One of the frustrations of having a powerful computer in your pocket is that, sometimes, it seems to be able to do much less than it ought.
I’m actually a little embarrassed at how little I ask my phone to do, given how much it cost, the processing power it is supposed to have, and how often I replace it. Play music. Play podcasts. Read Twitter. I don’t even like playing the kind of games that rely on its graphics processing abilities.
One area I’ve always felt frustrated by is weather forecasting. The built-in app is a bit rubbish. If you do a search for “best uk weather app”, you find loads of recommendations for Dark Sky. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve been using it for years and Dark Sky is atrocious. I simply cannot believe the use of phrases like “hyper-local accuracy” (PC Mag) or “hyper-accurate local weather forecasting” (Tom’s Guide), when in my long experience of using the app, it has neither.
First of all, the elephant in my particular room: it doesn’t work in France. No satellite coverage, and can be so far out that it will describe the weather as “overcast” when you are sitting under a clear blue sky with not a cloud in it. But even where there is satellite coverage (in the UK), you will often see, as I did last evening, a tiny little patch of “precipitation” over my area, with a note saying “drizzle for the next 20 minutes” when what is happening outside my actual window is (no exaggeration) the heaviest rain and hail storm I can imagine, for a period of about 90 minutes.
We all know that weather forecasting more than a couple of days ahead is poor, but the much-vaunted “hyperlocal” weather feature ought to work, in conjunction with accurate satellite data. But it turns out not. I do wonder sometimes if Dark Sky is so good in North America that nobody realises how bad it is in Europe. I also wonder at the journalists/editors working for .co.uk domains, who just regurgitate what has been written for their sister titles.
I think the truth about weather forecasting is that you’ve got to pay to play. I think there are people for whom it can be life and death (figuratively, in terms of whether something can happen or not) and those people are going to be paying for a service that the rest of us couldn’t afford.
As I write this, Dark Sky is saying that ‘light rain’ will start in seven minutes. I’m prepared to accept that it might start raining in seven minutes. But will it be what a reasonable person would call light rain? Last night’s ‘drizzle’ had enough force to make the television set in the living room inaudible. A television set that my daughters, with their 20/20 hearing, always complain is too loud.
I’d be willing to pay a certain amount for a weather app, as long as it met two criteria. First of all, it should give me a good idea about the expectation of rain (and the strength of the wind) on a given day so that I would be able to make a decision about whether to cycle to work or use the car. Secondly, it should work in Europe, including but not exclusively the UK.
Update: Dark Sky is now reporting that the rain will begin in less than one minute and stop 30 minutes later.
This is interesting, because based on yesterday’s forecast for today, I might have cycled to work. The deluge last night put me off so I didn’t. And if it were to rain when it says it will, I might get wet on the way home.
It is now seven minutes after the initial forecast. It is not raining.
It is now at least a minute after the second forecast. It is not raining.
Dark Sky now claims it will rain in two minutes.
And so on, and so forth.
Hyper-local my arse.
Hyper-accurate my arse.
An app so good that Apple bought the company? My arse.
Update: 10 minutes later. No rain.
Sure, it’s what you’d call overcast, but the clouds aren’t low, the sky is a lightish grey, and it doesn’t really threaten rain. As an actual forecast of the actual weather: useless.