How The Weather Company is Helping IBM Expand its Developer Footprint

Posted 7/16/2016 8:06:59 AM by RICHARD HARRIS, Executive Editor

How The Weather Company is Helping IBM Expand its Developer Footprint
We recently chatted with Chris Huff, Vice President, Mobile & Consumer Application Development - The Weather Company, to talk how the company approaches application development and the role it has with helping IBM work with the development community.

ADM: How are developers at The Weather Company aiding consumers’ ability to receive weather updates in real time?

Huff: The Weather Company is dedicated to providing consumers with the most up-to-date weather information in real time. As a result The Weather Channel brand has created “follow me” notifications that understand where the user is and can deliver urgent weather updates specific to a user’s current location. Being properly notified of weather conditions is critical, especially if you are in a vulnerable location and need to be informed of a potential weather disaster, such as a tornado, severe winter weather or hurricane. 

ADM: What features of an application are most important to consumers and how do you take that into consideration in development at The Weather Company?

Huff: Speed, performance and quality are the most important features of an application for consumers. A fast start time, meaning the time it takes an application to open and be useful, is critical to the user experience so we are always looking for ways to speed up our applications.

While we prioritize features,  not every feature has the same level of importance to the individual user. Consequently, we are beginning to innovate more with our approach to personalization and tailoring our applications to each user’s preferred experience. 

ADM: As more consumers are turning to their mobile devices to glean information instead of visiting websites on a computer, how is The Weather Company addressing this shift?

Huff: Because mobile drives the user experience, The Weather Company focuses on a mobile-first approach for its consumer brands -- The Weather Channel and Weather Underground. By using a responsive Web-design approach, we are able to design Web and mobile applications that maximize the user experience. The execution of this strategy has resulted in an increase in interaction on our Web and mobile sites allowing us to provide users with more accurate weather information. 

We are also pioneering change in weather accuracy that can only be realized from mobile devices. Our meteorology team now creates a weather forecast for over 2.2 billion locations, allowing us to give mobile users an exact weather forecast for the place they are standing.  Additionally, we are now pulling barometric pressure readings from mobile devices, which provide our scientists with an unprecedented amount of localized data to help improve our forecast models using the Internet of Things.

ADM: What is the premise behind Web push notifications and why is it significant?

Huff: Web-push notifications increase user engagement, allowing The Weather Channel brand can send severe weather alerts, breaking news and global notifications to users—even if their browser is not running on their device. This has enabled us to reach people anywhere in the world—whether they have a smartphone or not—and inform them of dangerous weather conditions in their area. 

ADM: Can you tell us about the recent Global Weather Forecast Notifications announcement and the role the development team played in creating the technology?

Huff: The Global Weather Forecast Notifications announcement brought our alerting technology to the global community. All of The Weather Channel products and services are designed to accommodate the global community. Weather influences everyone’s lives at one time or another and we want to make sure that our service is accessible to anyone who wants to use it. As developers, we ensure that our applications and sites are written to support globally unique preferences and are translated in up to 40 different languages.

ADM: How is The Weather Company helping IBM to expand their developer footprint?

Huff: Our backend systems are not just applicable to weather data.  For example, our IoT platform can ingest, process and distribute data of all types. As a result, we are working with IBM to put the data tools in the hands of the developers and run insights for weather applications on Bluemix. Data is a resource that is used by all levels within an organization, so we help make sure that anyone who wants to gain insight from company data is able to. 

ADM: How has the role of the developer changed over time?

Huff: Today developers need to be innovators and problem solvers. Historically, developers would take orders and implement; now they need to understand consumer behaviors to solve problems and make their products more efficient. Developers have to collaborate with product, design and development teams to streamline results and create the most effective applications or sites. This idea really pushes developers outside of their comfort zone, but it’s ultimately allowed them to create better products over time.

ADM: What trends are you seeing in application development?

Huff: The biggest trend is change. Application development continues to evolve and shift, especially with new technologies like IoT and wearable devices. Application developers must constantly innovate to support the growing ecosystem of apps, products and platforms. As IoT gains popularity, developers will need to be prepared to adjust their development process to cater to new capabilities and data sources.  

ADM: What else is on the horizon for The Weather Company?

Huff: The Weather Company is putting a lot of time and effort into creating a more personalized experience for our users with both The Weather Channel and Weather Underground products. We are also working to accelerate our apps and mobile pages and better understand how we can accommodate 2G network connections to improve our application and provide weather updates to anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world. 

Editors Note: 

As vice president of mobile and consumer app development at The Weather Company, an IBM Business (Weather), Chris Huff is responsible for all aspects of engineering and delivery of The Weather Channel brand’s consumer applications on digital platforms, including smartphones, tablets, computers, wearables and emerging devices. The Weather Channel has the No. 2 all-time downloaded app on iPad and No. 7 all-time downloaded app on iPhone. 

Prior to joining The Weather Channel, Chris worked at The Home Depot for 12 years, where he most recently was in charge of all online and mobile product management, planning and development. In previous roles there, he led numerous development teams, including International, SAP and Enterprise Services. Chris also worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an SAP consultant, and as a consultant in technology logistics for the Atlanta Committee for Olympic Games in 1996. 

He holds an MBA from Georgia State University and a bachelor’s degree in marketing and logistics from The University of Georgia.

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About the author: RICHARD HARRIS, Executive Editor

As the Publisher and Editor for App Developer Magazine, Richard has several industry recognitions and endorsements from tech companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google for accomplishments in the mobile market. He was part of the early Google AFMA program, and also involved in the foundation of Google TV. He has been developing for mobile since 2003 and serves as CEO of Moonbeam Development, a mobile app company with 200 published titles in various markets throughout the world. Richard is also the founder of LunarAds, a mobile cross-promotion and self-serv mediation network for developers. He has been a featured presenter at trade-shows and conferences, and stays active with new projects relating to mobile development.

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