Will it rain in ten minutes?
Having heard American iOS weather aficionados raving for almost a year about the awesomeness of hyperlocal forecasts, Dark Sky is finally available for the UK and Ireland. The project, which started with a Kickstarter campaigned back by 1,500 people, has earned the praise of recognised app critics, including the mighty Daring Fireball.
Without disrespect to our American readers, weather in the British Isles is the number one conversation topic. I hear people in Wales and Scotland are born with an umbrella in their hands. With perpetual grey skies and the feeling that it will rain at any moment, will the UK weather break the promise of Dark Sky?
For starters, Dark Sky is using radar information from the UK Met Office for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. If you live anywhere between Plymouth and Inverness, you know this is possibly the most reliable weather forecast we have; according to Yahoo Answers it's better than BBC reports. With that out of the way, let's try to explain why Dark Sky is unique.
By combining your location thanks to the iPhone's own GPS coordinates, the app will identify exactly where you are to give you a tailored result for you. Apparently, radar snapshots that show clouds moving and storm evolving are taken every five minutes or so. The developers behind Dark Sky have come up with a method that estimates what's going on between those lapses, eventually being able to track what is really happening down to the minute.
The smoothest radar animation on a mobile device
The result of this is evident when you enter the Radar section of the app. The dark map serves as a reference where a smooth animation of clouds are moving. This is nothing like the GIF-like looping animations you are used to. Dark Sky uses a dark blue, magenta and yellow theme predominant in the whole app to display incredibly detailed information on a map. There are no numbers or indicators other than a slider to move back and forward up to one hour.
When you launch the app, the information is split into four sections. The centre of attention is the forecast itself. The two sections in the middle will tell what's happening now and what's happening in the next hour. Now: mostly cloudy, 11C. Next hour: light rain. For a quick glance this is all you need to know. On the top you get an animated area chart that indicates the probability of precipitation on light, medium and heavy levels. An oddly positioned popover-styled button called radar will open the map view described before.
A few tricks for the UK user
For those like me who downloaded the app as soon as it became available on the UK App Store, here are some tricks to get it working the way you want that aren't very obvious when you first launch it. As an iTunes reviewer rightly informs, the option to change temperature unit from Fahrenheit to Celsius is on the general settings menu, outside the app. You can access this tapping on the Settings app icon an scrolling down to the bottom until you see a list of third party apps.
The same setting menu has a toggle switch to disable the storm suggesting "clear skies are boring". If the weather is good in your location, Dark Sky will recommend you peek at some cool-looking storm somewhere else. This is a cool idea to show how to use the app, a bit like a tutorial, but it can be too distracting. If you prefer to disable this message, you can do so directly on the settings.
There's even a new section that allows users to send their own report back to Dark Sky central, which will help to tweak and improve the error in the forecasts. The Personal Weather Reporter is triggered by shaking the device — oh dear — and submit your own interpretation of the cloud covering right now and how intense that rain is. Might be satisfying for the kind of people that always want to prove others wrong.
After a year hearing American users hyping, I'm glad to see Dark Sky might be able to compete face to face against our local weather forecast alternatives, such as BBC weather. London has been surprisingly sunny this June so far, so I've only had four days of rain to test the app. Going to a barbecue party knowing it would be dry when I would get there was cool. I wished the forecast would extend tow or three hours more; I don't want to carry around an umbrella during the summer.