Two years ago at this time we were fresh off a successful Kickstarter campaign and hard at work on the first version of Dark Sky. Back then we really didn’t know anything about the weather — none of the three of us had any meteorology experience at all — and in fact we didn’t really have any experience making apps. Setting aside this gem, Dark Sky was our first real foray into the world of iOS development.
In the intervening two years we managed to turn this little project into a full fledged weather service, and a platform for other app developers. Through trial and error (and more user emails than you can possibly imagine), we even managed to learn a thing or two about the weather.
Last year, we built Forecast.io as a full-featured weather web app to fill the gap in coverage left by Dark Sky’s tightly focused one-hour lens. But we never thought of Forecast as the “ultimate” weather app; there are just too many compromises that you have to make when developing for the web to really be able to push the limits of what’s possible. It was simply a way to get our data in front of as many people as we could, especially those who didn’t own an iPhone or iPad. But it was always a stop-gap on iOS; a temporary fix until we were able to learn enough to build a truly native app.
Today we’re launching that app in the form of the all new Dark Sky. Completely rewritten from scratch, it sets aside the limitations of the web to become the weather app we’ve always wanted — and always wanted to build. It’s the culmination of over two years of work in figuring out how to display and organize weather data the right way. And it’s a full featured weather app — something we swore we’d never do — but it still remains true to its original focus on what’s happening right now, where you’re standing.
Here’s what it looks like:
When you first launch it, despite having a radically new design, you’ll see much of the same information as the old Dark Sky: current temperature and conditions plus a graph of precipitation down-to-the-minute over the next 60 minutes. We’ve also added a couple useful additions such as the “feels like” temperature, whether it’s getting hotter or colder, and distance the nearest rain- or snowstorm, but we’ve tried to keep it as uncluttered as possible.
To get a detailed breakdown of what’s happening right now, just tap the current conditions circle to reveal lots more stuff:
One of the biggest changes, however, is the addition of longer-term forecasts. In studying how people use weather apps (ours and others), it’s become clear that the next 24 hours is hugely important. So much so that we’ve devoted an entire screen to a full breakdown of what’s going to happen in the next day. You’ll get a quick text summary, plus a timeline of cloud cover, precipitation, and temperature. You can see the high and low temperatures, and when the sun will rise and set. The challenge was designing it to be parsed and understood with a quick glance without sacrificing detail, and I’m really happy with the way it came out.
The third screen steps back further by providing a day-by-day breakdown of the next week. Tapping or swiping any of the days will give you further details:
All of this is, of course, backed by data from Forecast.
By far the thing I’m most excited about are the all new weather maps. The old Dark Sky focused on butter-smooth radar animations and the trade-off was the limited ability to pan and zoom the map. You were essentially stuck looking in the vicinity of individual radar stations. With the new Dark Sky, we’ve eliminated that compromise — you are free to explore the entire world as a single beautiful 3D globe and watch weather patterns evolve with absolutely gorgeous, smooth, animations. I know words like “gorgeous” get thrown around a lot, but check out our maps and tell me I’m wrong.
When zoomed out to a global scale, you’re able to drag the map into the future up to a week to see what is likely to happen. Knowing that a storm is coming is one thing, but actually being able to visualize it in advance really helps put it into context.
And if you zoom into an area where we have radar coverage (the US and British Isles), you’ll get a detailed view of current precipitation, to see exactly where and when the storm will hit.
In addition to precipitation, we’ve also added a sexy temperature layer. It uses our Quicksilver model to provide what is, to the best of our knowledge, the highest resolution real-time map of global temperature ever created.
Here is a video of the map in action:
The new version is a simple upgrade, free to existing Dark Sky customers, rather than a separate for-pay app or a paid upgrade.
The release of iOS 7 has certainly given app developers a good excuse to charge for upgrades, and many of them have taken advantage of the opportunity. We can understand that; the pay-once-but-support-forever model can be scary to us independent developers that rely on constant sales in order to make a living. But ultimately, we just couldn’t imagine forcing our users to pony up an additional $3.99 — a vast and princely sum in the world of mobile apps.
It has only been through the support of our users that we’ve managed to stick around for over two years. To be able to do that, to be profitable from day one, to avoid getting sucked into the unholy trap of seeking investment, to be truly independant, has been one of the most amazing — and fun — experiences of our professional lives.
So go ahead and download the best weather app ever created, and if you like it, make sure to leave us those nice juicy reviews in the App Store.
By Adam Grossman