Work In Progress : Big Screen Weather 2 (global)
A new product that’s been keeping me busy is an update to Big Screen Weather for Vista Media Center (‘v2′) – and this time around - it’s been designed with global users in mind. (The past 2 incarnations of this product : Big Screen Weather v1 + Big Screen Portal were for Australians only).
As with the other ‘v2′ products from the ‘Big Screen’ Range – Weather v2 started off as a simple update – and then as it developed – turned into something completely new (with most of the original v1 code being ‘shown the door’)..
A quick summary of what ‘Big Screen Weather v2′ provides :
- Latest Detailed Global Weather Observations (for over 5000 locations worldwide – including Europe, Asia, Africa, N/S America, Australasia)
- Forecasts (3-7 day) for over 4000 locations worldwide
- Satellite Imagery, Animated Radar Loops (US + Australia only) and Charts - with a preset catalog of over 1400 images.
- ‘TV Weather’ style Geo Browsing of worldwide observations - with panning and zooming to locations (Continent, Region, Country and State levels).
- MultiLingual UI and Weather data (9 languages) : English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish + Danish. (DBCS + RTL Language support such as Hebrew + Japanese are planned for Q1 next year).
Since a picture tells a thousand words – here’s some screenshots (and a thousand words)..
click on these to zoom to large versions >>
The main menu (below x2 screenshots) – features a similar main menu system to Big Screen Headlines 2 – and allows you to scroll left/right to reveal different data (without leaving the main menu) – and then click through to more information. (if desired). As with ‘TV Style’ weather reports – the animations and various transitions are a highlight (but I really need to do a videocast of this so you can see how this looks) – and in the main menu below the waves/clouds appear to be rolling towards you (and looks like a video is being played).
Clicking through to the Observation (below left) or Forecast (below right) reveals much more detailed information. The actual data/sections and # days displayed in these screens is determined by the source/type of the data (some locations may only provide 3+1 days forecast).
Big Screen weather displays both Imperial (US) and Metric (SI) measurements (your choice) – and this includes not only temperatures (Celcius <> Fahrenheit) – but all other types of measurements that get displayed (ie. HectoPascals <> Inches/Mercury, MPH<>KPH<>KNTS etc ).
There’s lots of new imagery available for global users (in form of charts/satellites etc). However – US + Australian users also get a bunch more to look at – such as animated radar loops (rainfall and more).
The ‘Geo Browsing’ features allow you fly/zoom/pan around the world to view latest observations – to create a ‘TV Style’ experience. This is similar to the one found in Big Screen Photos 2 – except that its Content/Region/Country/Zone/State based selection/zooming rather than being a grid system).
As you zoom in and out more/less locations are revealed (so that you don’t get a screen full of clutter). This part took quite a significant amount of effort to get going (ie. in some counties like US there was 2000+ locations – so some various algorithms, and a manual editor was used to refine the lists down to know at what point to reveal what location – and to know how to position/rotate the label so it didn’t overlap with other locations).
One of the big new features was support for 9 different languages. Initially – just a basic translation of the UX was intended (ie. Buttons/Headings) – but as things progressed – it was clear more was needed. In case of Weather v2 – the actual descriptions of Conditions (for Observations + Forecasts) needed to be translated – as did the names of continents, countries, states and Cities (which all have different variations depending on where you are). There’s still a little bit of work to be done on the translations – but most of it is now sorted (Thanks to some help from some friends/associates around the globe – plus some really great resources/databases on the internet).
The pictures below show off the Translations in action (UX, PlaceNames, Descriptions) :
In terms of data/backends etc – one signficant change to Big Screen Weather 2 (in comparison to other Big Screen Products) – is that I am generating/processing/hosting the raw weather data on the mobilewares server. This allows end users to quickly download huge amounts of data in a fraction of the time/effort/data normally required (and the addin does this on each load or preset schedule – rather than continuously needing to load data).
For example – the entire dataset for ‘latest’ global forecasts/observations is less than 40k (after being compressed/encrypted – its about the size of a small jpg) – and is derived from over 100mb’s of raw data (which would be quite a headache for an end user to download/process). The backend processing from the raw numerical data (rather than getting some weather.com xml feed etc) – also gives me the opportunity to easily translate / isolate all sorts of data (which wouldn’t be possible if I just had entire descriptions of conditions).
The other benefit of this is that it serves as a buffer to any backend data sources changing (as happened with some of the image sources in Big Screen Weather v1) – as the backend site in the middle will know about/monitor and adapt quickly to these sort of issues (without any updates for the end user). This mobilewares backend will also be made redundant (so that any outages can be handled by another website hosted in a different location – again without the user noticing/caring).
This part of the project was pretty interesting (and complex) – but I now know how weather forecasts/observations that I see on the telly are made (and now know all sorts of terms/structures such as METARS, TAFS, GRIB etc etc and how to turn raw data into human readable weather information).
So you’re probably wondering – when can I play with/have this (and the other v2 products)? As with the previous v2 product beta’s – I’ll just be keeping it to a very small handful of testers until it’s ready for the public.
There’s a lot of hard work going on down here at the moment – and part of the grand plan is that these v2 products (weather2, photos2 and headlines2) will be launched at same time (early Jan 2008) – and be available for purchase from the mobilewares site. (and trial versions will also be offered to the general public at that point).
There’s some good (commercial) reasons behind these dates (and why multilingual translations are being done) – and hopefully will be able to reveal all this in the coming weeks too.