Spring is finally here, and on the East Coast it’s brought wonderfully unpredictable weather. While we thankfully haven’t experienced the devastating storms that recently tormented parts of the Midwest and South, we’re still subject to consecutive days with 40 degree temperature variations and lightning storms that pop out of nowhere. Determined to master, or at least plan for, nature’s fury, I took a look for the first time at iOS weather apps that went beyond the simple, yet minimally useful, built-in iPhone weather app.
After stumbling around the App Store for a while — when are we going to get the benefit of Apple’s Chomp acquisition, anyway? — I settled on weatherTAP zoom, one of the few apps created by an established company that predates the App Store. Available for iPhone in both Free and Pro versions (US$9.99), the apps tie into weatherTAP’s online service, which was founded in the late 1990s as a real-time weather resource for the aviation industry.
As a result of its mission-critical heritage, the weather data provided by the app is some of the most detailed I’ve seen. You get radar, obviously, but you also get color-coded storm tracking so that you can keep tabs on individual weather systems, near-live tornado information, and warnings for weather events such as lightning and hail. Because this is an app that was designed to be useful for aviation, there’s also a whole bunch of additional weather, wind, and visibility measurements that I would likely not be able to take advantage of because the wise folks at the FAA insist on keeping me out of a cockpit; we’ll have to ask Mac Geek Gab’s Pilot Pete what he thinks.
An overview of U.S. weather alerts.
Upon launching the app, the user is prompted with a quick guide that demonstrates the basics of how to manipulate the radar screen. Dismissing this guide brings up a radar view of the United States with your current location pinned in blue on the map. Using familiar pinches or taps, the user can zoom in to any part of the country. Unfortunately, one of the negatives of the app is that it only provides weather data for the U.S., so international users will be out of luck.
At look at my local weather. A storm would be more dramatic, but I’ll take the nice weather.
In the app’s settings, the user can change the style of map and adjust other settings such as radar opacity and the length of the radar animation. Green dots on the map indicate radar stations and pressing the play button in the lower right of the screen plays back the most recent radar movement.
Detailed and up-to-date forecasts.
Forecasts are accessed via user-selectable “locations” and provide nearly real-time updates. For example, when I checked my local forecast at 5:25 PM, the data was accurate as of 5:13 PM. On some of the other apps I’ve played with, forecast data was between 30 and 60 minutes old. The provided forecasts aren’t as “pretty” as the way Apple presents data in its weather app, but you get a heck of a lot more information.
weatherTAP can track storms and alert you to potential weather hazards.
Finally, for advanced users, the app includes access to all kinds of various radar types. While the weather was actually quite nice today, the few cloud systems that we did have nearby were neatly identified and tracked on the map. Had they been more than just clouds — terrifying thunderstorms, for example — I could have laughed comfortably knowing they were heading away from me and straight into Maryland where, I assure you, they have no idea how to drive.
Pilots and advanced users will appreciate the multitude of radar types available.
In the end, this is a powerful weather application. It provides far more information than many other weather apps and is a nice upgrade for users looking to get more than the built-in weather on their iOS devices. I may never utilize some of the more advanced features, but it’s comforting knowing that I’m getting my weather information from the same place that pilots have for over a decade.
One of my few complaints is the lack of a landscape mode; the app only works in the portrait orientation and landscape would make it easier to view longer weather systems as they move laterally across a certain area. The other issue is the lack of support for users outside of the U.S., but there’s not much that can be done about that if the data isn’t available. Finally, as mentioned above, the app is not designed for iPad and works only in pixel-doubled mode on the larger device. An iPad-native version would be great. It requires iOS 4.1 or later.
The free version is a no-brainer and a welcome upgrade to the default weather app. Users who don’t want iAds or who need advanced weather data, such as pilots, may find the Pro version worth the price.