How Android became WeatherBug’s largest overall platform

by Brad Spirrison

View Chris's bioOver the last two decades, many of us have used WeatherBug to get a quick forecast or perhaps a deeper look into meteorological conditions.

Having started as a popular desktop and instant messaging client, WeatherBug is now immersed within mobile media via applications on Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 devices. The company’s WeatherBug Elite is one of the top selling Android apps of all time, and has helped to make Android WeatherBug’s largest mobile platform.

In this edition of Meet the Makers, WeatherBug’s Vice President of Consumer Products Chris Brozenick discusses how Android fosters the company’s innovation by allowing it to implement and release new updates virtually in real time.

“With Android, we can literally make a change and see it in the market the next hour,” he said.

Brozenick also discusses collaborating with Google at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, getting distribution via Verizon, and recent innovations like the “Active Wallpaper” feature.

Appolicious: WeatherBug has provided weather data for nearly two decades via desktop and mobile device distribution. How significant is the Android platform in your mobile media mix?

Chris Brozenick: Android is very significant for us now. We have seen tremendous growth over the past two years on Android, and in particular during the last six to nine months as more and more Android devices reach the market. It is fair to say that Android is now our largest single OS / Platform overall – and we have a very wide audience across all major smartphone and feature phones – iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Mobile Web, BREW, etc. Generally, we are still seeing growth in iOS and on mobile web, Blackberry is flat, but Android is huge!

APPO: From a development standpoint, how did you go about configuring an app that is easily accessible via all the smartphone variations that Android powers?

CB: We tried to take an approach that offered consistent, yet scalable data across a wide variety of screen sizes and form factors. Luckily, we have a great partnership with Verizon – so we see many of the new Android devices in time to test and verify our application runs well. As each new version of Android is released, we also take time to make sure our apps work well and fix any issues as soon as possible.

APPO: What are you learning about Android tablet usage since releasing WeatherBug for Honeycomb earlier this year?

CB: We are still in the early days for the tablets, but we have learned a lot and feel very good about the potential in that space. We were one of a small handful of “First Apps” working with Google to showcase at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this February. As the Motorola XOOM tablet was launched we started to see good growth, but clearly it is just a fraction of mobile devices so far. However, that will likely change quickly this summer and fall as a large number of new tablets are being introduced by Samsung, HTC and others.

APPO: WeatherBug Elite is one of the top-selling Android apps of all time. Describe how you are able to attract new and existing users of your service to this platform.

CB: Yes, we have been very excited to see WeatherBug Elite as a Top 20 application for many months now. We continue to innovate on this product and respond to user feedback. One of our most talked-about features added last year was the “Active Wallpaper” feature that lets you put the radar map on your wallpaper. As the newer high-resolution and larger screen phones came to market, this became a very popular feature. We also have been starting to do regular four to six week updates to provide very fast response to user comments and to make good updates to support the new devices that come to market. We believe by being responsive, innovative and being as current as possible – we will continue to enjoy success on Android.

APPO: How does marketing a new Android app compare to doing so via the iTunes App Store?

CB: Clearly there are some differences. For starters, there are a lot of blogs and people working on Android given the “open” nature of the platform. We find a lot of people talk about our application and point to the Android market, more than we see of iTunes. Secondly, the speed at which an app can be put into the market is amazing. With Android, we can literally make a change and see it in the market the next hour. This means we can market our regular updates better and react to changes quickly which is always a good thing for marketing.

APPO: At this point, does WeatherBug have a specific team to develop and market applications, or is mobile media now incorporated in everything?

CB: We do a little of both actually. We saw the convergence across the traditional “Web” and “Mobile” happening about two years ago. We see few and fewer lines to divide our consumer business as time goes on. This is due to the advent of the tablets, and technologies such as HTML 5. So, we have one “Consumer Team” that looks across everything, but we also have mobile product managers and developers who specialize on particular mobile products within the consumer mix.

APPO: What are the three biggest things that keep you up at night in terms of challenges and opportunities in mobile media?

CB: Well, sometimes my phone keeps me up at night because it is so fast and easy to browse while lying in bed! But other than that, I would say the following:

How do we continue to innovate and listen to our customers as that audience becomes larger and larger? In some ways, it was easier when there were only a few million smartphones in the market as those were the “top end” of the market. Now everyone has one, and everyone wants something unique.

Striking the right balance between features, simplicity and speed. We know that 80 percent of the users just want to get a forecast and know when the rain or storm is coming and that is all. But the other 20 percent want more and are the most vocal and loyal. We need to attract both and keep both happy.

- As the market overall continues to shift toward mobile devices – smartphones, tablets, etc – how do we insure we innovate and take advantage of the great features this products offer? It’s all about innovation. For example – the cameras on the tablets – how can we use those for the weather? The Motorola XOOM has a barometer built in – we put that data on the user’s home screen. There are some very cool things we can do, but we have to keep on our toes!

APPO: Where do you see the industry one year from now? Five years from now?

CB: One year from now I see Android as still the largest and greatest audience and opportunity. I see many more Android tablets in the market and hopefully that will be gaining momentum.  I think there will be many more 4G devices and that will mean a large number of opportunities for faster and richer applications like ours.

Five years is a long time! In the seven-plus years I have been at WeatherBug, the mobile world has gone from the equivalent of the early middle ages to the renaissance now. I think another five years will be incredible and take us into a very modern era.

I envision tablets everywhere, I see many people ditching their home broadband and using their 4G and then 5G services from their mobile devices, in much the same way as people have dropped their landlines for mobile the past five years.  There will be a lot of headaches for service providers, but huge opportunity.

I see weather continuing to be the number one content area across these devices - as it has been the past five years - and finding more cool and interesting ways to work this into the new devices that come to market. In the end, we want to provide fast, interesting and usable weather intelligence for everyone.