R.I.P. Dark Sky, the only good weather app


It’s the first day of 2023, and rather than posting any reflections or resolutions, I will instead complain about the demise of Dark Sky at the hands of Apple.

I can’t remember how many years ago I started using Dark Sky, but it was an instant favorite. The hyperlocal precipitation alerts were pretty accurate and very useful, and the interface was clean and easy to use. Through winter snowstorms and summer thundershowers, from Boston to California and everywhere in between, it’s been a constant and reliable tool. I happily paid for the app on both Android and iOS, and I’ve had the webpage as a pinned tab on my computer for years.

In March 2020 (a month of much change), it was announced that Apple had bought Dark Sky. The main initial change was the shutdown of the Android app, which I admit was a motivating factor in my switching to iPhone that year. Otherwise, Apple mostly kept things the same while they worked to merge the Dark Sky tech into Apple Weather. Until yesterday, when I opened the Dark Sky app, saw no data, and realized that it was finally gone.

Sad, sad day :(

Dark Sky was more accurate (in my experience)

Apple says that they’ve integrated Dark Sky’s data into Apple Weather, but whatever they did wasn’t a direct port. There have been multiple times in the past month when I’ve checked Apple Weather, looked out the window and realized that it was wrong, then checked Dark Sky and saw that Dark Sky got it right. As a result, I don’t really trust Apple Weather.

For example, note the disagreement in these below screenshots, and compare with the view out my window at that time:

I see fog a short distance away, and lots of low clouds giving way to some filtered sunlight. Which app communicates this more accurately? I think Dark Sky’s “partly cloudy” is a lot closer than Apple Weather’s “mostly sunny” with the visual of a dazzling sun high in a blue sky.

Dark Sky’s UI was more user-friendly

The one thing I most often care about when opening a weather app in the morning is how the weather will change over the hours of the day. If it will rain, I want to know which hours it will rain, and how much. Dark Sky did this better.

Dark Sky put an hourly view front and center, with a colored vertical bar to indicate cloud cover or precipitation, and the temperatures as a stylized bar graph that made intuitive visual sense when scrolling down the app. Critically, when it was precipitating, the type and severity of precipitation was shown and described (light rain, heavy rain, heavy snow, etc.)

Seeing all this key hourly information for the next 24 hours required just a half scroll down the screen.

In contrast, Apple Weather gives you a tiny, horizontally scrolling row of icons. You can only see six hours at once, and you have to read all of the temperature numbers in order to visualize the overall trend in your head. I also find the icons harder to understand than Dark Sky’s presentation.

When it’s raining, Apple Weather tells you the percent chance of rain, but not how hard it will rain. To get a sense of that, I have to tap the hourly info on the main page to see the detailed charts (not a very discoverable feature), and then make two more taps to select the precipitation chart from the small dropdown menu.

That’s three taps every time I open the app and want to understand how hard it will rain over the day, something that Dark Sky put directly on the main page.

Dark Sky: Intuitive and readable, just a half-page scroll down the home page.
Apple Weather: Smaller, less readable, and not detailed.
This is the view I want, but getting here requires an extra, non-obvious tap in Apple Weather. And seeing precipitation requires an additional two taps on the little dropdown menu.

I also liked the clean, flat design of Dark Sky much more than the semi-photorealistic visuals of Apple Weather. I just want clear information in my app; I don’t need my app to try to show me how the weather literally looks.

I’ll also miss all the details in the Dark Sky app that gave it character. When showing the next hour hyperlocal precipitation forecast, the blue graph line softly waved and splashed like water – communicating appropriate uncertainty while also adding some playfulness and motion. There was a feature that would show you interesting-looking storms on the map elsewhere in the world. They even had a silly emoji weather map.

Credit where it’s due

Apple Weather puts air quality information right on the main screen, and you can also view it on the map. Dark Sky didn’t have any air quality data, so I’d use PurpleAir instead. I care a lot about air quality when it’s unhealthy, mostly during wildfire season.

Other thoughts

Since the Dark Sky webpage is gone now, I guess I’ll be pinning weather.gov on my computer instead. I think Apple added a weather app in macOS Ventura, but that’s the first major release of macOS that my 2015 Macbook Pro can’t get.

I’m also sad that the Time Machine feature of Dark Sky hasn’t been ported to Apple Weather. It was useful to occasionally look at past weather and line up the data with my lived experience.

I’m not categorically opposed to larger companies buying up smaller companies in order to get their product. But I do feel disappointed when the older, beloved product is removed from the market and the new product is less accurate and less easy to use than the old product. It leaves a gap where there wasn’t one before. I really wanted to like Apple Weather, but it doesn’t currently measure up. I hope that Apple improves the Weather app, but in the meantime I wish we still had Dark Sky.

(Thanks to Frank for sharing in this frustration with me yesterday evening!)

Note – March 22, 2023

This article was making the rounds today, and I thought it was worth linking: A Eulogy for Dark Sky, a Data Visualization Masterpiece – Srini Kadamati

I’m still pretty salty over the loss of Dark Sky. The Apple Weather app still sucks for the same reasons described above. It’s been quite the rainy season here in California this year so far, and I deeply miss the clarity of Dark Sky.

I’m not the only one feeling this way—threads on this topic on Reddit and Hacker News have hundreds of comments.

Some alternatives I’ve seen suggested: