Saturday, 24 August 2013

netatmo weather station app review

.iPhone and Android killer weather app and weather station - Netatmo

There is only one thing better than a great app (stop it!) and that's a great app with a great piece of hardware. Whether its just (£100) a Jawbone Up and its related app or a BMW i3 and remote control app the netatmo app and its associated hardware are up there with a great hardware/app UX.

For me especially so as I have worked on a lot of weather apps over time, and am a self confessed "weather head", add this to the fact that I am also British and therefore pre-programmed to like Benny Hill humour and talking about the weather, and so I am as much of the target audience for the Netatmo as you can get!

apart from making a living from apps, I am also a hardware freak and love great design and the usually great user experience that comes from this, I am saying all this as to explain what a great experience the Netatmo is from end to end.

This pretty much continues all the way to realising the possibilities of this device (remote wine cellar humidity, humidor monitoring, basement damp linked to remote controlled dehumidifier...) and the usefulness of accurate weather.

Firstly, the product arrives, no fuss, shipped direct from our froggy friends across the channel. And very well presented too.
All good user experiences begin with good packaging
It also comes preparred to be put in the right place, with a handy velcro strap... why on earth many of the others just come with screws is beyond me!
Physical installation is easy as well with a velcro strap using the same slot as the usual screw fixing
So, you've opened it up, could not wait to set-up and that was all very easy... the world is very happy for the control freak, but: Next up - back to the weather station... and a good few gadget freaks ask me, why? what's wrong with all the weather apps out there?

Well for me there are two gaps in the market that Netatmo fill:

Weather app accuracy

Your present weather comes from two places probably anything from a few km to 50km or further away and does not represent where you are if there are significant geographical, demographical or other 'phical disturbances in the way.... At best it represents somewhere near.
Where you live / work and where you get weather from may be very different
So when I get up on an average Saturday in the UK, look at one weather app and it says its going to rain at 10am, another at 2pm, its the difference between being able to do your planned event or not. Accurate weather is important to me as I do a lot of sport, and cycling in the rain is pretty miserable, I also try an plan things like picnics, barbecues and other events that rain puts a blanket over. It's safe to say for me its an important factor in quality of life, being able to plan your day and not have to worry about the impact of the weather. Even if its not raining, a run, walk or ride in the wrong clothes is a pain, especially exercise. In my case my weather is derived from a) Westminster, yes Big Ben Westminster, which is 2 miles of city away and on the river (usually up to 2'C out from my weather and a huge variation in humidity) and Heathrow Airport, south west of me, on this island that has a predominant south westerly wind and so its weather is that of a front or other weather "element" that has yet to hit one of the lowest and therefore most expansive dense urban areas there is (London is very low rise and therefore spreads across a huge patch of ground). This again is pre-pollution, pre city weather. usually lower in temperature and humidity is not consistent with where I am and any rain this weather carries usually get's dumped in suburbia before it reaches me.

This is not just a London thing, a place I have been often between Santander and Bilbao on the Spanish coast has no weather station of its own, but is very different from either, despite your weather app saying "Castro" its actually taking its reading from Santander. I also grew up in a micro-climate on the east cost of Spain that grows mangos and avocado pears due to its tropical micro-climate, and ... the list goes on...

Local weather variations

Weather varies even in the same place whether you are in the sun or the shade, and at different times of the day / year this makes a huge difference. In the summer in the UK, its important to know when its 30'C in the sun (it does happen) but only 20'C in the shade, or worse in winter when it says 15'C, the feels like gives you a clue with a 12'C, but there is nothing like checking the Netatmo in the shade at 9'C to know its colder than it seems... I have tried with Oregon scientific and other alarm clocks / weather stations and they have two problems: 1) they do not seem that accurate, and usually only have temperature with no context, and 2) they are not connected to the internet, and so are, well just dirty. 
zoom in to outdoor for full hourly precipitation of where you are
The Netatmo lets you get this right by placing the weather station, complete with barometer, humidity sensor as well as temperature right where you want to know the weather, not some random approximation between two places.

Quality of life

So why is all this important. Well, I try and swim, bike and run as well as having other commitments like work and a family and so knowing the exact weather where I live, work and train in real time and/or remotely allows me to do more with my time, which for me increases my quality of life. It also allows me to get the most out of my run or ride without sweating buckets in a top designed for a few degress of temperature and 10% less humidity, because I do not usually have time to change when I sneak a run at lunchtime or before work.

Being able to monitor the humidity of things like wine, cigars or other rooms (like a greenhouse, for example) would also increase quality of life for many people.

and obviously when I am there as well, and only something like Netatmo let's you do this without surprises of the weather variety and wearing the right amount of clothing so you do not drown in your own sweat or freeze to death... and the Netatmo let's me do this in just the right amount of control freak I need :)

Netatmo experience

Back to getting to grips with amazing app / hardware integration, the out of the box experience...
You could not open this box, and put it away for later...
To the app based set-up are a pleasure to go through and a masterclass in UX
This process triggers exactly zero calls / emails to customer service asking "exactly how/where do I..." 
To then swiping up and down between modules.... and the ipad app is even better...
Tablet experience is built around the tablet screen size and DPI
So any gripes? well, I have not yet tried to add other modules for my non existent wine collection or very small humidor, or other locations to see how they work with the app, and honestly cannot imagine how they will do it an keep the whole thing as slick as it is... But will experiment at some point soon...