Finding a Good Weather App for the iPhone

Last week my favorite iPhone weather app was updated to include iAds — not just any iAds, but ones that are pixelated and crappy looking. It is so bad that I don’t even want to use the app any more. So I set out to find an app that would show me the same type of data, in a similar or better manner.

Here’s what I want from a weather app:

  1. Speed, needs to launch a pull the data quickly (especially over 3G).
  2. Needs to immediately show me the current conditions. With current temperature and whether is is raining being paramount.
  3. Needs to show me the forecast in a way that I can quickly scan the data to get an idea of the weather trend, I prefer not to scroll in this view.
  4. If there are doppler maps, they need to work and work quickly. (Looking at you Weather Channel app)
  5. I don’t want to click through many panels to get basic information that could be shown on one screen.

Here’s what I found.

WeatherSnitch

This is the app that has been my go to for months. I love to keep the app on the month view and it shows me 14 days worth of weather data. I have. in the past, had problems with some of the further out forecasts and general accuracy, but for the most part it is a fast and an easy way for me to see what the weather trend will be for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, they have implemented iAds and given the user no option to pay for an upgrade to remove them. WeatherSnitch is my baseline for all of these test and here is what may favorite view of the app looks like:

Fahrenheit

This app has been making the rounds lately for its novel ability to display live temperature information on the apps icon by way of badge notifications (the little red bubble with a number in it). The app is $0.99 and universal. The interface is clean and uninspiring. You get nine days worth of forecasts in a scrolling view and tapping any of those days gives you more information about the forecast for the day. Overall the data is presented in a very clean and fast manner.

While I know that the badge notification is the main feature of the app — I wish you could turn it off. This would be a very good app without that badge indicator on it all the time. Turning it off in the notifications panel on the iPhone only resulted in stale information on the badge. The app only has one view, but I think it presents the data fairly nicely, but it makes point #2 above very had to glean. The current conditions are barely any more prominently displayed than the forecast data — that’s a losing proposition for me. 95% of the time I look at a weather app it is so that I know what the weather is like right now.

Weather+

This app is made by the same company as the last, and this app is pretty weird — costing another $0.99. The entire experience feels more Android like than it does iOS. You get a series of widgets (which you have very minimal control over) that are overlaid on top of a moving image that rotates based on current weather conditions. The whole app is just not my cup of tea — from the non-standard UI to the ugly icon.

WxQuickie

This is an odd app — a niche app much like Thermo — it is free and only shows you the weather information for the day. Instead of telling you precise numbers you get something that says “Today will be much warmer than yesterday.” That’s definitely a niche market. You can, in fact, get tomorrows forecast shown in the same one sentence line by hitting a little button. Once you do that though the only way to get back to the current weather is to let the application “find” your location once again — yes, there is no back button. There is also a tastefully done add along the bottom that blends very nicely in the app. (The icon is ridiculous.) I rather like the app, but I don’t see it being very practical for people that live in areas that have different weather on different days (if you live where it is always sunny, then this is perhaps all you need).

The Weather

This has the most impressive icon of the bunch and the most UI chrome as well — it was also recommended by many with the caveat that it is slow and crashy, sounds great. It’s going to set you back $0.99 to use and for that you get a very fragmented weather app. There is a series of tabs along the top that fragment data other apps show on one screen. The first screen tells you the current conditions, which doesn’t include wind or temperature. Next you get the temp, then humidity, next up is wind speeds and direction, then the six day outlook (which surprisingly has all the data that was broken apart for each day), then you get any weather alerts, and lastly you have a nice doppler map. This is a rather cumbersome way to view the weather and while it is all presented very nicely, it is anything but quick to see this information. I am passing because I feel like I would need to update the app and start over by the time I get done seeing all the original information about the current weather conditions.

The Weather Channel

This is a pretty generic free app — the data I have always found to be spot on, but the look of the UI has always been something just shy of terrible. Nothing has changed, but in a pinch this is an app I know that I can go to that will give me fast, accurate, information. It’s good, it’s better than the stock weather app, but it is not great by any definition — mostly the UI is hideous and I have always found the doppler maps to be very slow.

Weather!

It uses Marker Felt. It has iAds. Hitting the info tab actually brings up relevant weather info that you would expect to be a part of the main view. This isn’t very good at all.

