I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

The iOS weather-app market

I’ve never loved a weather app on my iPhone or iPad. I like my favorite one, My-Cast Weather Radar, but only slightly more than Apple’s built-in Weather app. And it’s iPhone-only — I’ve never found an iPad weather app that I liked.

Ben Brooks just reviewed a bunch of iPhone weather apps, liked My-Cast the most, and concluded:

The main problem with weather apps is that there are too many and 99% of them suck. That means finding the gems, the useable ones, is incredibly difficult and often expensive. […] Most apps try to add too much eye candy, instead of thinking about what the users of the app really need and want to see.

I’ve thought about the weather market a lot because it’s one of the few iOS-app markets that I’ve strongly considered entering. Over a year ago, Craig Hockenberry and I discussed a collaboration to make exactly the sort of weather app we wanted, but then the iPad happened and we both became too busy. Since then, we decided to abandon the project because it’s just too difficult of a market to succeed in.

The potential market is huge: almost everyone checks the weather occasionally. It’s even bigger on iPad, since Apple doesn’t provide a built-in weather app. But it’s also extremely competitive, with established TV networks and big-name services taking most of it, and a lot of smaller developers fighting over the rest. But none of them offered the app that we wanted.

Most apps are targeted at either of two extremes: extremely simplistic, lacking the information we sometimes want, or too information-dense, full of numbers and measurements that weather geeks want but casual people like us don’t care about.

We wanted, essentially, a “plus” version of Apple’s Weather app, with Apple’s aesthetic style and minimal presentation but with slightly more information available whenever it’s relevant. For instance, a radar map is nice, but only when precipitation is imminent. Approximate chance-of-rain estimates are helpful when they’re non-zero, but they don’t need to be precise (especially since they’re predictions that often end up being wrong) — a graphic would do instead of a percentage. It’s relevant whether the precipitation is expected early or late in the day, but we don’t need hourly forecasts (since, again, they’re often wrong). I’d like to know if it’s going to be noticeably humid or dry, but only if that humidity level is unusual for the season and region. I care if it’s windy, but I don’t care which direction it’s coming from or how fast it’s blowing. And, since I’m not an airplane pilot, I only care about fog and low visibility if it’s going to be noticeable when driving a car.

The problem here is similar to any other general app category with a lot of potential for customer dissatisfaction, like to-do lists and notepads: the features that I care about aren’t going to perfectly match the features that you, or anyone else, will care about. I could make my perfect weather app, but very few others would be satisfied with it. (I bet even Craig and I would have disagreed on many of the details.)

I’d still love for someone else to make our perfect Apple-Weather-Plus app, but I don’t think it will ever be exactly what I want. But there’s not enough time in life to make exactly what I want in every category, so I’ll probably yield this one to a tentative joint victory between Apple and My-Cast, with neither of them being such a great fit that I could delete the other one.