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While most weather apps only get their data from radars and other high-tech resources that sit high in the sky, Minutely takes a different approach by adding crowdsourced weather reports to the mix. Like Waze but for weather, Minutely asks its users to contribute first-hand weather reports to provide more accurate and up-to-the-minute weather data for the masses.
When you first launch Minutely, the app asks you to sign in either with your Facebook or Twitter account. Doing so gives you the ability to share weather data with friends across your social networks, but if you don't care about the feature, then you can just as easily begin using the app without registering. From there, Minutely jumps straight to a page of data for your current location. The primary screen here shows a full-day forecast (with high and low temps for the day), a two-day forecast, and a graph of hourly temperatures for the next 24 hours. Tapping on any of the different areas brings up more information, including a more-detailed full-day forecast, seven-day forecast, or 2-hour rain forecast.
If you tap on the city name up top, a search bar pops up, which lets you switch your current location. The app lets you search for locations around the world, but it's important to note that radar data for the map visualization (more on that later) is only available for the contiguous United States. While the search feature was mostly smooth, I wish it were more dynamic and pulled up matching city names as I typed.
Reporting current weather
Perhaps the best thing about Minutely is that it lets you correct or update weather reports by submitting your own -- a feature that can be extremely useful for large cities, whose weather conditions might differ from neighborhood to neighborhood. For instance, since I spend most of my time in San Francisco, a city with notoriously fickle "microclimates," these user-submitted reports can be valuable if I'm traveling to a specific part of town. The problem, though, is that as of now, Minutely doesn't appear to have a large enough user base to make it as reliable as Waze, but it still can be useful
On the main screen, if you tap on the current weather icon, you can easily submit your own weather report with just a couple of additional taps. With such a simple and visual interface here, there's almost no reason to not contribute your own weather data. To motivate you further, Minutely gives you points for your reports, which, when accumulated, can push you up a neat, yet meaningless community leaderboard.
If you want to submit more than just a quick status report of "Mostly Sunny" or "Light Rain," Minutely also offers an interface for more-detailed contributions. Just swipe right from the main screen (or tap the Report button) to get both a photo uploader and a message field. With these tools, you can show others what you're seeing and more accurately describe weather conditions.
Another thing that sets Minutely apart from other weather apps is its mapping. Swipe left from the main screen, and you'll see an Open Street Map with your location plotted, as well as any present clouds or other radar data hanging over it (in the contiguous United States only). The slider at the bottom lets you see what will be over your head for the next 2 hours, and if you swipe around, you might see messages and reports left by other users.
The 3D button kicks you over to a nifty isometric view that shows a 3D rendering of cloud coverage. This sort of weather visualization is certainly neat, but overall, I found the 3D map to be hard to control and slow to load, so it's definitely not something I would use regularly.
As a whole
With Weather Underground powering Minutely's longer-term data, it seems like a brilliant idea to crowdsource weather data to provide more-accurate and up-to-date forecasts. It's great for larger cities with neighborhood-specific microclimates as well as for smaller towns, which may not get accurate coverage from other mainstream weather services. The problem with Minutely, though, is its packaging of this data. The app's interface isn't particularly attractive, and the map features need major work. As a dedicated user of Google Maps, I was disappointed with the glitchy controls and sluggish performance of Minutely's Open Street Map-powered visualizations. Also, it's clear that the user base needs to grow significantly before it can truly be a reliable source for hyperlocal forecasts. All things considered, I am not totally sold on Minutely as a go-to weather app, but I am excited to see it after a few rounds of improvements.