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WeatherBug Elite 1.0

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WeatherBug Elite is a full-featured weather conditions and forecast app from AWS Convergence Technologies. Reviewed version: 1.0, released on 24 April 2009 and priced at $0.99.

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I admit it, I care deeply about the weather. Perhaps that's unfashionable in today's technological (and largely indoor) society, but I grew up on a farm listening to forecasts on our Radio Shack weather radio because we needed to know when there would be enough dry weather to make hay, for instance. While I managed to escape the farm, I still want to know what the current and near-future weather is before I go out for a run, and it's especially important when planning for upcoming races.

I used to think that weather Web sites were one of the best uses of the Internet, but after using weather apps on my iPhone, I've switched completely. When you want to know what the weather is going to be like, it's much easier to pull out your iPhone and tap an icon than it is to get to a computer, load a Web page, and attempt to parse the forecast out of the horrible layouts of many weather sites.

After looking at a few weather apps a while back, I settled on WeatherBug Elite, which also comes in a free, ad-supported version called WeatherBug that lacks a few advanced features. I used the free version for a while, but the ads are a bit annoying, and at $0.99, it was easy to ante up for WeatherBug Elite.


Key Features -- It's not clear to me exactly where most weather apps and Web sites get their information, but in paying attention to many of them over the years, I've never noticed any one source being notably more accurate than others. WeatherBug is unusual in that it operates its own proprietary weather network with over 8,000 tracking stations and more than 1,000 cameras on public buildings throughout the United States. That can equal more accurate local data in places where you happen to be very near a station, though forecasts tend to be the same regardless of which station in an area you choose.

I chose WeatherBug over other options at the time for two basic reasons. First, it displays current conditions on the main screen in an easy-to-read yet detailed fashion. Second, it also shows the next half-day forecast on the main screen, complete with an overview icon, a text forecast, and the daytime high or nighttime low. Thus, a single tap on the WeatherBug icon gives me all the basic weather information I'm likely to want with a single glance, after only a brief pause for the app to fetch new data.

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Also, if there are any weather alerts, such as the winter storm watch shown here, WeatherBug puts a red badge on its icon and displays the alert between the current conditions and the next half-day forecast.

Tapping the current conditions part of the main screen provides a separate Current Conditions screen that repeats the same information in a tabular layout, adding only two more pieces of data: Monthly Rain and Rain Rate. As a result, I seldom bother to check it. (For hyper-local information, I use the Ithaca Climate Page, which includes data from a station only a few miles away, along with monthly summary information that's key for discussion about how hot or cold, or how wet or snowy, a particular month has been.)

I often tap the half-day forecast from the main screen to show the Forecast Details screen for each half-day for the upcoming week. This screen offers a lovely level of detail, again with icons, full text forecasts, and the high and low temperatures. Too many other weather apps (including Apple's own lowly Weather app) rely purely on icons, as if an icon could somehow encapsulate a forecast like this:

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Snow with rain likely in the morning... then snow in the afternoon. Snow may be heavy at times in the afternoon. Snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches. Highs in the lower 30s. Northwest winds 10 to 15 mph. Gusts up to 30 mph. Chance of precipitation near 100 percent.

Now that's a forecast you can sink your teeth into! Oddly, tapping the Forecasts button in the toolbar at the bottom presents you with an abbreviated and less useful Forecasts screen, requiring another tap to get to the good Forecast Details screen.

Tapping a forecast in the Forecast Details screen, or tapping the Hourly button in the abbreviated Forecasts screen, shows the hourly forecasts for the current day. Unfortunately, it always shows the current day initially, no matter which day you've tapped in the Forecast Details screen, which seems like a bug to me. Once in the Hourly Forecast screen, you can tap arrows at the top of the screen to move from day to day.

The other aspect of WeatherBug that I adore is the radar map, which can zoom to the individual house level. That's too close, of course, but I often like seeing the weather within a 20 mile radius to see what will happen in the next hour or two, as well as within a 200 mile radius to see what's coming later in the day. Standard iPhone controls provide smooth zooming. Even better, the radar map can be animated, so you can see the motion of any precipitation over the last few hours. You can also adjust the opacity of the precipitation overlay in the radar map.

