Weather apps are my guilty pleasure. I am a sucker of good design and thoughtfully crafted software. However, today, I am putting myself in the shoes of an indie weather developer to shed light into the challengers faced when the odds are severely stacked against you.
You may think, "it's a weather app, how challenging and complicated can that be?". Let me explain in 5 minutes.
How do you compete with free?
The competition is fierce and includes big names:
- Apple's own weather app
- Google's own weather app/service
- Dark Sky (owned by Apple)
- Weather Zone
- Weather Channel and Weather Underground (both owned by IBM)
How can indie developers compete with free? Competition isn't new and there are ample examples where superior service is provided through a paid solution (Microsoft Office) or costs subsidised by advertising (Gmail). Good developers are inherently ethical and therefore value their user's privacy. Frankly, they prefer to know as little about the user as possible.This significantly limits their business model to only charging the user. Privacy is one feature that developers can implement which these bigger providers may not do so predominately because their objectives defer.
Besides the above free providers, countries have their own meteorology agency which often has apps provided for free and without advertising on Android and iOS and is often the primary choice for users. Australia's meteorology app, BOM is number 1 weather app in Australia. MET, the UK agency ranks highly in the UK App Store. These agencies may limit the use of their API, limiting the information other Apps can provide. Thereby, significantly disadvantaging indie weather apps.
Costs of providing weather data
Without reliable weather data, a weather app is pointless and is merely a pretty face with no depth. Whether we believe or not, weather data is not free and there are numerous providers located worldwide with varying degree of accuracy, quality and costs.
You may not know this, but every time you open Weather Line we buy the weather data you see. So Weather Line actually loses money when customers love the app and use it for 6 years – Oops.
Accuweather charges developers from $250 to $500 a month to access their data via API.
Climacell pricing starts from $87 a month. Unfortunately, having one source for your weather data is not sufficient as such, premium weather apps include multiple sources and in certain cases additional sources are required for a particular country.
For example, Willy Weather provides data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for which it pays a fee to BOM. Therefore, Carrot Weather and Snowflake subscribe to Willy Weather's service to gain access to data from the Australian meteorology service.
Any business needs to manage its expenses however, serviceability of the weather app is seriously affected if one of their data providers limits access or significantly increases the costs of accessing this data. This happens more often than one would assume.
Prior to 2018, many apps utilised the data from personal weather stations through the Weather Underground API. After being acquired by IBM, the free API was discontinued leaving developers to seek alternatives or subscribe to the rather expensive new subscription of $850 a month. Many switched to Dark Sky which provided reliable data cost economically and also provided down-to-the-minute forecasts on rain which users appreciated and valued. Dark Sky became the default choice for many developers until earlier this year when Dark Sky was acquired by Apple. Once again, developers are left stranded to seek alternatives which may not exist.
This is what Jonas Downey (Hello Weather Developer) commented on switching from Dark Sky:
Jonas Downey: Full Twitter Thread
Marketing: Convincing people to subscribe
It is a real challenge to convince someone to pay for a weather app subscription. Recently, on a zoom call, I was singing the praises of Hello Weather. My manager interrupted me and said he ain't paying $5 a year for a weather app. He said, I can look out the window or use the free Apple Weather app. What does one say to that? If my manager who is well paid is not interested, I honestly felt embarrassed to admit that I have been paying a subscription for a weather app for a few years now. We all have limited finances. This includes even the Apples and Amazons of the world who are motivated to increase their revenue and reduce their expenses every year. Why are we as individuals any different, when our salaries are not increasing as much as their profits are ☹️.
In such a climate, it requires real salesmanship from the developers to convince users to pay for a service which in its basic form is provided free and baked into the operating system by Apple. An indie app developer needs to play the role of a developer, designer and also the marketing team. Developers by nature are not great marketing genius. Even, Apple does not trust Craig Federighi (Apple's senior vice president of Software) with even naming their MacOS operating system and has a crack marketing team for this purpose. In all seriousness, promotion and marketing plays a serious role because users are skewed towards the free option. Developers need to provide something more, something different, and need to sell that story to convince users to pay.
Based on my research, indie weather app developers provide the following that the big competitors are lacking:
- visually intuitive design: Weather Line
- beautiful clean infographics and iconography: Hello Weather
- unique features: AI character, multiple weather sources, custom notifications, personal weather station supported etc by Carrot Weather and super forecast and travel assist by Weather Line etc.
- Considerate of user requests for features. Being small allows developers to consider features that are not worthy for larger developers. This includes having an Apple Watch app, adopting operating system features, using multiple data sources. The BOM app has one source of data and the app to my eye is ugly.
My attempt through this article is to shed light into the arduous road to success that indie developers go through.
As users, if we appreciate and find joy in using any indie weather app, please
- financially 💵 contribute,
- recommend to others
- provide positive feedback on App Stores
- give high star ratings
The survival of your beloved weather app depends on it.
These are my recommendations for a beautiful, privacy focused fanfreakingtastic weather apps:
- Carrot Weather (iOS, Android and MacOS)
- Hello Weather (iOS and Android)
- Snowflake (iOS and MacOS)
- Weather Line (iOS)
They are big enough to absorb the costs or generate revenue through advertising and/or selling your data ↩︎