I have a horrifying golf swing. I bend my arm when I shouldn't. I have the follow-through of a lovelorn-but-unconfident teenager. My head bops up at the exact moment that years of golf instruction have taught me to keep it down. And while I may not know the precise direction the ball will fly when my club makes contact with it--if my club makes contact with it--I can predict fairly comfortably that it's not going to be the direction I think I'm aiming.
I know all this, because my iPhone can tell me. Or to be more precise, the golf instructor watching from the other end of a video captured by my iPhone's camera can tell me. More important, that same instructor can tell me what I need to do to improve without us ever meeting face to face.
All of this golfing enlightenment comes courtesy of MobiCoach, which uses an app, a Bluetooth accessory, and your own mobile device to connect you with instructors from reputable golf academies around the world. The idea is to remove the physical barriers between you and an instructor--the app lets you seek out coaching whether you're at a driving range or in your backyard--so that you practice regularly and avoiding falling into the kind of bad habits that have overpowered my golf game.
Mobiplex, the company which offers the MobiCoach product, touts it as real-time, remote golf coaching and video analysis service. "It's a very advanced collaborative platform," Vijay Nadkarni, Mobiplex's founder and CEO, told me as he demonstrated MobiCoach on the terrace outside TechHive's offices. (Proof, I guess, that you really can work on your golf game just about anywhere.)
There's certainly no disputing the demand for services that help you improve at golf, a game that got its name only because all of the good curse words were already taken. And the advent of smartphones has brought about another avenue for delivering golfers the tips they crave.
The mobile SwingTip Golf Swing Analyzer app pairs with a $100 SwingTip sensor that attaches to the shaft of a golf club. When you swing, the sensor is gathering data on your swing speed and tempo, which it shares with the app over Bluetooth. (The sensor itself runs on a rechargeable battery. Nadkarni says that a fully charged device could last for 1,000 swings in a practice session, which isn't my actual score for an 18-hole round of golf, though sometimes it feels like it.) The sensor also triggers the camera on an iOS device you've got set up nearby so that you can capture video of your swing.
Lots of apps record data and analyze it, though. For example, a pair of mobile offerings from Shotzoom, Golfshot GPS and Golfplan with Paul Azinger, take the stats you record during a round of golf and use those numbers to formulate customized lesson plans that include video tips. Another iOS and Android offering, V1 Golf also has a video-capture feature and lets you compare your swings with how the pros do it.
MobiCoach's SwingTip pacakage differs from those apps by bringing the remote instruction aspect into the mix. Via the SwingTip app, you can connect with coaches--Mobiplex has lined up Nicklaus Academies, Troon Golf Academy, and Jeff Ritter Golf as partners. When it's time for your scheduled appointment--you book a time through the MobiCoach website--you can talk to your golf coach through a Voice over IP call in the app. Instructors can capture video of your swing remotely and play it back in real-time, using whiteboarding tools to pinpoint areas to work on. In my practice session, an instructor on the other end of our call watched a video of me swinging and--after a remarkable effort to choke down any laughter--was able to illustrate on my mobile device just where things had gone wrong. You're starting to bend your arm here. Make sure you follow through on your backswing. Hey, maybe it's not too late to take up tennis.
I probably imagined that last one.
The VoIP connection comes through loud and clear from the SwingTip app, though Nadkarni points out that you can use a Bluetooth headset if you prefer. Still, we were practicing outside with the noises of a busy San Francisco street wafting up around us, and I was able to hear every word the golf instructor had to tell me about my swing. In fact, the biggest challenge isn't sound but sight--on particularly bright days, it can be hard to see the screen of your iOS devices, so you may find yourself straining to watch the playback of your swing under the sun's unforgiving glare.
People who make a living at athletic training and coaching seem intrigued by the possibilities of incorporating mobile into their business, and MobiCoach's take on remote instruction feels like the next step in that. Other training services have tapped into distance learning, where a trainer in a far-flung locale connects with students--take Wello, which features live streaming workouts for yoga, Pilates, aerobics, and other exercises classes. MobiCoach is taking it a step further by making the sessions more one-on-one and focusing exclusively on mobile handheld devices.
Still, there's some doubt on just how effective an instructor who's not even in the same room as you let alone the same part of the world can be when teaching you the finer points of a particular sport. Jordan Fliegel is CEO of CoachUp, a service that finds instructors for young athletes from a network of 10,000 vetted coaches through either its website or iOS and Android apps, and he sees in-person training as a critical part of that offering. "To really train, it needs to be in person," Fliegel told me. "You need to see someone's footwork, you need to correct their form." And that happens best for most sports he argues, when instructor and student are on the same room and not on opposite ends of a network connection.
Mobiplex's Nadkarni counters that mobile instruction has several advantages over hauling your clubs down to the local course and booking some time with the golf pro on the premises. For one, those in-person sessions usually require you to book an hour of time; MobiCoach lets you schedule 15-minute sessions with an instructor if that's your preference. (Longer blocks of time are also available.) You can use MobiCoach anywhere and at any time that's convenient for you, Nadkarni continues. And that frequency is the key to boosting your game.
Rates vary for MobiCoach instructors, who set their own fees, but pricing starts for around $25 for a 15-minute session. When you log into the MobiCoach website, you can review coach bios, rates, and schedule availability to set your training times.
Nadkarni sees MobiCoach's blend of sensors, apps, and remote coaches working for other sports, too, citing tennis and baseball as potential examples where an athlete's form can be corrected with the help of video playback and some distance coaching. For now, though, Mobiplex will focus on golf. With duffers like me, that market figures to be lucrative enough.