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In this economy, the winner is weather apps

Sirena Bergman   

In this economy, the winner is weather apps
    • Weather apps are tech's sleeper hit.
    • Data shows we're addicted, even when they don't work that well.

What's the temperature right now, wherever you're reading this?

Chances are you can answer with a decent level of confidence — even if you haven't left the house today — because we're all living our lives with mini digital weather bureaus in our pockets.

The Guardian is rather boldly reporting that weather apps have become an "addiction." And these apps have become big business.

According to a recent YouGov poll, apps are the number one source for weather information among Americans, used by 53% of people. A report by market research company Grand View Research valued the industry at over $800 million in 2022, and estimated it could grow to $1.4 billion by 2028.

And yet as anyone who's been caught in a rainstorm with no umbrella knows, it's not really clear that these apps actually do their job all that well.

Eric Floehr, who founded a company called ForecastWatch that analyzes weather forecasts, told The Guardian that while weather apps are overall more accurate than they used to be, they still suck at a lot of things, like certain types of long-term forecasting, or accurately predicting the weather for certain areas.

At best, weather apps "perform about as well as meteorologists, but some of the most popular ones fare much worse," Charlie Warzel recently wrote in The Atlantic.

Still, there's a weather app for everyone: Sassy weather apps, irreverent weather apps, fashion-conscious weather apps, practical weather apps, and aesthetic weather apps. And then there's the big gun: The Weather Channel app, which had over 55 million monthly active users in 2020 — more than the most downloaded news app in the US, NewsBreak, which reports it has 40 million.

And it's a smart business model. A weather app can use US government data (and many do, The Guardian reported) which is free to use for any purpose, according to the National Weather Service's website. They can then make money by using your location data, feeding in ads, or charging for fun add-ons such as customization and sharing options.

Weather apps are also able to avoid a lot of the controversy that surrounds other tech business models: they're not dealing with a stream of misinformation or scams, or harassment on their platforms that they need to moderate, or a gig-economy model that raises legal and ethical considerations.

Over-complicated social-media innovators think they can win by creating the next Twitter, but in this economy, perhaps they'd be better off creating the next weather channel instead.

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