WxFix Standard for IPhone

Last time I checked, there were close to 500 weather apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. In one camp are specialized apps, which may focus on radar capabilities, hurricanes, ski reports, or aviation forecasts. Those in the other camp aim for probably the biggest group of iPhone weather app users--those who simply want to know the forecast for the next few days and be forewarned if they should plan on bringing an umbrella to work tomorrow. WxFix Standard is clearly in the latter category. (Its developer, Eelios, also has a free version called WxFix Lite.)

The most impressive aspect of WxFix Standard is how much power it packs into what are now standard weather app features. Like many others in its category, WxFix provides you the local weather by default. It also enables you to create a list of favorite locations. For each location the default screen provides the current temperature as of the most recent hour, a short description ("Partly Cloudy Breezy," for example), the wind speed and direction, the humidity, the amount of precipitation and chance of precipitation, and the dew point. Somehow, on the same screen, it can also display, very legibly, three days of its six-day forecast. Scroll a bit to the left, and you get the next three days.

It performs this basic function elegantly and quickly, but the power of the app can really best be seen when you select the "Map" icon at the bottom of the screen. Before you know it, if you've selected the satellite view (courtesy of Google maps) or hybrid view (a combination of the satellite view with an overlaid road map), you're hurtling from space toward the ground at your current location. The zoom speed is as good or better than what you'd expect from a Web site running on a fast desktop or laptop. Scrolling or zooming out in any of the map views is a bit slower, with chunks of the screen taking several seconds to redraw, but it's faster than I've seen in any of the dozen or so weather apps I've used. And zooming in is very fast.

WxFix also provides real-time radar in motion, and enables you to select the radar's level of transparency and frame speed. The interface, from every view, is clear, information-packed, and easy to read.

I found the WxFix interface a bit difficult to get used to; the app has an arrow icon at the top of the screen that has different functions depending on context. Touching the arrow icon provides different options when you're viewing your list of favorites than when you're checking out current conditions or a radar image. Using the drop-pin feature, which theoretically enables you to get a hyperlocal forecast (picture latitude and longitude displayed out to 10 decimal points) also takes some getting used to, and its usefulness isn't made clear.

By this I mean that if you're using, for example, Weather Underground (my personal favorite weather site), you can choose specific personal (or local) weather stations from which to get forecasts. The weather station may be located at a local farm, or a nearby university or small airport, but the key is that you know where your information is coming from. WxFix gets in close, but it doesn't say how the information that you're getting about a point differs from the current conditions and forecast from, say, a point across the street. Eelios touts the app's "patent-pending geo-location technology," and "an ensemble forecast derived from a variety of weather data sources," but it's not clear how this really makes for a more accurate forecast. It certainly was a puzzler one night during my testing. WxFix was telling me there was zero percent chance of precipitation ... while I was listening to the steady pitter-patter of rain on my roof.

Maybe the ensemble needs a better conductor. But when you step away from the hype, WxFix gets just about everything right.

[Jeff Merron is a freelance writer and editor living in North Carolina.]

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