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WeatherBug puts a pin in the location you've set, but that's likely generic. All you have to do to drop another pin is tap and hold on the desired location. Once a pin has been dropped, tap it to show an icon of the current conditions, the current temperature, and, optionally, a circle of user-specified radius (so you can tell how far away some rain is).

WeatherBug Elite also offers temperature, pressure, humidity, and windspeed maps, along with infrared and visible satellite maps, plus maps of the next day's high and low temperatures. I occasionally turn one of those on to see something specific, but always return to the radar map (it can show only one data overlay at a time).

The final two buttons on the toolbar - Video and Camera - display a 2 minute national weather forecast that I've never watched all the way through, since I'm generally uninterested in the overall weather across the country (though I love checking out the radar maps of storm systems when I hear complaints from geographically dispersed friends in Twitter). Almost as pointless are the still images from cameras that WeatherBug has installed on various schools and other buildings in the area. Unless I'm going to one of those exact locations, I can't see the utility - though the photos can be animated to get a sense of clouds moving through.

It's easy to add multiple locations to WeatherBug and to switch between them using the arrows at the top of the screen (though it would be useful to have the list wrap around when there are many sites included, or to be able to visit a station from the Locations screen), and you can always select Current Location to get the nearest station, which is nice when travelling.


Suggestions -- Perhaps the only trouble I've hit recently was in determining which station is closest to the Moscone Center when I searched for "San Francisco" before leaving for Macworld Expo - my local knowledge wasn't sufficient to choose among the many choices. The solution was to zoom in tight on Moscone Center itself, and then to drop a pin from which I could add the appropriate saved location (Potrero Hill).

From an interface standpoint, WeatherBug suffers mostly from replication - the Current Conditions screen should add more data (like snowfall, and current snow depth) that's not on the main screen or be dropped, and the abbreviated Forecasts screen is simply unnecessary and could be eliminated in favor of the Forecast Details screen. Plus, as I noted before, the hourly forecast should reflect the day from which it's accessed.

The main thing that's missing from WeatherBug, for those of us who care deeply about our weather, is historical data of temperature and precipitation. That data is undoubtedly available, and WeatherBug's developers just need to figure out a way to display it in a useful form.

Finally, if historical data were available, something I'd love to see in a weather site or app is a retrospective view on accuracy. We all know that weather forecasts are based on percentages and likelihoods, and the actual weather can often vary quite widely. Wouldn't it be great if WeatherBug could be honest about how accurate its forecasts were?


Competition -- I won't pretend that WeatherBug is unique in what it does; it's merely that it provides the detailed information I want in an easy-to-use interface. Other well-known general (as opposed to special-purpose) weather apps for the iPhone include the following. If I've missed a major one, let me know in the comments so I can add it to this list, and if I come across an app I like better than WeatherBug, I'll review it separately.

  • The Weather Channel (free) and Max (paid)
  • AccuWeather.com (free) and Quick (paid)
  • QuickWX (free)
  • My-Cast OneLook (paid) and My-Cast Weather (paid)
  • WeatherEye (free)
  • MyWeather Lite (free) and MyWeather Mobile (paid)
  • NOAA National Weather Service (paid)
  • The Weather (paid)
  • Weather Pro (paid)
  • iWeather Complete (free) and Pro (paid)
  • Fizz Weather (paid)

 

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Comments about WeatherBug Elite 1.0
(Comments are closed.)

I like WB Elite too but one key thing that seems to be missing is the current condition (sunny, partly cloudy, light rain, etc) in graphic or text mode. Or am I missing something?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-04 11:08
Hmm, I think you're right. The current conditions include temperature and humidity and windspeed and (on the detail screen) rain rate, but it won't tell you whether or not the sun is out.

Three thoughts about that. First, I suspect I've not noticed because I always have a window I can look out, which wouldn't necessarily be true for everyone.

Second, since the radar map can be zoomed so well, it's easy to check if there's something coming in the very near future.

