Startup Spotlight: Sunshine

The innovative weather app you never knew you needed


Weather apps are ten a penny, with competitors looking to take a share of one of a smartphones more functional features by finding innovative ways to present the day's outlook. Most are happy with their native weather app, with Apple and Samsung both providing basic yet functional interfaces. Sunshine - founded in Florida in 2014 - have thrown their hat into the ring, aiming to personalize a user's relationship with their weather report.

The app works by presenting the outlook for the day, along with five options for the user to describe how the temperature feels to them - freezing, cold, pleasant, warm and hot. The added subjectivity allows the app to 'learn' a user's particular opinion of what constitutes a warm day or a cold one and present the weather report accordingly. Personalized messages will appear daily once the app has enough user-inputed data, telling the user how they'll find the temperature. For some, a quick glance at the forecast in the morning is enough, but Sunshine hope that the wave of personalization will carry the app onto people's devices.

The app's focus on the user explains their target market - primarily a much younger audience, with 70% of users ranging from 14 to 24. The lower end of that bracket have grown up with personalization on not only their devices but their apps specifically, and it seems logical that the younger user would take more quickly to user-sourced reports. The app also largely targets women, given that 65% - a significant majority - of weather app users are female. In an arguably clichéd move, Sunshine have gone with the tag-line 'Not your parents' weather app'; as clear a drive toward the teen market as is imaginable.

Sunshine will hope to offset the functional, but relatively basic, native weather apps. Think Google's wrestling of Maps away from Apple, or Gmail's presence on many user's devices despite Apple's own Mail app. Apple Weather, for example, has a relatively limited range of weather-related data on display - pollen count, etc. It lacks details, extras, as well as a personal voice or 'personality' that will appeal to the younger user. Sunshine bills itself as the 'Waze of weather apps', i.e. a crowdsourced, real-time update system prioritizing user input and very specific location reports. On top of the app pulling data from a smartphone's in-built weather-sensitive barometer, Sunshine are pushing for users to file their own reports. According to the developers, users contribute around 10,000 to 15,000 reports a day, with contributions naturally spiking during snowy or rainy weather. Only available in the US and Canada (and only on iOS) at present, the app will see far greater user interaction when it eventually expands into Europe. The functionality extends to real-time rain warnings, push notifications not offered by the standard utility apps.

However, as is the problem with any utility app, monetization is a minefield. Both an initial charge and a subscription format can have damaging effects and crowding an app with advertisements is a surefire way to turn off users. Co-founder and CEO Katerina Stroponiati said: 'Weather is context to many things, from clothing to eating and traveling. There are tons of brands that are related with this field and are interested in getting promoted in Sunshine. Having said that, we won’t put any banners or intrusive ads in the app. Our first goal is to be the most exciting app out there without pushing to our users stuff out of context.' It will be interesting to see how Sunshine navigate 'contextual' advertising on a weather app, but with $2 million in Silicon Valley and New York investment already raised, the outlook looks bright. 

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