WeatherBug Free

This is the only app that needed a progress bar to find my location — why? Not all of the graphics are optimized for the retina display. The graphics are a bit cheesy looking, but the data presented in the initial view is adequate. The forecast tab is anything but great. While a synopsis for upcoming days is given (nice touch) the data requires too much scrolling, making it hard to get a general idea of what the weather will be like — typically I just need a general idea, not a day by day detail.

Weatherbug Elite

Many people recommended this over the free version, so I gave it a go. My thoughts are the same as the free version, just minus the comments on iAds.

AccuWeather

First things first, you have to agree to the ToS for the app before you can use it — not sure why, this is after all a weather app. This is also the only app that didn’t find my current location by default, forcing you to go into the settings to add your location and delete the default ones — that seems a bit antiquated to me. There is an iAd along the top, a bit distracting, however I really like how the data is displayed in this app. The current temp and conditions is clear and very crisp. Extra niceties are shown like, sunrise and sunset, wind speed, and others. A quick swipe brings up the hourly data without leaving the main screen. There is a full week forward outlook and the data is again displayed very cleanly. Tapping forecast days gives you a bit more information and the large condition graphics allow you to scroll quickly to get an idea of what the weather will be doing. For me though I can’t get a sense of trends quickly and I still have to stare at an iAd.

Pocket Weather

This is by far the slowest of all the apps tested to get new data. The graphics are very cheese ball as well. Honestly this app isn’t very good. There is an iAd along the bottom and the graphics are goofy and don’t allow you to just glance at them to see what is going on. The font is too small and makes it hard to get data fast.

Weddar

Weddar is a new entry in the overly crowded app store market for weather apps. It is social, so it is crowd sourced information. It’s a great concept — except there are no users. Here’s all I got out of it:

Testing out the app the next day I got three more bubbles for a total of four — that’s just not going to cut it for me.

Mercury

Mercury is like a new twist of Thermo — you get the current temp in large text, the progress of the day (meaning dots to represent how far past sunrise you are, and obviously how close to sunset you are). A nice little graphic to tell you what the conditions are (rain, cloudy, sunny). Your location and a tab bar at the bottom. Swipe to the left and you get tomorrows forecast. Tap the temp and you get today’s forecast (highs and lows). Tap the information tab and you get a ton of details for today’s weather, love it. Here’s the thing, I love this app — more so that I do Thermo — but it’s not THE weather app for me since I would still need two apps.

Weather Underground Web App

This was recommended a few times so I “installed” it — being that it is just a mobile webpage, I added it to the homescreen. It is quick and provides a lot of detail and information — none of which is easy to pick out. This is an app for people who want to read about the weather, not for people who want to glance at the weather — I am a glancer. That’s neither good or bad, it just is. The tap zones for switching between current and forecast are also uncomfortably small for my fingers, overall though this is a nice little web interface.

My-Cast

This app is a bit hard to find in the app store and is priced at $3.99, which initially turned me away. At the recommendation of more than a few people I purchased it. I like the opening screen — showing me the current conditions and temperature in larger type. There is a nice bunch of additional data like wind speed and pressure. Scrolling down you get historical averages and the highs and lows for the day that have been recorded thus far.

The forecast tab is where this app really earns its money — it only shows you six days into the future, but the data is very scannable to see what the weather will be doing. Most importantly, is the landscape view — you get a graph that shows you the temperature as a bar chart over the forecasted period, which very quickly will allow you to get a sense of the weather trend. Awesome.

This app also has the best and fastest doppler radar map integration I have seen — which is to say that it actually works. The graphics are just OK in the app and the icon is rather poor. Having said that, this is the best of all the weather apps I tested and my new go to. I also like that the current temperature is shown in the tab bar so that you always know that while looking at the other data — a nice touch.

Weather Apps In General

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. Part of the problem that is leading to this clutter is how freely available weather data is — you just need to design the presentation, no gathering of information is really needed since you just pull it from APIs.

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.

As I said My-Cast is the best of the lot that I tested, but it is far from being perfect. I would love to see someone take a weather app seriously — for now though My-Cast will be on my homescreen.

Apps recommended to me, but not tested:

  • Stock Apple weather app (never have liked it).
  • Weather HD. While beautiful, I have it for the iPad, it’s not what I want for my iPhone.
  • WeatherStation. Great app, but again not what I am looking for.
  • Outside app. It just looked so damned goofy from the screenshots I couldn’t bring myself to download and pay for it.

[Updated: 4.26.11 at 3:12 PM]

Here’s a follow-up post to this one, touching on somethings I left out.

Originally posted for members on: April 26, 2011
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