And third, this could be a use of the Cameras screen, where you can see not a graphical indication, but an actual pictorial indication of the current weather.
And on the Maps screen, when you hold your finger down on any pin or anywhere else to select a location, it shows both the temp and the icon for the current weather condition, which is what is curiously missing from the main screen. An oversight that could be easily fixed I imagine, but the app hasn't been updated in almost a year.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-05 07:17
Excellent point - for those who can't look outside, tapping a pin in the radar map provides the current sun/cloud/rain conditions.
Sean Acton  2010-03-04 11:58
Very well written review. I've tried all the weather apps and always find myself back at WeatherBug. I find their huge network to be of great assistance when traveling.
pacifica  2010-03-04 12:17
Thanks for the great review.

The show-stopper for me in the free version of this app (and which seems to have been carried over to the paid version) is the cumbersome method of switching between locations by flicking or arrow-pressing through all saved locations, rather than being able to pick any location directly from a list. I have about a dozen saved locations in my weather apps, and if I'm looking at Alameda, and want to check Yreka next, I don't want to have to go through the whole alphabet to get there.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-04 12:36
A good point - if you have that many saved locations, arrowing through them would become cumbersome. I generally have only one, and will add more when we travel.

I'd like to see WeatherBug wrap the list around, so if you were at Alameda, you could go to Yreka by arrowing to the left once, rather than 12 times to the right. An even better solution would be to make it possible to switch to a location from the Locations screen itself.

That said, unless you really are in a situation where you need to know the weather in 12 locations regularly, note that you can arrange them in the Locations list. What I'd do is put my most used location first, the next most used second, and so on. That would at least reduce the irritation of arrowing through so many locations.
pacifica  2010-03-04 12:52
We really do have micro-climates in the San Francisco Bay Area. A 15-minute drive from Berkeley to Walnut Creek can mean a 15 degree (or greater) temperature change, or the difference between a drizzle and a downpour. Add in the coastal locations, and we have even more reasons to love iPhone weather apps, and to add a lot of locations. And since I regularly travel between the Bay Area and southern Oregon, my long list of locations gets used all the time... for the end points of the trip, but also the extreme climates on the way: broiling in the summer, snow-bound in the winter.
Peter Yarensky  2010-03-04 12:29
I haven't tried it yet, but it looks interesting.

I agree completely about the advantages of using the iPhone. My combination of choice that I haven't been able to beat for a couple years now is the NOAA web site using Safari on the iPhone in landscape mode; and RadarScope for the animated radar, much better than the NOAA mobile radar.

Besides complete forecasts, archival data, etc., the best part about NOAA is the Forecast Discussion page. That's where they really say what they think in detail. They're quite honest; before the recent floods they said "The mid-range forecast is a mess", referring to the state of the forecast, not the weather. I can't think of anywhere else that presents remotely similar levels of detail and technical sophistication concerning the weather on a daily basis for the general public.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-04 12:37
Indeed - I had a friend a while back who paid attention to the weather models as they were updated constantly, and his understanding of what was coming was significantly better than what those of us who just relied on the official summaries had.
Peter Yarensky  2010-03-04 14:24
I don't pretend to understand all the details; but I can get enough out of it to be useful, and the more I use the Forecast Discussion the more I understand. It really comes in handy with some of the extreme weather we've had recently to be able to figure out what's really going on that doesn't make it into the forecast proper!
I like the free Wunderground for iPhone at http://i.wund.com/

You're limited to one city, though.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-05 15:58
Looks like a decent iPhone-specific Web site, but I prefer the app-driven interface to the long scrolling page.
Brian Ogilvie  2010-03-08 18:16
The buttons for Current, Radar, Forecasts, and Warnings make it pretty easy to jump from spot to spot in the iPhone version of Weather Underground. Also, the website uses location information (if you permit it) to give you the weather where you are. I ended up bookmarking my home town and then using the home page to quickly get the weather where I happen to be. And it's free. (I do subscribe to the full web version so I can use it without ads.)
Ralph Smith  2010-03-08 20:39
Thanks for the link! I value that site.
I think you missed the AccuWeather app. I've used both that and the WeatherBug (free) program for a year or so now. Weather is important to me in rural Maine, in the growing season for crops and then year round for storms. AccuWeather is noticeably better than WeatherBug in forecasting storms and amounts of precip and wind speeds. AccuWeather is also more precise in its predictions. Couple that with more accurate, and after all why else does one want a weather app? The AccuWeather interface isn't quite as friendly or versatile but for me it gives the most accurate forecasts and that's what I need--and want.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-09 10:20
It's in the list of competitors, and in fact is one of those I've used. I can't comment on your experience of more accurate forecasts, but I very much did not like the free AccuWeather app. In particular:

* Forecasts are largely graphical, with only a few words of text, so there's much less detail than in WeatherBug.

