New BBC Weather app for Android and iOS

Monday 10 June 2013, 07:30

James Metcalfe James Metcalfe Senior Product Manager

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I’m James Metcalfe, senior product manager for the BBC Weather website and as my editorial colleague Liz has mentioned on the BBC Editors blog, today we launch our native mobile apps for Android and iOS.

The Android version is now available from the Google Play store and the iOS version is available from the iTunes store.

image1.jpg The BBC Weather app on various screens  

While most users have traditionally visited the BBC Weather site on their desktop, we have seen a huge increase in mobile use over the past year. It is with this in mind that we have been working on a truly mobile BBC Weather offer for our audiences.

The results are clear, easy to use apps that are now available for the majority of visitors to BBC Weather, covering 82% of mobile weather visitors. Features include:

  • Location aware five-day forecasts and 48 hours of UK based hourly forecasts.
  • International locations and three hourly forecast details.
  • Extra detail for each hour including Visibility, Humidity and Pressure.
  • Settings to change your app preferences.
  • Ambient transitions to provide more context about the weather at your location.
  • Accessibility for screen readers via voice over.
  • An Android widget with a five-day overview.
  • BBC design principles with usability at the core.



Native or hybrid HTML5?

We wanted to provide the best user experience we could for mobile devices. Based on our research, 80% of respondents said a simple uncluttered forecast was most important and this focused our design approach, which my colleague Stephen will discuss in more detail soon.

Through prototyping and user feedback sessions we clarified our designs and also investigated the use of HTML5 hybrid apps along with a purely native app. Deciding our approach was not easy as both have advantages.

However, based on feedback, speed and simplicity were highlighted as particularly important on the move and to present forecast data quickly we chose to develop native code. We could take full advantage of location and data management whilst interactions, transitions and animations were far easier to implement.

It has provided us with the foundations in which we can continue to enhance and expand new features using the best of native or even HTML5 as it becomes more responsive to our needs on mobiles.

image2.jpg Different ways to view content


The major features of the apps are the same for both platforms but there are subtle differences in the interactions to take advantage of the familiar navigation on your phone. The iOS app has been created to ensure the best standards and guidelines have been followed so all interactions menus and settings should be very familiar to iOS users, such as a left navigation menu with search and edit functionality.

The major difference for Android is the use of the action bar for search and the ability to offer an interactive home screen widget, which we are pleased to include in this first version. We added some fun stuff too like bumping two phones together to share your favorite locations over Near Field Communication (NFC).

We have also managed a quick update in time for launch to include the new Android standard navigation drawer which was announced a few weeks ago at the Google developer conference.


Testing for multiple devices

As there are so many variations of mobile device on the market there was some concern about building two apps for release at the same time. How could we test effectively on the huge variation of devices that our audience use?

We decided to automate testing through the use of the Behaviour Driven Development (BDD) framework Cucumber to define scenarios in plain language and wrote Calabash step definitions that turn behaviours into automated code our apps understand, then simulate the interactions common to mobile phones such as swiping a screen.

We are already comfortable using BDD and felt this approach would give us the best possible coverage whilst automating the common tests would free up our testers to focus on less common interactions.

We automated these tests as part of our deployment and for the first time integrated with a hosted device lab that would run all of our scenarios on a wide range of phones overnight. This provides a collection of screenshots which we were then able to use to quickly confirm the behaviour was as expected on many devices.

We have also verified through Beta testing with hundreds of users that the apps work on as many devices as possible.

We are aware however that to cover every device combination would be almost impossible, especially for Android. So if you do see any bugs please let us know using the feedback link in the app and provide details of your phone and operating system.

We have worked hard to make the apps accessible by checking the colour contrasts of images and considering text to speech devices. My colleague Al Duggin will write more about accessibility on the Internet blog soon but if you have further feedback on how the app performs via screen readers please let us know.


Feedback

We will be adding additional features such as sharing and longer range forecasts to the apps and our mobile site, but would also like to know your views on what you want from a weather app. We have already considered forecast maps for mobile and this is something we will look at as we re-evaluate this section for the desktop site.

We will keep a close eye on all of your comments so do please let us know how you find your experience using the app. As well as via reviews in Google Play and the iTunes app store you can contact us via twitter @BBCWeather, via our contact form or leave a comment below.

When leaving a comment or reporting a problem it would be a great help if you are specific about which device you are using and which version of the operating system you have installed (which can usually be found in the ‘about’ section of the settings menu on your device).

I hope you find this BBC Weather app a valuable addition and look forward to hearing your feedback.

James Metcalfe is senior product manager for BBC Weather.

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