How Can the iOS Weather App Help with Better Decision-making?

The stock iOS Weather app is quite popular among iPhone users. However, one day when I was hanging out with a friend, she complained that “uh, the Weather ain’t tell me nothing… Why can’t it just say it’s gonna rain instead of showing a percentage!” At first, I just laughed and agreed with her, but later when I thought about it, I found there is a potential need related to weather information sense-making.

Why would the chance of precipitation be confusing to some users while other users deal with it perfectly fine? Why would some users always have problems understanding what kind of day the day is, while there is a lot of information shown on the Weather? In order to investigate the user need with current iOS Weather, I conducted a case study with several students from Cornell to design a more useful interface.

Needs Bring Out Inspirations

User Need Survey

I started with conducting a survey through Amazon Mechanical Turk and collected 108 responses from U.S. based mobile users to further explore their needs of weather information. Key questions from the survey were:

  • When/In what situation will you use a weather app? What is the frequency of using it?
  • What are your priorities of all the weather information presented now on the interface?
  • How do you think of the idea of providing weather information in other apps such as calendar?
  • What is your attitude toward customizing the information presentation layout and smart-learning?

Below are some major findings:

1.There are several common scenarios under which most participants will choose to check the weather app.

When will participants check the weather on their phone?

57% of participants will check the weather app when they wake up, and nearly a half of the participants will check on it before their go put. It makes a regular weather report a valuable brainstorming direction.

2. A good number of participants are comfortable with seeing weather information elsewhere besides the weather app itself.

Participants’ opinion about app integration

87% of the participants favored the idea of a different app connected with the weather app. It shed insights on the direction of possible app connection to the weather app.

3. A one-for-all layout solution which the current stock weather app uses may not be suitable for everyone.

App layout style preference

According to the survey, an adaptive layout that could “smartly” learn a user’s preference was more favorable than other choices. This might be another design direction that I could follow. But it needed further interviews and testing because the participants only imagined the scenario without actually using the layout themselves.

Narrow Down to A Product — iOS Weather

While I received 108 responses from the user need survey, the participants were not limited to use one specific weather app. However, it was not a good idea for me to proceed my case study to a vague weather app because it was not applicable, and it would be too broad and finally suffer from the risk of losing a good point.

Current iOS Weather

Thus, I chose iOS stock weather app “Weather” to be the specific product of this case study. iOS Weather is the most popular weather app for iPhone users; thus, it was easy to find Weather users, and the case study related to it would be more influential than to a random weather app.

Weather Info Representation Needs More Love

From User Interviews to Affinity Diagram

In order to further discover the people problem, my team interviewed six colleagues from Cornell CIS. They were all iOS Weather users aged between 18–40, and some of them were regular travelers, while others favored outdoor activities such as biking. We anticipated these frequent users to have more experiences, preferences, or insights when using iOS Weather, thus their feedback could better help us address the issues and decide design direction.

Affinity diagram from the user interviews

Targeted Users

Because we interviewed people were mostly regular travelers and outdoor activity practitioners, we decided to narrow our targeted users from general iOS Weather users to travelers and outdoor activity practitioners. I believed that this was a reasonable user group because users who were in these two categories share a lot of common traits. For example, they were more concerned about prompt weather information rather than users who worked in the office did. Moreover, their plans, either traveling plans nor activity plans, were more susceptible to weather than other users’ plans.

People Problem

Especially for my targeted users, they needed a bit extra help on quick sense-making due to their traits. Moreover, from the survey and interviews, it was obvious that users paid extra attention to forecast categories like “chance of rain,” extreme weather alert,” “apparent temperature,” and “drastic temperature change.” ​From the affinity diagram, it explained the survey results from a qualitative perspective, also addressed some additional issues including sense-making of the data provided by the weather app. These could also be the features that as a designer I wanted to explore.

Persona

From the targeted user group and people problem that I discovered, I created a persona named Sarah Ken.

Persona

By redesigning some of the information representation ways, I took a small step further from the existing iOS Weather with an intelligent user interface approach.

Make Forecasting Easy to Help You Decide Next Step

Weather in Wake Up Alarm

According to our targeted users, they shared the habit of checking the weather app in the morning when they wake up. However, I believed this interaction can be more concise and natural without manually entering the weather app myself. Apple actually had a solution for this issue. The way Apple chose was to display a minimal weather information on the screen of its Wake Up Alarm. However, the problem was that the information was too general to be useful and memorable. Thus, I changed and iterated the design of Wake Up Alarm screen.

