April 21, 2017


Talking About the Weather

Weather is usually something pretty boring to talk about. Something reserved for last resorts to fill some awkward silence. Why is that? Is it because of how universally affected people are by the weather. It has a significant impact on every human's life. So on the most basic level, we all can think of something to say about it.

In my family weather is usually considered with a pretty high degree of curiosity. Maybe it's because my dad was a Navy man, or my brother's time working as part of the search and rescue helicopter crew in the Coast Guard. Whenever hurricane season starts I start scanning radar maps for potential storms far out in the Atlantic. And when the family vacation starts to approach, my dad and brother get excited checking the forecasts.

This got me thinking: What are the best weather apps? This seems to be a surprisingly elusive question, maybe due to how many there are, each with pretty much the same sort of pros and cons that really just boils down to personal tastes.

I've tried quite a few, and have some recommendations. First let me say that I am a bit picky about which apps I download. I tend to do a lot of research beforehand. Another caveat, I really don't like ads in my apps. In my research, Yahoo's weather app, the redesigned Weather Channel app, the Weather Underground app, and Dark Skies all were commonly referenced as great weather apps. I've also asked co-workers which apps they often rely on. Here is my review...

Native iOS weather app – If you use the iPhone and need a no frills app the one that's built into iOS will do. You can easily keep track of multiple locations and know what’s in store for the next seven days. Lacks advanced features, but hey its free and no ads!

The Weather Channel – I had assumed that the Weather Channel's official app would be the stand-out winner, but to be honest I was never very impressed with the experience using the app. I understand that it went through a pretty extensive redesign a few years back but still I find it to be pretty average. It does offer all the bells and whistles such as a radar map, an extended forecast, but it also features annoying ads, and was pretty sluggish especially if you're working on an older phone.

Solar – the first weather app that really impressed me visually was Solar. Solar has an extremely minimal and delightful interface. Colorful animated backgrounds with warmer colors indicate warmer weather, and cooler colors (blues) indicate cooler temps. Solar is the exact opposite of a feature rich app, instead it's focused on the aesthetic. It's just an ultra simple and elegant presentation of the weather. And although free, it never featured ads while I was using it. Solar is in my view the best looking weather app to date. However it has not been updated since 2013 so I am hesitant to suggesting using it.

Yahoo Weather – Yahoo tends to get a terrible rap when it comes to most of it's endevors, but Yahoo's weather app has been pretty amazing. It was for a while my main weather app because of it's very nice interface and greater degree of weather data. The app is free, but it does have some annoying ads that are not possible to remove. The nicest and most unique part of the app is the simple UI that features background images taken from local photographers' Flickr accounts (Flickr is a photo sharing service also owned by Yahoo). I've noticed that the backgrounds will update depending on where I am in the city, showing sculptures or areal shots when I'm near my office, or shots of the skyline when I'm closer to home. So it really takes advantage of location data to serve up interesting background images. This alone is reason to check it out. The UI also features minimalistic animations to depict when sever weather is happening, such as flashes to indicate lightning, or rain washing down the screen. The app has quite a lot of useful features including extended forecasts and a radar map. I really like the Yahoo weather app, but the fate of Yahoo after it's recent acquisition by Verizon has me questioning how much effort will continue to be put into keeping up with the app. Also the fact that I can't get rid of the ads is irksome.

Dark Sky Weather – A lot of my research favored the Dark Skies app for having a really nice design, and very accurate weather predictions, some suggesting to the minute accuracy.  It's not free however. It's a little on the expensive side as apps go, at $4, but at least it will never feature ads. The UI is very minimal and pleasing. I've not found the weather predictions to particularly more accurate than any other weather app but the presentation of the information is pretty appealing. And it does have a nicely designed radar map.

Weather Underground – By far the stand-out winner in my view is the Weather Underground app. The amount of information available is fantastic. With graphs charting the changing temperature overlaying chance of precipitation, detailed radar and other maps, and lots of other data available, you really get an advanced view of what the weather is shaping into. (The Weather Underground website also provides all the same detailed information, and has replaced weather.com as my go-to weather website.) The app comes with ads, but for a couple bucks you can pay to turn those off for a year. I wish Yahoo offered that feature. To me, the Weather Underground app has perfected having a lot of information available, with an understandable user interface.

It's worth noting that the Weather Channel cable channel and the weather.com website/app are no longer connected. In 2012 they were sold to a consortium and were brought under a new parent company renamed The Weather Company. In 2016 all the digital properties which include the website and the app became a property of IBM. The Weather Company is also the parent company of Weather Underground. So in a way, the Weather Channel app and the Weather Underground app are now sister apps.

if you're looking for an attractive minimal design with (apparently) ultra precise weather predictions, and don't mind paying a little, you might want to try the Dark Skies app. But the fact that you can turn off ads in Weather Underground, and the sheer amount of features it offers makes it a clear winner in my mind.

Labels: ,