WatchKit Standouts: Dark Sky

Just as a quick aside, even with Apple's recent confirmation of native watch apps coming this fall I plan to continue this series for the time being, and still have several examples planned of good design and functionality that I'd like to highlight. With that said, enjoy the second entry in the WatchKit Standouts series; Dark Sky.

Dark Sky:

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Dark Sky is one of the best weather services I've ever used. It's excellent impending rain notifications have saved me from a soaking plenty of times over the past two years on my phone, and it's hourly view for weather is great for planning a quick drink run to the coffee shop or a brisk walk around the block. So when I got my Apple Watch this spring I turned to Dark Sky for an even better weather experience than what even Apple could provide on the watch. I wasn't disappointed.

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If I'm about to duck out the door, one of the most important things on my mind is what I should expect from the weather while I'm out. What clothes should I wear? Do I need an umbrella? Will my new shoes get muddy? Dark Sky handily covers these spur-of-the-moment inquiries with the main screen of it's app, which presents me the local forecast for the next hour with the temperature, weather conditions, today's high & low temp, and the time until sunrise or set. One swipe below this screen brings up much more in-depth information such as pressure or dew point which in my opinion could be spared from a wrist-focused UI, but it's non-intrusive in it's location, so it doesn't bother me too much.

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When the weather takes a turn for the worse, this hourly screen also displays Dark Sky's precipitation timeline; which shows you when it's going to rain in the next hour and how much. This alone has alerted me to sudden downpours several times in the past month and a half or so that I've had my watch, and the same UI appears in the app's excellent notifications, which are equal parts useful and awesome party trick. "Hey look! It's going to rain in 5 minutes, and then stop 10 minutes later." It's like magic.

It's worth mentioning that inside the app this screen has some of the best looking visual effects I've seen on the watch so far, bar none. Behind the hourly screen you'll find subtle but beautiful animations matching up with the current weather conditions, and while the whole app could be described as good looking, this is an especially nice touch. Easily my favorite visual element.

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One swipe to the right brings us to the newly branded 24-hour view, which gives an overview of the day's weather conditions and temperature laid out on a vertically scrolling timeline. Like I mentioned in my Lifesum WatchKit Standouts piece, I love the way vertically-scrolling UI's work with the physical tact and haptics of the Digital Crown to create a more visceral experience. Sometimes I'll open Dark Sky to look at the forecast for the day and end up scrolling back and forth up and down this screen, just feeling the haptics kick as I reach either end of the timeline. It's aways a joy for me to use, and Dark Sky's 24-hour view is an excellent fit on the watch.

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Rounding out the app's functionality, one more swipe to the right brings us to Dark Sky's 7-day forecast view which gives a quick summary of the next week's conditions. Comprehensive in that you get temperatures, weather conditions, and precipitation chances for the next week all on one screen, but a bit visually squashed.

Even this screen is a refinement and upgrade from the previous version of the watch app though, where each day got it's own 24-hour view that you had to swipe in-between individually. That was a mess, and with this update the Dark Sky developers are moving this part of the app in the right direction. A few tweaks to the information density and I think they'll have nailed it.


I began planning this piece before the Forecast team launched the 5.0 update, and with the changes they've made its actually quite a different piece from where I started. The app still caters to the kind of weather information that one wants at a glance, but it's now organized in a logical order based on the urgency of the information. First the next hour, then the next day, and finally the next week.

That's a really commendable user-experience flow, and it's obvious if you look close enough that some serious thought went into this. The kind of thought not only focused on visuals or features, but in how the app's purpose is presented to the user, and the kind of little decisions that make all the difference in use. If this is the first big update to Dark Sky's Watch App even before native code launches this fall, then I can't wait to see where the Forecast team takes us next. With this kind of quality app, it's pretty sure to be good.

Cheers,

~M