Failed forecasts: watchOS 2.0 and weather 1.0

There were two significant events forecast for Wednesday 16 September 2015: over 24 hours of quite heavy rain for much of southern England, and the release of Apple’s watchOS 2.0. On both counts the predictions proved wrong.

The weather was perhaps the simpler, and less erroneous. After gales on Monday-Tuesday, the UK Met Office put out ‘yellow’ warnings of heavy and prolonged rain for most of England and a fair bit of Wales too. Pretty well everywhere in that area should have expected 10-20 mm of rain, with the south coast (where we live) starting off early on Wednesday morning.

The detailed local forecast was even worse, with moderate rain given for about 30 hours, starting at 2300 on Tuesday, and finishing late Wednesday afternoon.

We were surprised to get up to a grey but dry day, and snuck out for our regular walk on the Downs, 6 km (4 miles) taking us just over an hour. I kept watching forecasts, including Dark Sky, the BBC, the Met Office, and all seemed convinced that it was either raining already, or just about to. Thankfully it was an eagle eye kept on Meteoradar (iOS) which gave me the confidence to press on.

downspan16sep15Once on top of the Downs, it was very cloudy, brighter patches were few and far between, but the view was as worthwhile as ever.

bbcweather16sepdarksky16sepThe forecasts from there were confusing, to say the least.

weatherchan16sepLight rain started at about 1100, but it was not until 1300 that the first band of heavy rain showed up. Thanks to a late and sustained burst of heavy rain during the evening, we did exceed the promised 20 mm, but if we had followed the forecast, we would never have left the house all day.

My biggest problem with the forecast was not the advance warning – it ensured that we were well prepared, and I had some soldering work to keep me quiet during the afternoon. But when the rainfall radar was clearly showing there was no rain in the area, nor was there likely to be any for some time, none of the forecasts was either accurate or remotely helpful. It bears out my previous feelings regarding weather forecasting software.

At least the Met Office and sundry other forecasters can justly claim that the rain did come, and nature is still not entirely predictable (although if you throw then another couple of supercomputers, I am sure they will get even better!). Apple has no-one else to blame apart from itself.

The  Watch, you will recall, shipped incomplete, its operating system, watchOS 1, a vestige sufficient to run the limited demo apps which made it look highly functional. Look below the surface, for example at extracting heart rate measurements during a workout, and the Watch had no OS at all.

We were promised what should have been version 1.0, actually dubbed 2.0, in the “fall”, and ten days ago the release date was fixed for 16 September. At the time I recall querying whether the date given as ‘September 16’ actually meant September 2016, and my feelings of impending gloom proved right.

On 16 September, when Tim Cook had promised that the watches we bought way back in April and May would at last be able to work properly, an Apple representative broke the news that there would be a delay in the release, in order to fix a bug.

Knowing that there was a significant bug remaining in the development version of watchOS 2.0, it is excellent that Apple has chosen to lose face and delay its release. All too often in the past many OS and app developers have been content to meet the deadline and tuck a line in the release notes revealing that they knew about a major issue, or even just keep quiet and let the users find out. I suspect that the bug in question was either a major security issue, or perhaps a power problem, which proved tougher to rectify than predicted.

However it also highlights how limited software engineering resources have been for the development of watchOS. To release the first full version of the operating system of a computer device nearly five months after customers have started using it must be a record, and one which Apple should be deeply ashamed of.

I will just keep watching the weather, and weathering the Watch.