Yesterday came news that Apple has bought the company who make the mobile weather app, Dark Sky.
For those who don’t know, Dark Sky is a particularly good weather app that marries great design with accurate minute-by-minute prediction of things like rain. They began as an iOS app, before making an API available to other weather apps, and then finally building an Android version of the app.
The app is not free, with a modest annual subscription – £2.99 when I paid last year for it. But it’s just worth it. The regular alerts telling me that rain is expected in a few minutes time, but will stop some minutes later, make it much more useful than others.
There’s a fascinating story to be told about how weather apps work, collecting often openly available data, before combining it, crunching it, modelling it, and producing their own forecasts. But that’s not what I’m here to write about today.
Instead, I’m thoroughly annoyed with the way Apple is behaving here. I don’t mind that a small company is being swallowed up by a behemoth. I hope that the workers there are getting a very nice payday. But I do mind the fact that Apple is going to kill both the Android app and the API.
The Android app will stop working in July, while the the API will stop being made available at the end of 2021.
Apple just didn’t need to kill it. What exactly they do with their new assets is unclear. I would expect as a base case, a much improved iOS weather app with Dark Sky data and functionality built in. Maybe even some of their design. To be honest, I don’t use the iOS standard weather app on my work iPhone, and nor do I use it on my iPad. I have Dark Sky installed there too!
But that needn’t stop Apple selling me continued access to a valuable and accurate resource.
It’s notable that when Apple bought Shazam, they didn’t kill off the Android app. It’s still there, being developed and working. The only real change that is apparent to Android users is that Apple Music is the preferred way that Shazam expects you to listen to the tracks it finds (although you can still listen via other services). And that’s in spite of Apple building Shazam into Siri.
But Apple is inconsistant about its cross-platform behaviour. It notably makes Apple Music available on Android as it fights to keep up with Spotify. Of course, outside the US, Apple is not by any means the dominant platform, so if it wants to have an impact globally in the music space, it needs to have an Android app.
Notably, with their Apple TV+ service, Apple has been launching apps that work on other platforms. My Samsung TV has an Apple TV app on it. If it didn’t, then I’d basically be forced into buying Apple’s uncompetitively priced streaming box. (That point is kind of moot for me, since I haven’t yet felt the need to subscribe to Apple TV+).
On the other hand, famously Apple does not make its Messages app cross-platform, largely you suspect, because they have such an incredible lock-in in the US, where Messages is the default. In much of the rest of the world, that default is something like WhatsApp. But in the US, it’s all about what colour your bubbles are in Messages – indicating an iPhone or non-iPhone user. Group chats don’t work in regular SMS after all, with the rollout of its successor, RCS, somewhat stymied by a thousand different network operators.
Apple has clearly taken a view that Dark Sky gives them an edge, and it’s going to be iOS exclusive.
For me, that just leaves a bad taste in mouth towards Apple. It makes me less likely to buy their hardware in the future if I can possibly avoid it.
Yes – there’s an opportunity for an Android developer to fill that particular gap, and I’ll be looking closely for one in the coming weeks. But it all feels a bit unnecessary.