Dark Sky 4.0 Review: Warm and partly cloudy

Popular for its laser-like focus on remarkably accurate short-term forecasts, Dark Sky by Jackadam has finally turned into what developers Jack Turner and Adam Grossman said it wouldn’t when the app was first Kickstarted. That’s right, Dark Sky is now a “general purpose weather app.”

From Dark Sky’s Kickstarter page all the way back in 2011:

Dark Sky isn’t a general-purpose weather app. It doesn’t give you the temperature, humidity, dew point, or windspeed. It doesn’t provide a daily forecast, or tell you what it’ll be like this weekend. There are already apps for that. Our personal favorite is the built-in Weather app made by Apple…

Some apps try to give you everything — current conditions, ten day forecasts, and radar — all wrapped up in one. These are universally clunky, slow and a pain in the ass to use.

Our philosophy is to remain extremely focused on a single core idea: weather radar. It is our hope that you will use Dark Sky alongside one of the great apps mentioned above. link

Dark Sky now does all the above: temperature, humidity, dew point, windspeed, daily forecast, and yes the weekend too, which I assume means they’re somewhat less focused on the core idea of weather radar. Version 3.0 of the app also features a striking facelift, borrowing heavily from the developers’ web app, forecast.io, which as you’ll see shortly, is mostly fine for me, but I have heard rumblings that indicate the Dark Sky’s new UI might be more polarizing than the developers might have thought.

Like forecast.io, the new Dark Sky is much more austere than its predecessor. Laid over a translucent frosted white that hides Dark Sky’s beautiful simulated weather map, the app breaks down into three pages accessed by edge swipes: the current weather, the next 24 hours, and a seven day forecast.

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The current weather page highlights the temperature, with Dark Sky’s formerly front and center short-term weather forecast playing sidekick below. It’s a nice intro into what’s happening outside that still throws a bone to Dark Sky’s original focus on precipitation prediction.

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“The Next 24 Hours” does a fine job of succinctly laying out the day ahead, offering a timeline of what will happen in “The Sky” as well as a line chart documenting temperature highs and lows. Despite some criticisms (notably here and here) both charts are effective for conveying their relevant information to users and the page’s focus on the “The Next 24 Hours” versus simply “The Day Ahead” allows users to gauge right where they are on either chart: always at the beginning.

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Dark Sky’s third page is an extended seven day forecast that once again borrows heavily from the forecast.io web app. Simple icons denote precipitation or lack there of, while temperature bars show the week’s range of temperatures. A tap on any individual day shows its 24 hour precipitation forecast, tap it again to hide it. While still a useful look at the week ahead, it’s worth noting that forecast.io’s rendering of this same info is more visually pleasing and more intuitive, with its animated icons, blue tinted temperature bars complete with gradients, and small “+” signs to clue users into knowing that tapping a day might mean more info. Dark Sky’s version is fine, but Forecast.io’s is easily better.

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Dark Sky’s elephant in the room is the swirling ball of color that permanently resides underneath the white background that the app’s UI sits on. Dark Sky’s weather radar map is a gorgeous maelstrom of blues, hot pink, and yellows that’s both fun to look at and to use. Depending on if there is inclement weather in your area or not, the map opens to either a regional or global vantage. Either way, the whole globe is there, so take it for a spin, or hit play on the weather radar timeline to get a predictive look at precipitation (and temperature) for the week ahead or a retrospective look at the week that was. No complaints here, I love the radar map, but perhaps a setting option to default the map to regional or global when initially viewing might make more sense here.

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There is one more bit of content offered by Dark Sky and it’s hinted at literally nowhere by its UI. The “weather station” page is accessed on the intro “current weather” page by tapping on the bold white on giant black circle temperature reading. In retrospect that circle I suppose could be a button, but regardless, “weather station” and its confusing iconography (is the wind blowing north or south?) would be better served by emulating forecast.io more closely, where the exact same info is presented in good old fashioned text, still hidden away beneath the temperature, but with a “+” to clue readers into its existence.

Conclusion

After spending some time with Dark Sky 3.0, I’d by lying if I didn’t say I sort of miss the old Dark Sky’s singular focus. A long-time homescreen occupant, I’ve had at times an almost unhealthy obsession with Dark Sky’s often eerily accurate short term, practically backyard forecasts while never giving a whit that it didn’t provide a seven day forecast too. So maybe I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth here, but most of version 3.0 is stuff I didn’t want and don’t really need (after all, per the developers recommendation, iOS’ included weather app works mostly just fine. ). As it stands Dark Sky 3.0 is a nice weather app that could be nicer still by borrowing a bit more from its sibling, forecast.io. It does look more at home on iOS 7, it features an amazing time traveling weather and temperature radar map, and keeps its ace in the hole: hyper-local precipitation forecasts. That’s plenty to keep Dark Sky on my homescreen, but I’d love to see future updates make this the killer app it’s so close to being.

+ Recommended

Dark Sky by Jackadam is $3.99 and available for iPhone