Why is it so hard to pick just one weather app lately? Better design and more data

I have a bit of a problem: I can’t stop downloading weather apps. Not all of them, mind you. But every few months or so there’s been a prettier, more useful weather app that I have just had to try.

I will admit I’m a bit weather-obsessed (it’s one of the first two apps I open when I grab for my iPhone in the morning). But there’s no other category of app that I’ve experimented with so frequently. Why has this particular category gotten increasingly good in the last few months? Because designers are starting to care about it, and data crunchers are jumping in too.

Justin Re, CEO of Minutely, an app that debuted Monday, has been working on his take on a weather forecasting app for over a year. He said what we’re seeing now is just the beginning of where once-basic apps showing the current conditions and forecasts are going.

“The [weather apps] that look pretty but have substance, I think, is where the new breed of this category is going to go,” he told me on Monday. “It used to be enough to take Weather Underground’s [data] feed and make it look good. But people are sick of that now, they want something extra.”

While Minutely uses Weather Underground data, it also brings in NOAA radar information, and crowd-contributed weather reports (like Waze, if a certain number of people in a certain area report something, the app will report that data). But that’s not all: Re is planning on adding even more sources of data as they become available — he’s looking at everything from cameras that can provide weather information, to the sensors inside the hardware most of us carry with us everywhere: some Android(s GOOG) phones have pressure sensors built in, which can help give information about atmospheric pressure. “We will look to tap into those on the hardware as well. And, I think, as smartphones develop there will be more sensors” to derive data from, he said.

Minutely is not alone; there are so many other neat ones to try, and you don’t even have to be a weather nerd to appreciate them. Who doesn’t want to get more accurate weather reports? Here’s a sampling of some good ones:

Minutely iOS weather app

Minutely is very data-heavy. But it uses a simple layout and cheery design to make the amount of information it shows you digestible, useful and not overwhelming. Its big differentiating factor, however, is its rendering of weather data in 3D. No other weather app is using that yet, and Re says what’s in the app is just the beginning of how multiple dimensions can give a more accurate picture of weather nearby. Price: free.

Haze weather iOS

Haze is all about design. It’s certainly the most elegant weather app I’ve ever used. Haze uses animations in the background to convey tomorrow’s forecast, including temperature and chance of rain. You can also swipe left to right to cycle through forecasts, or up and down to reveal additional detail and menus — or simply tilt the device instead. Haze’s designers use principles that Apple has shown it will make liberal use of in iOS 7 — transparency, layers and flat simplicity — to wonderful effect. Price: $2.99.

Dark Sky iOS weather

Dark Sky has been my constant companion in Philadelphia this summer (we’re currently enjoying our rainiest summer on record). The super accurate radar visualizations — which are helped along by voluntary crowdsourcing — are incredibly helpful when you’re trapped indoors waiting for a torrential storm to pass and you’re wondering whether you should just run for it and get soaked. Dark Sky shows you how long until the rain stops or lightens up, and can see up to an hour into the future. Price: $3.99.

Weather Mob iOS

Weathermob is the social weather app that uses user-submitted images to offer insight of what kind of day it is outside. You can search nearby, by tags (and users’ feelings and moods) or scroll through the image feed to see weather from anywhere in the world.

Conditions weather iOS

Conditions is as basic as it gets. But it’s also refreshingly clean. This is for you if you want a distraction-free replacement for the iOS stock weather app — and if you’re willing to pony up some money for it. Price: $0.99.

Things are changing quickly in the world of weather on mobile — data, design, social elements and more are important principles of building almost any successful mobile app these days. (If you want to hear more about this, definitely plan to attend our RoadMap conference in November.) So if you haven’t tried out anything beyond the stock iOS weather app on your phone, know you’re missing out.