by Jacqui Bridges, General Manager Corporate Affairs

Broadcaster Jesse Mulligan spoke with tech commentator Paul Brislen earlier today about reactions to our new NZ Weather app. Jesse's a popular guy and I wasn't able to get in quick enough to talk to him on the same show - but I thought it was worth responding to some of the comments made on the show here on our blog, for the benefit of Jesse's listeners and MetService app users.

Paul says he's a long-term user of the MetService app, and recalls us updating the app some time ago and saying we were going to charge for it. In fact, the MetService app was our first-ever smartphone app, and was launched in May 2012 as a paid app (the iPhone app went up from $2.69 to $2.99 when Apple wanted to increase their cut). Subsequently-released smartphone apps (Rural Weather, Marine and Snow Weather) have all been free and advertising-supported.

I'll be frank - when we launched our new NZ Weather app last month and some app users told us they felt ripped off because they thought they'd paid for no ads, we didn't see it coming. We thought what we'd sold was a great weather app with NZ-specific information that was more accurate, relevant and engaging than any other weather app on the market. That's still what we're delivering in the new app - but with ads that ensure we can continue to deliver that degree of value. We offered a refund or donation to charity for those who'd paid for the app since the start of this year, because we didn't want those users to feel they hadn't had value for their money. The emotion of some responses has been humbling for the team of people who've been replying.

The reality is, MetService is government owned but not government funded outside of our core weather safety contracts. Our apps and websites are all funded through advertising revenue, enabling us to bring all our vital weather safety information - plus a whole lot more very useful (and popular) info - to as many people as possible, through as many channels as possible.

Paul also commented that he felt there was too much information packed on the home screen, and suggested we should have done some user testing. 

In the pre-development phase last year, we conducted wide-ranging research with consumers to understand what they used weather information for, and how they wanted to interact with it (a blog post about that is coming soon). This led to more information being made available in the new app. We also reached out to our Facebook community to recruit app testing volunteers. 

Research told us that not everyone wants the same thing - so the new app is customisable and you can promote the info you use most, and hide what you don't use at all. Already we are seeing a big uplift in engagement with content that was in the old app, but hard to find. For example, in-app viewership of our MetService TV videos is way up. 

We know the new app is a big change from the old one, and that people really loved the old app (we did too) - but it was definitely time for an overhaul after 5 years. The app's new tech platform will allow us to launch new features and enhancements more easily and regularly, and does a better job of protecting the security and reliability of our data.

We reckon the new app is by far the best weather app for New Zealanders, as was the old app before it. It is the only app containing MetService forecasts - the best you can get - as well as the country's official warnings and watches for severe weather. Now that it's free, there's no barrier for Kiwis who might have used any old weather app in the past. Our aim is for every New Zealander with a smartphone to use it every day.