Sports Illustrated App Hits iPhone, Celebrates With Augmented Reality Magazine Cover

I’m no athlete, but I’ve found that a passing knowledge of sports comes in handy when conversations take a turn for the awkward. The question then is where do sports fans (and wannabes like me) go to get the skinny?

With publications and websites all vying for our limited attention spans, they’re turning to increasingly impressive ways to grab our attention, and Sports Illustrated is no exception. After building a presence in the Android Market and on the iOS with their Swimsuit Editions, the folks behind the long-running magazine have announced that the Sports Illustrated app has finally made the leap to the iPhone. It seems they’re in the mood to celebrate the occasion too (or at least capitalize on sports-hungry iPhone fans), as the magazine’s latest issue is rocking a smartphone-friendly makeover.

Now that in and of itself isn’t a huge surprise for SI — they’ve used Microsoft Tags in the past to liven up their Swimsuit Edition, allowing smartphone users to view exclusive video content if they used a separate barcode scanning app. Once a user fires up the new (or for Android users, updated) SI app, they’ll find that code scanning functionality has been folded into the app itself, allowing SI to own the experience completely — no more having to search through the App Store for a compatible barcode reader before getting access to the good stuff.

Also new to the app is an augmented-reality viewer, which SI uses to impressive effect with the cover of their latest print issue. No bikini-clad women here — they’re giving all the augmented reality love to the stars of the NCAA. Firing up the AR viewer and pointing it at the cover of their NCAA Basketball Tournament Preview pops up images that link to preview videos and player interviews.

It’s a very cool way for Sports Illustrated to deliver additional content to their subscribers, and I suspect SI will to continue to run with these sorts of print-digital convergence events for a while, if only out of necessity. Magazine sales (especially standalone or newsstand sales) have slumped pretty dramatically over the past few years, and players like SI have to balance the expenses of pushing out a print product along with building out their online coverage. Augmented print issues like this are nice, but it seems as though they’re really trying to highlight the strength of their digital platform — after all, that’s where the real money is.