Weather apps are design sandboxes

Weather apps are design sandboxes

Weather apps are design sandboxes

October 31, 2022

From Twitter Apps to Weather Apps

A decade ago, Twitter had a developer API and anyone could build a Twitter app. It resulted in all sorts of delightful applications around writing and reading tweets.

And dozens of hundreds of more that time has unfortunately forgotten.

As Daring Fireball wrote, Twitter apps were a UI Design Playground:

There are several factors that make Twitter a nearly ideal playground for UI design. The obvious ones are the growing popularity of the service itself and the relatively small scope of a Twitter client.

Unfortunately, Twitter changed their API policies and the age of Twitter client innovation rapidly petered out.

I think, in 2022, the equivalent of this are weather apps. Sure, you probably are not going to make millions of dollars from designing a weather app, but you can make a nifty business. And hey, you never know if Apple or some other mysterious suitor will acquire you.

Weather Apps are a Product Design sandbox

Anyway, all apps - from Fox News Weather, to Weather Line, to any other weather app have one user story:

  1. Tell me the weather!

And most critically, they all do it in the exact same way:

  1. pull weather data from an API

  2. store it somehow

  3. render that weather information

And yet all weather apps look and feel radically different.

There’s a massive opportunity to innovate in the weather app space — because the data is so commoditised, the onus on the creator is around product design — for example:

  • Weather Line was supremely beautiful

  • Weather Up plots weather forecasts over a geographic map

  • Carrot Weather had humorous weather forecasts.

You may think “how disruptive can humorous weather forecasts be?” but this app received critical acclaim from Apple and probably resulted in hundreds of thousands of installs:

Again, this app broadly speaking does nothing radically different to any other weather app: it’s simply a collection of wonderful details all wrapped up in a great differentiated user experience.

And Apple themselves are no slouch at weather apps, upping their game significantly after Jonathan Ive being so jealous of the design of Yahoo’s weather app that it tormented him and drove him and Apple to up their game:

Marissa Mayer ran into Jony Ive, the famous Apple designer, at an industry event.

Ive sidled up to Mayer and, in a confiding tone, told her, “I’m tormented by the Weather app, Marissa.”

“I’m so jealous,” said Ive, in his British accent. “I don’t get jealous.”

... Less than a year later, Apple released a much acclaimed redesigned weather app.

Comparing Weather Apps

Not convinced? Let’s compare and contrast three popular weather apps — these are all showing the exact same thing but all look and feel totally different. These products have found success by thoughtfully innovating and differentiating themselves — since all weather apps use the same underlying data, you can really see and appreciate the innovation here.

  • The (much acclaimed but I personally think is average at best) Apple weather app

  • Hello Weather (which is the only weather app I can find that shows both celsius and fahrenheit in one UI)

  • Weather Strip (a deeply underrated weather app that has a unique scrolling horizontal view)

    I’d love to hear what your favourite weather app is! What details or features make you use it over other apps?

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