Acqui-hires are nothing new in Silicon Valley. In fact, it seems like they happen on a daily basis if you are paying attention. However, while many of them either go unnoticed or barely warrant a blip on the tech news radar, there are some that make some bigger waves. Apple’s acquisition of weather service and app Dark Sky is definitely among the latter.
A big reason why this move is a big deal is because of how popular Dark Sky has become. They made a name for themselves by finding a niche in the weather world and filling it with great design and functionality. Their hyper-focus on AI-based, extremely localized forecasts and notifications for imminent precipitation set them apart from the mobile weather crowd. The accuracy of these forecasts and notifications quickly made them a favorite smartphone app.
But that wasn’t all that Dark Sky did to differentiate themselves. Their web page and apps both featured a great, clean design that highlighted what you needed to know. They also made an API available so others could use their data and forecasts. That was a brilliant move that put their weather data in front of millions and gave them a steady stream of income.
Here is a little about Dark Sky in their own words from their site’s original About page, which is no longer available:
The Dark Sky Company specializes in weather forecasting and visualization. Back in 2011, we had the crazy idea that robots could predict the weather with down-to-the-minute precision, and thanks to a handful of generous strangers, we were able to give it a shot. Since then, those robots have become “scarily accurate,” powering our own award-winning weather app, Dark Sky, in addition to thousands of other businesses, apps, and crazy ideas.
For a software startup, we’re a bit unusual: we’re self-funded, have been profitable from the start, and funnel a lot of our efforts into researching new ways to do what we do. Although we’re no longer a two-man operation—having partnered with a company called Applied Invention and grown our team—our focus has always been on sustainability over growth, and we plan to keep it that way.
If you have any questions about us, our app, or about the weather in general, please feel free to drop us a line: we’d love to hear from you.
Adam, Jay, and the Dark Sky Team
So what now?
The typical outcome of an acqui-hire is that the original service or app disappears soon after the announcement. In this case, the Dark Sky app for iOS will remain available and there hasn’t been any announcement of an end date for it. However, I can recall Siri’s original app being available for a year or so after Apple bought them, too. This is likely a temporary situation, but I would imagine that Dark Sky would eventually take the form of a stock app inside of iOS and its variants.
The more immediate impact is that Dark Sky’s web-based forecasts and Android and WearOS apps are going away. The Android app is no longer available and will only work until July 1st. Dark Sky’s web forecasts will disappear the same day. The API will be available for an additional year, but it will also be shut down.
I guess it’s all good news for Apple. They finally have a quality source of weather information and own a real weather app. While their current stock weather app is ok from a looks perspective, it just doesn’t stack up to what you get with most other good iOS weather apps. It’s very bare bones. The app gets its information from The Weather Channel, which is a reputable source. However, it isn’t a source that Apple controls or can guarantee in the long run.
Apple acquiring a company with a proven track record in weather forecasting is a smart move on their part. Weather data is important for iOS, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Apple is thinking long-term here. Quality weather data is going to be absolutely essential for mapping going forward. That only becomes more important as self-driving cars become more prevalent. It will also be a key feature for coming Augmented Reality products, like the AR glasses that Apple is known to be working on.
Buying Dark Sky rather than just inking a deal secures this data permanently for Apple. It will certainly be in their best interest to do a better job of keeping the Dark Sky staff happy and on-board, a job they failed at with their Siri acquisition years ago. However, Apple is a different company now than they were then. It took too long, but they seem to understand that just how important AI is to their future and that they are playing catch-up. At the very least, Apple now owns the current AI-based tech behind Dark Sky’s accurate forecasts. A deal expiration can’t jeopardize that now.
What’s the problem?
Apple is well within its rights to make this move to insure they have some of the best weather data in the business for their customers going forward. However, it’s always a messy situation when a multi-platform app suddenly isn’t anymore. I can understand Apple discontinuing support for Android and WearOS, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for users. Even though I’m an iOS user, I can understand that.
I am a little less understanding about Apple cutting off Dark Sky’s API. That one does affect me, because I currently use the CARROT Weather app on iOS and watchOS. It provides the best weather interface and complications on the Apple Watch, in my opinion. I actually pay them an extra service fee to be able to use Dark Sky’s weather data, but now that is going away. I’m sure I’m not the only one affected by this, either. However, I’m sure Apple wants to keep this data for their own purposes, so again, I get it. I don’t like it, but I do get it.
My biggest issue is with Apple pulling the plug on Dark Sky’s web-based forecasts. What is the point of doing that? That’s not the same as a killing an API. It’s just web-based weather info. Why not at least leave that available for those who use it? Maybe Apple will transition this to iCloud.com, so those who want it can still get Dark Sky’s weather data via the web. Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath.
This one affects me, as well. I have been using Dark Sky’s web-based weather forecasts for energy dashboards and kiosks for a while now, including the one we have at our own office for customer demos. Its clean look and feel made it more ideal than any other weather website for this type of purpose. Unfortunately, it’s now time to find another alternative.
The dust settles
At the end of the day, this is business as usual. Large tech companies like Apple rely on acqui-hires to bring in valuable new talent and new products and services. Like I said at the outset, this literally is an everyday event. In fact, Apple has already bought up the Dublin, Ireland-based AI startup Voysis since nabbing Dark Sky.
For any of you getting ready to cry antitrust at Apple and other large tech companies, there is another side to this coin to keep in mind. It takes two to tango and it feels like every startup in the Valley is looking for a dance partner. The current startup culture seems to be to hit big and cash out quick. While Dark Sky is a bit different in that they stayed independent for nine years, they were still willing to take Apple’s money in the end. Most of startups are, rather than try to build on their own foe the long term.
So Apple has Dark Sky and the everyone else will lose access. It’s a great and smart move for them and it sucks for everyone else. That’s the end of it. If you used a product that relied on Dark Sky’s API for data or use their web-based forecasts, it’s time to move on. That’s the end of it.
Hopefully, another savvy group of weather nerds will take up the mantle now. Dark Sky proved that there is money to be made and success to be had creating a unique and well-designed weather product. There is certainly a gap to fill right now for a new group that’s up to the challenge. I just hope that, if anyone does try to fill the niche left empty by Dark Sky, that they will stick around and stay multi-platform.