* The radar screen shows only a block of the country near me, rather than the entire country, and doesn't show any map details except the largest city names; no roads or town names or the like.

* I'm not particularly interested in the indices, or the risks, or the alarms, all of which are a primary focus of AccuWeather's interface. Your mileage may vary.
fhphotog  2010-03-09 10:32
The NOAA National weather service app you list is not from NOAA. It's a rip off that uses the government agency's name. And it doesn't work very well. Shame for even listing it.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-09 10:31
The point of the Competition section is merely to list what's out there, without editorial comment (since there isn't time in the day to look at every possible competing app).

And you've just helped by adding context about that app - thanks!
Michael Croft  2010-03-08 19:05
Hmm. On Windows, Weatherbug was a plague-ridden app, popping up ads and generally begging for money every 10 minutes and it was nearly impossible to remove.

I'm glad they're unable to do those things now, but my prior experiences lead me to be unwilling to try their program, in case it has unexpected anti-social features like it's Windows namesake did.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-09 10:21
Apparently anti-social behavior is limited to Windows. :-) I find the ads in the free version a little annoying, but that's the point of them. And in the paid version, there are no ads or pop-ups or anything else like that.
Sam Merrell  2010-03-09 06:55
Why pay when Safari can fetch so much useful WX info free -and quickly- from NOAA? Here in NYC I like http://bit.ly/9iMNkO and http://bit.ly/dluqmB ...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-09 10:23
I find that I prefer using apps over Web pages most of the time on the iPhone; the user experience with zooming on radar and switching between portions of the interface is just better. And as you can see, most of the weather apps come in free versions (and the paid versions are often 99 cents), so we're not talking a price issue in general.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-09 10:47
Thanks to reader Duane Williams, who sent me a link to the Forecast Advisor site, which lets you see the accuracy of the major forecasters by showing how forecasts change over time.

http://www.forecastadvisor.com/
Graham Bradshaw  2010-03-09 21:55
Getting out of the US for a minute, Pocket Weather AU and the lite version are great for local weather here in Australia, with hundreds of locations available. It's the genuine Bureau of Meteorology stuff too!
Seth Elgart  2010-03-10 06:58
I recommend WxFix.

I had three weather apps (MyWeather Mobile, Weather Channel, AccuWeather) and used each for different purposes. I then bought WxFix and was able to delete the other three. WxFix lets you drop a pin anywhere on the map to get the local conditions. It does three-day forecasts, radar, hourly predictions, warnings, etc., and that you can drop a pin on your house to get a local forecast is pretty cool.

Also, according to their blog they're about to add international forecasting so it will soon be able to cover the world and not just the US.

http://www.eeliosinc.com/wxfix-weather-app/
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-10 07:53
Cool, I've added it to the list.
John Hopper  2010-03-21 14:30
Don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but apparently WeatherBug updated a week or so ago and it is getting disastrous reviews... I think I saved $.99...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-21 17:16
Whoa, those reviews do sound pretty angry. I haven't happened to update since it came out and I need to see if there's a way I can back up the old version and go back if it's really as bad as everyone says. (Probably just a matter of saving the old file out of the way first.)

But it's an interesting question, because I don't want to completely rewrite the review to account for this, especially if the company is planning a fast fix. I'll have to contact them and see if I can find out their plans.
I haven't had a problem with the the app since the update.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-23 13:49
I've spoken with the folks at WeatherBug now, and it appears that the problem people were experiencing were actually caused by the back-end, and not by the upgrade itself. They tell me that problem has now been resolved, and I'm downloading the update now to check it out.