Being Canada’s national 24-hour provider of weather information and forecasting to anywhere from tiny towns to major metropolitan cities, The Weather Network Inc., headquartered in Oakville, Ont., relies on more than just a team of meteorologists in this digital age. Mark Thompson, The Weather Network’s vice-president and general manager for application services, talks about how the company tackles an ever-shifting mobile landscape and how its development strategy takes it to market
ComputerWorld Canada: How has today’s digital age changed the business of weather forecasting and the audience you target?
Mark Thompson: What we’ve found, with the ease of access, is that our users are using it more often. First thing you do in the morning, is you roll over and you pick up your phone, because we all sleep with our phones beside us, and you’ll check e-mail, a social network and weather. With a lot of these digital products, we’re able to reach our customers and they’re able to connect with us in many more places and many more times of the day, as opposed to being restricted to turning on the TV channel in the morning. Now, I’ve got my mobile phone. When I get to the office, I’ve got my desktop application on my computer screen. Now, with tablets, it’s expanded even more. As we see technologies expand, those are the types of things we are aware of and we are planning for. Interactive television is the next evolution of television, so how does that work in relation to our tablets or our mobile phones? And, even beyond that, you have the interactive television applications that are used through the carriers or the cable providers. And there are the ones that are native on the devices.
CWC: How are you adapting your application services strategy to keep up with the ever-changing mobile market?
MT: When we’re developing for each of the platforms, the first thing we have to do is look at the opportunity. We’ll take it up to the 10,000-foot level and go, okay, mobile phones or tablets, is that somewhere we want to be? We tend to go out there and try something even though it’s not proven. We just recently built, with a security system that Rogers is implementing in homes, a weather application built onto the touch screen. So, on your way out the door, you can set your alarm and check the weather. The second (decision) is which of the devices in that space to focus on. Mobile phones are a classic example. There are so many operating systems, you can’t be everywhere. Or, you can (be everywhere); you just can’t do it as well. We don’t take a “build once, use many” philosophy. We look at an iPad user and see how they are different from a PlayBook user. We actually design the app and the content that goes in the app differently. There’s a lot more rich, detail content on our tablets than there is on our mobile phones. We want to try and get consistency so that when you see an application regardless of whether it’s on TV, on tablet, on computer, you go, ah, it’s a weather network app. And, intuitively, you know where to go to get your hourly or 14-day forecast. In the past, because we tend to be a bit of a pioneer on each of the devices, we’ve had to ask ourselves what fits and how does this work. But now that it’s a little more mature, we’re changing our strategy to make sure we have a consistent look and feel.