Ben Brooks recently surveyed the iPhone weather app market and came to a similar conclusion that I did back in August 2009 regarding the quality of the apps available.
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. There are some very good single purpose offerings like Thermo and Mercury, most though are cluttered messes that have an ad stuck somewhere on the screen. Most are pretty bad.
And this is my take on iPhone weather applications from mid-2009:
The problem is that they all have cluttered user interfaces and are filled with information that normal users don’t really care about.
Ben settled on My-Cast after looking at over a dozen options. He chose not to review my current favorite, Outside, because “it just looked so damned goofy from the screenshots.” I can see why someone would think it looks goofy, but I honestly think it looks a lot better than My-Cast. I’d much rather look out a cartoonish window than have to stare at all of the different colored gradients that My-Cast has to offer.
One of the reasons I keep using Outside is because of how quickly I can see everything I need about current or future weather conditions. I simply launch the app and immediately see the current temperature and precipitation. This is really all I need to know about the weather. And, if I’m curious what the conditions will be like for the rest of the day, I swipe to the left. You can also view forecasts for the following four days and more detailed information can be obtained by swiping down. One can argue that Outside focuses too much on design, but nearly every bit of the design is information regarding weather conditions.
Marco Arment added to the discussion revealing that Craig Hockenberry and himself discussed developing a weather app over a year ago. I would love to see these two guys tackle this market. Craig and Marco are some of the most intelligent iPhone developers I’ve come across and they both spend time thinking about the little details that other developers don’t. That’s exactly why people enjoy their applications so much. The details matter, a lot.
One of the ideas Marco mentioned for weather applications is to hide irrelevant information — why display wind speed if it’s zero? I haven’t seen a single weather application do this. But after reading about it, it seems so obvious.
But, this bit towards the end is where Marco nails it:
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.
One of the reasons that the weather app market is so crowded is because nearly everyone checks the weather forecast. But, the other reason that the market is so crowded is because each one of those developers has a different idea of how a weather app should look, feel, and what information it should display. Outside is the best weather app I’ve seen, but it’s far from my idealweather app. And this seems to be the sentiment that everyone has towards their weather app of choice, unless they developed it themselves.