More and less weather

Like everyone else, I went to the App Store yesterday and bought Check the Weather, the new app from David Smith. Unlike everyone else, I had a serious test for it: to help me decide when I should start my bike ride home from work to avoid the worst of the rain. We’ll get to that after a brief overview.

Check the Weather is an app that couldn’t have existed a few years ago. It’s not that it’s especially resource-hungry (not that I know of, anyway), it’s that its interface assumes a usage grammar that barely existed in the early days of the iPhone. Here’s the main screen:

CTW main screen

There are, apparently, no buttons. If you want more information than the main screen gives you, you swipe. Swiping to the right reveals an hour-by-hour forecast for the rest of the day.

CTW hourly forecast

Swiping to the left reveals a day-by-day forecast for the next couple of weeks.

CTW daily forecast

Swiping up reveals the local weather radar and the Dark Sky short-term rain forecast.

CTW radar and rain forecast

Note that these supplemental screens don’t entirely replace the main screen; there’s always some of it still showing (albeit darkened) to remind you which way to swipe to get back.

How are you supposed to know to swipe in the first place? When Check the Weather is first launched, it takes you through a quick tutorial. It also asks if you’ll allow it to access Location Services, which you certainly should—that’s the easiest way to tell it where you are so you get the local forecast.

There is, by the way, one button on the main screen. If you tap the Current Location at the top of the screen, you’ll be taken to a screen that lets you create and choose from a series of saved locations, and set a couple of defaults (Fahrenheit vs. Celsius and 12-hour vs. 24-hour clock).

The information Check the Weather provides is nice, but a little less than I’d hoped for. I like that the main screen gives the sunrise and sunset times, but I wish it also provided the wind speed and direction. Wind chill and heat index, when appropriate, would be nice, too.

There’s more than I’d hoped for, too. The extended forecast is just silly—predictions beyond a few days are hopelessly unreliable. I get the feeling they’re present only because there’s a lot of vertical space to fill. (These screenshots are from an iPhone 5. I assume the forecast is truncated by a couple of days on shorter phones.)

The short-term rain forecast is a nice idea. I suspect Check the Weather is the first app to use Dark Sky’s API, and it does a nice job of presenting the forecast. The drops on the left side indicating the intensity of the rain is a nice touch, and it was a good idea to forgo the animated wiggly line in the graph. I like the wiggle in Dark Sky itself, but it would look out of place in Check the Weather.

Will it take the place of my own little weather CGI script? Yes and no. Certainly, it’ll be what I use when traveling, because my script is tied to where I live. But the lack of wind info in Check the Weather is a serious downside for me, at least during biking season when I often have to fight the wind.

Output from my weather CGI script

As for Check the Weather’s performance yesterday, when I needed to time my bike ride home to avoid getting thoroughly soaked, its inclusion of the Dark Sky short-term rain forecast was a big help, but its depiction of the size of the storm has me worried about the accuracy of its radar, which it apparently doesn’t get from Dark Sky. The radar screenshot from CTW above was taken when I was trying to decide when to leave work. Here’s what Dark Sky looked like at the same time:

Dark Sky radar

There’s a big difference between the two, and Dark Sky’s was definitely better. This may have been an aberration; later that evening, CTW’s radar gave a more realistic view of how big the storm was. This isn’t really Check the Weather’s fault—David Smith isn’t creating his own radar images—but it does seem odd that its source could have gotten it so wrong.

I like Check the Weather. I like the way it looks and I like the way it works. If David Smith could find a way to add wind information to the main screen (without messing up the aesthetics), I’d chuck my CGI script and use it both at home and when traveling. I don’t think it could supplant Dark Sky, because Dark Sky’s radar is just so good, but it could be my one all-purpose weather app.