.3MP front facing camera as well as a 5 MP rear facing camera. The 8.3-inch display has a 1920 x 1200 pixel display. The final pricing on the tablet has not yet been announced and oit is expected to be available for the last quarter of this year.

The next few weeks should be chock full of new arrivals and product updates with a number coming from the IFA show that starts Sept. 6th in Berlin and we will try and profile as many as possible. If you see one that is interesting drop us a line.

Friday Grab Bag: Apple Refutes Multiple Product Rumors

Market research firm Strategy Analytics is reporting that Apple had a 48% market share of the estimated 40.6 million tablets that were shipped in the first quarter of 2013, followed by tablets that ran the Android operating system which own a 43% market share. Tablets that ran Windows had a 7.5% market share.

Overall the market has seen tremendous growth, surging 117% compared to the 18.7 million tablets that were sold in the same period a year ago.

Will Windows 8 Refresh Refresh Microsoft?
Microsoft has taken a beating in recent weeks as analysts and OEMs have pointed a finger at the company’s Windows 8 release as being a disaster and hurt both PC and tablet sales by Windows licensees.

The refresh of the operating system, called ‘Blue’ is reported to have changes to the UI and some subcomponent fixes. How it does will be very important, analysts told IT World, but it also needs to address a host of other issues including app shortage, pricing and enterprise adoption rates.

Apple’s Cook fries rumors
Apple has long been one of the companies that is always surrounded by a host of rumors. Will there be a new, cheap iPhone, is a new tablet coming out this month? You know the drill.

Now the company’s CEO Tim Cook refuted a few during his comments during Apple’s Q2 earnings call. So do not expect a new iPhone or iPad release soon, don’t look for a cheap iPhone and don’t expect a large format iPhone any time soon. For a fuller explanation of his comments head over here.

Speaking of Apple the company’s most recent earnings report showed that profits declined for the first time in almost 10 years. While that is bad the company did have $9.5 billion in profits from a total revenue of $43.6 billion. Last year’s first quarter saw the company report $11.6 billion profit on $39.2 billion in revenue.

LG becoming a factor in the smartphone world
While most of the talk in the smartphone market centers around a rare few, you can now add LG to the list as a player making an impact. The company reported that it sold 10.3 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year. It could see strong additional sales in the near future as it plans to ship its flagship Optimus G Pro in the U.S. next month.

Will 2013 be the year of the Android malware app?
An interesting piece in Forbes talks about how the slow rise of malware on smartphones is starting to gain momentum and all of that momentum appears pointed at the Android market. One security company reported that the Google Play Store had 35 apps that were infected with by a malware called BadNews.

Friday Grab Bag: More Smart Watches and Games to Play at Ball Parks

Still a year out Google Glass is already raising eyebrows and causing concern in legislative offices locally and nationally. Already West Virginia is looking at banning them from being worn while driving, and that could just be the start.

We have long questioned what casinos would do with players that can instantly see the odds flashed on their glasses but it appears there is a whole realm of other uses, from invasion of privacy to electronic surveillance.

FAA to ease in-flight powered device rule?
It is starting to look as if you will soon be able to continue reading on a tablet while your jetliner is taking off or landing. The New York Times is reporting that unnamed Federal Aviation Administration said changes are in the works.

An FAA work group found that powered up devices caused no issues with the aircraft and that the agency is now looking to ease rules, possibly as soon as the end of the year. It look like the ruling will apply to reading devices such as tablets only.

Aim is important even in the minor leagues
In what has to be the oddest in-ballpark games I have heard about the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Philadelphia Phillies’ top minor league affiliate, has installed a ‘urinal gaming system’ that it is rolling out this season.

The gaming system, the details of which are few, is said to activate as a person approaches the urinal in the men’s restrooms at the Lehigh ballpark. The guy can aim left or right to control the action on the screen. Glad it is not a touch screen program.

Rumors of the week

The next Generation Galaxy Tab to have 8-Core processor
The rumor mill always loves Samsung and the latest is that the company is developing a next generation Galaxy Tab that will feature an eight core Exynos 5 Octa processor, a chip that has four low powered cores dedicated to handling low powered tasks in order to extend battery life.

While Samsung has been talking about the processor technology since the start of the year it has not named a product, as of yet, that it plans to use with the chip. SamMobile is now reporting that it will be in a Galaxy Tab to be released later this year that will feature either a 10.1 HD screen or a 11.6-inch HD screen.

LG to build smartwatch?
While Apple’s iWatch and Google’s smartwatch development programs are still only rumors and Samsung has talked about its plans in a relatively vague manner others are already joining into this (overhyped?) market. The latest is LG Electronics which is reported to be planning on developing a rival offering.

The Korean Times, via Yahoo, is reporting that LG is now looking at developing a connected watch that will compete with the smartwatches that are being developed by rivals. It said that company officials belive this to be the next must have device.