Weather Channel Mobile: Stormy Clouds Looming - InformationWeek

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1/24/2008
03:46 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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Weather Channel Mobile: Stormy Clouds Looming

The Weather Channel launched a new version of its Web site for mobile phones, and even included a site optimized for the iPhone. The generic mobile site is exactly what you need from a weather site and completely surpasses the iPhone-optimized site in usability. In fact, the iPhone site is so convoluted, it's more useful to just simply go to Weather.com. How can the optimized site fail so miserably?

The Weather Channel launched a new version of its Web site for mobile phones, and even included a site optimized for the iPhone. The generic mobile site is exactly what you need from a weather site and completely surpasses the iPhone-optimized site in usability. In fact, the iPhone site is so convoluted, it's more useful to just simply go to Weather.com. How can the optimized site fail so miserably?In the last six months, I've tested scores of Web sites that are optimized for the iPhone/Safari. Never have I see such a complete failure at usability as with Weather.com's new iPhone Web site. But first the good news.

If you point your mobile phone's browser to weather.com/mobile, it does not take you to a mobile-optimized version of the Web site as you would expect. Rather, it takes you to a landing page with information on how/where to grab the actual mobile site. This landing page took forever to load on the iPhone and on a Nokia N95 (with both the S60 browser and Opera Mini browser). The page is a standard-looking Web page and has lots of little boxes, frames, and links scattered about the page. There is a big link in the middle of the page that takes you to the actual mobile Weather Web page. Click on it.

The mobile Weather page is perfect. It has two text boxes. One for ZIP codes and one for city/state. Enter the information and then hit the large "search" button and away you go. There is also a listing below the search button of the five most-searched cities (New York, Chicago, L.A., Washington, D.C., and Atlanta). Perfect.

Results appear quickly. You can see an interactive radar feed, and you get the outlook with both images, such as clouds, and text info, such as "cloudy, 29F." Underneath this info there's a list of the UV index, relative humidity, wind speeds, and barometer reading. Perfect summary of current conditions in your search area.

Below that is a long list where you can really dig in and get longer-term forecasts; see if severe weather is headed in your direction; get maps, travel information, and ski reports; set preferences; and more. This is a truly usable Web site and lets you find the weather information you need easily. I bookmarked it.

Now, about that iPhone Web site...

When I clicked on the link, the mobile site took ages to load. We're talking well more than a minute. That puts me in a bad mood. Mobile-optimized sites are supposed to be designed for speed. It first tries to load a page that looks like something that might be usable, but then plops regular old Weather.com on top of it. Once it loads, you'll see that the frames and boxes of the site don't load properly in Safari. No matter how many times I refreshed the site, I couldn't get it to load properly. Along the right side of the site, it was like someone cut the Web page in half and slid part of it down several inches. The page just doesn't line up.

This standard Weather.com page, which is unusable because of the alignment/rendering issues, offers no speedy way to type in and get the information you want. It has tons of content, and that's great. But it's not optimized for mobile use. The links and buttons are all smallish and the text box was cut in half by the rendering issues.

So, Weather Channel, I suggest you go back to the drawing board and figure this one out, because it isn't ready for prime time, yet.

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