I was nipping across Carrall Street for a guilty pleasure the other night and ran into the fellow who’s helped out at Glory Food Market since years before I moved into the neighbourhood. I suppose we were both feeling unimaginitive, as Oscar Wilde may or may not have thought, or at least said, but he said he doubted he’d be able to go for a cycle that evening, as he had the night before when he had been caught in rain. I said I thought he was safe in that respect, and he replied, you never know. Actually, you do, I said.
Well, almost. Thanks to a nifty weather service called Forecast, one can, on their iPhone or other device, get a very specific prediction of precipitation for the next hour :
I have found this aspect of the service to be fairly accurate. Overall, however, my experience with Forecast, and iOS weather apps in general, has been fraught. As a result I’ve turned into something of a weather app junkie. It seems a lot of others have as well, and the field is crowded. But it seems particularly difficult for most of them to get things right. For me, at the simplest level this means the ability to tell me accurately whether or not I need to carry an umbrella for the day. This is an important question in Vancouver for much of the year, and it is surprising how often most of the apps get it wrong, in my experience—and entirely anecdotally, but consistently enough over the course of a couple of years to be quite noticeable.
It is also surprising how tempting it is to try to live with the apps that sport a nifty user experience, or at least a beautiful data display. Weather apps are not usually “deep,” or I’m normally only interested in the initial display which purports to answer my basic question above; so interaction design—behaviour—is usually not bad, or not central. (I have quickly discarded those apps where it has been.) I have always been particular about the design of software, down to their icons: I am even loathe to ugly up my Springboard (or Dock) with anything but the best-finessed set of pixels. Luckily, I’ve found that there is generally a good correlation between the quality of app design and functionality.
Except for weather apps, or the predictions they provide for Vancouver. There are some nicely designed entrants, like Yahoo! Weather (although it has a lousy icon):
Unfortunately this app, along with almost all the others, cannot seem reliably to predict rain, and it doesn’t really matter how lovely an app looks if it doesn’t work. There is the Apple Weather app: it is easy to look at and I think it has been unfairly maligned, as it in my experience no less accurate than most of the others:
The Weather Network app seems to be among the most popular with people I’ve surveyed informally; unfortunately, along with suffering from the same general inaccuracy as the others, it looks a bit cartoonish:
There have been others, many others, with which I’ve experienced more or less the same results: being caught without an umbrella; or strolling through sunshine with one that has been reduced to functioning as a cane.
So I was excited when Forecast became available in Canada. It doesn’t look half bad, and it is easy to pick up and use its gesture-based interface (I like the little bouncy hint that’s displayed when it is first opened):
Forecast is “backed by a wide range of data sources, which are aggregated together statistically to provide the most accurate forecast possible for a given location.” (There are other apps, like Weathertron, which use the same consolidated data.)
Unfortunately, I’ve found that an average of wrong tends to be wrong. (It’s interesting to ponder why the inaccuracy. I have a colleague who told me a few years back he had a meteorologist friend who claimed that many of the weather services use computer modelling, rather than a meteorologist, to predict the Vancouver weather. Whether or why this would be the case, I don’t know.)
So I’ve been coming back again and again to the one app that seems to be able to answer my umbrella question most consistently. It is called Atmosphérique Pro, and while it and its icon are not the best of the lot, it is as far as I can tell the only weather app that uses, or uses exclusively, Environment Canada as its data source.
As another Vancouver “winter” approaches, I’ll keep Atmosphérique Pro on the first page of my Springboard, and continue to cast around for alternatives. If there’s a weather app you depend on, please leave a comment.