First, the user needed to set up the Wake Up Alarm.

After setting up, the user would get a screen that looks like below screens (Apple’s current solution on the very left) when the bedtime alarm rings in the following morning. However, this solution is not as plausible as it shows because when the user is still sleepy, will he/she actually read the paragraph and memorize the detailed information like “17 mph winds”? The interview answer was no.

Weather in the Wake Up Alarm

Comparing to Apple’s original solution, my redesign iterations added essential weather information that is relevant to the user at the moment while excluded information that will not be immediately useful at the time the user wakes up. In the final design, it included:

(1) Current weather

(2) Current and “feels like” temperatures

(3) Forecast of the rain/snow (if applicable) for the user’s next outdoor activity after he/she wakes up. The time of the next outdoor activity can be obtained from Apple’s Calendar.

With this new layout, users can be quickly notified with a small amount of information in the short timing gap between finding their phones and dismissing the alarm. The above redesign picture shows three scenarios which includes when the weather condition is good, when it will rain, and when there is an upcoming outdoor event in the Reminder or Calendar after the user wakes up. We knew from the interview that this information was sufficient to support decision-making including clothing and rain gears.

But what if the user does not look at the screen when turning off the alarm …?

While the iterated on-boarding process introduces the “weather report” feature, users could now change the way of this report in the “options” menu. “Page View” was selected by default, and if the user preferred Siri to read the forecast, he/she could select “Siri Broadcast” and will only see a traditional alarm with no additional information. Siri Broadcast is an alternative solution for people who prefer conversational UI after dismissing the alarm. It is also an opportunity for follow-up questions such as today’s agenda.

Weather as An Reminder Assistant in the Calendar

In the left four screens above, you can now see when you add an event to the Calendar, if it is detected a probability of being an outdoor activity, it will automatically show the weather and temperature forecast next to it. You can also turn off this feature in Settings. It can help the users know the weather information when they are using Reminder without opening Weather again.

Smart Weather Tags Can Help with Sense-making

As I mentioned before, there is another concern in my people problem — help the users to better make sense of the weather information, thus they can make quick and better decisions based on it.The way I chose was to incorporate AI (Artificial Intelligent) methods into Apple’s original design.

First, I upgraded the importance level of the body perception temperature because according to my research and interviews, an increasing number of people have realized that the body perception temperature can affect them as well as the actual temperature when they are in the outside.

Second, below the actual temperature and “feels like” temperature, I designed smart tags which will only appear when the weather conditions need attention. For example, when the wind speed is over 6 (inclusive), the smart tag will tell the user that “UV” is high. The standard for UV index is based on EPA Guide. Similarly, when the humidity is too low that causes dryness, or when the wind speed is very strong, or when other abnormal conditions appear, the smart tags will inform the user. Based on these information, the user will understand the information easily, and make decisions according to his/her habits.

Another reason of the smart tags is that people can easily understand phrases such as “wind STRONG” but numbers such as “wind 19mph”. When the user first uses these smart tags, the comparisons are based on standard guides such as EPA Guide. Afterwards, AI methods can also help by learning the user’s weather condition preferences for outdoor activities. And the smart tags will show more specific suggestions at that time (not shown above).

Besides the smart tags, I also added the rain precipitation time in the hourly weather prediction section. This was because during the interviews, more than half of the candidates mentioned that a precise raining or snowing time creates a sense of safety and control. Further, according to my market research, the current weather prediction technology is capable of achieving precise raining/snowing time prediction within 24 hours. Thus, adding this feature can provide a better user experience for my targeted users.

Conclusion

How to represent weather information is an interesting challenge for UI/UX designers. In this case study, I redesigned Apple’s stock weather app Weather in three major aspects — linking weather to the wake up alarm, weather as a reminder/calendar plus, and smart weather tags. The first two can help the users to quickly check the weather while using other apps. The last one can help the users to better understand the weather conditions and make decisions more easily based on it. In the future, I would like to study how to further incorporate AI methods into the weather information representation to further improve the weather user experience.

Thank you for reading!

For more projects and case studies, please visit my portfolio: www.jingxuanyu.com! Let’s connect!

Product designer, software engineer, and master student of Information Science at Cornell.

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Jingxuan Yu

Jingxuan Yu

Product designer, software engineer, and master student of Information Science at Cornell.

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