May 18, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Apple’s weather mayhem is restarting the weather app market

Apple’s weather mayhem is restarting the weather app market

Prediction advisor It may be the best kept secret in the weather business. It’s a website, run by a company called Intellovations, that compares the accuracy of dozens of the biggest weather forecasters. You enter your zip code (it only works in the US), and the service reorders based on how correctly it predicts the weather for the past month and year. You might be shocked at how different different sources are and how bad some of them are at predicting the weather.

Depending on the weather app you’re using, this is very actionable information. Many third-party weather apps allow you to switch between data sources, so you can choose the most accurate one near you – AccuWeatherin my case – and immediately enjoy a more useful weather system.

Knowing your forecast is also helpful, because there’s no such thing as a perfect weather data source. “Whether it’s because of the model they’re using, or whether they have a lot of weather stations in that area to provide a great deal of coverage, or whether they have access to radar data, it’s impossible for one to get complete coverage everywhere,” says Brian Mueller, creator Islands weather.

Want more weather apps? We also talked about it on The Vergecast.

Data is only part of the equation, too. Each source also has its own algorithms for processing that data and tools for disseminating it. says Jonas Downey, co-founder of hello weather’ And write a lot about what’s going to happen. Some of them are really brief, like ‘Partly Cloudy.’ And then some of them say, ‘There will be light clouds in the afternoon and a light breeze.’ I like the ones with more empathy, you know?”

Instead of giving you a single weather service provider, a lot of weather apps offer a number of sources. They build ways for you to cycle through sources to find the most accurate one, and more than one developer has told me they’re trying to find a way to integrate a forecast advisor to help. They’re hoping that one way to compete with built-in apps and convince people to download — and even pay for — a third-party weather system is that they can simply do it better.

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Dark Sky was a huge loss for weather app fans – and weather app developers

It’s been a strange few years for the weather app industry. In 2020, Apple announced that it had acquired Dark Sky, a beloved weather app that was also the data provider for a slew of other weather apps. At the beginning of this year, Dark Sky stopped working, and the API was closed in March. Meanwhile, Apple has added some of Dark Sky’s technology to its Weather app and replaced the Dark Sky API with its own tool called WeatherKit.

Many users and developers were saddened by the loss of Dark Sky. She was A masterpiece of data-driven design, and its API was easy to integrate and cheap to use. It also offered minute-to-minute weather data long before most other providers, making “it’s going to rain in 8 minutes” notifications possible. “I don’t think we would have made a weather app if it wasn’t for Dark Sky,” says Trevor Turk, Hello Weather’s other co-founder. Unlike most providers, Dark Sky is set up to provide all the data you need with a single API request; Instead of asking about each data point, the app could say, “What’s the weather like?” and get a complete answer. The reason so many weather apps are designed to show current weather, then hourly, then daily, then weekly forecasts, is because Dark Sky has organized its data.

Way back, Dark Sky was just as good as its weather app design.
Photo: Dan Seifert

Then things got worse when Apple Weather and WeatherKit started to break spectacularly. In early April, the Weather app stopped providing data several times, replacing forecasts with error messages. Developers who have been using WeatherKit as their data source for hours at a time are not so lucky. “Not all users have been able to check the weather for some time,” says Anton Chiku, developer of an app called Weather Fit. “From a technical point of view, it’s not stable.”

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However, that chaos also presented an opportunity. Downloads of five big-name weather apps jumped an average of 170 percent in the week of outages, per market intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The weekly active users of these apps jumped 9 percent in the same week. Things have slowed down a bit with Apple Weather’s recovery, but it still shows developers that there’s room for something more.

With Dark Sky gone and WeatherKit unreliable, a lot of weather apps are starting to integrate with multiple sources to make sure they’re always online and to deliver the most accurate forecast everywhere. It’s a tough UI challenge, though: giving users a fully-featured, digestible prediction is hard enough, let alone five or six slightly different predictions.

All this data is also very expensive. Hello Weather’s Downey says, “We’re going to have to access each data source each time you request it and then somehow combine all the data together.” “It’s going to be slow And Expensive.” “We’re also not legally allowed to do that,” says Turk. The data providers’ terminology actually precludes the data being combined with other sources or even used as a comparison tool.

Carrot Weather is an app that mixes a simple design with huge amounts of data.
Photo: Islands Weather

As a result, many weather apps have switched to subscriptions—Carrot Weather now costs about $20 a year, and Hello Weather runs about $13 a year. That’s a steep price to replace an app that ostensibly came with your phone for free.

In order to make it worthwhile, these apps lean deeper into data and cater to weather geeks. Mueller-Carrott, for example, says he’s spent most of the past year building new radar instruments. “So, the radar in the United States comes from individual radar stations,” he says. “And then in most applications, they fuse the radar stations’ data together into a mosaic that covers the entire country.” But individual stations update faster and with more accurate data than the mosaic as a whole. “And there’s another combination,” Mueller says, “such as speed, which tells where the winds are spinning, and the ‘correlation coefficient’ that’s useful for seeing debris flying into the air from a tornado.” It puts all of this stuff into Carrot Weather while trying to make sure users can figure it out.

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Weather apps cater to the weather nerds more than ever

Weather apps have to walk a tricky line: They have to give you the one screen experience where you can open the app and learn about the weather in a second or two while offering the kind of depth and knowledge no app has ever been built into. It then slowly leads users down the rabbit hole, teaching them how to read radar and compare forecasts.

For the average person, Apple Weather and its ilk are probably fine at last. “I think it will be like Apple Maps,” says Hello Weather’s Turk. “When Apple Maps came out, it was bad.” But in the end, it got better. To stay ahead of the curve, developers know they’ll have to keep looking for ways to do more and get better. They’re all contemplating what the weather apps might look like on Apple’s long-rumored and imminent headphones, and preparing for all the new features they’ll have to adopt when the next version of iOS is announced in June.

But they believe the real competitive advantage is being better at telling you the weather. “There’s something psychological about this,” says Downey of Hello Weather. “The weather happens to you, and you can’t control it. And a weather app gives you that feeling of control.” And that means more data, more data sources, and more tools for people to become their own meteorologists. Because not all weather apps are created equal, and there is no such thing as a perfect weather app for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you have to get caught in the rain.