Weather Channel app update brings more contextual forecasts to your iPhone

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

IBM announces new cloud data services.

There are times when your iPhone’s native Weather app just doesn’t cut it, like when you want to know whether to expect a light drizzle or a torrential downpour.The company’s deal, said to be worth $2 billion plus, to buy the digital and technology pieces of the Weather Company’s business—the company that runs the Weather Channel—marks IBM’s first consumer-facing purchase in years.IBM announced that it was acquiring the Weather Co.’s digital assets in a deal that highlights the changing face of media and underlines the rapid introduction of artificial intelligence into our everyday lives.IBM is making social media analytics more broadly accessible through a new collaboration with Twitter, which will make social insights drawn from the microblogging service available via its new data platform, IBM Insight Cloud Services, along with integration of open data sets and proprietary data.

There are plenty of weather app alternatives, but the stalwart Weather Channel just overhauled its iOS app to be your first destination for weather news. To start, you’ll notice a new home screen when you open the app that tells you current weather conditions, what temperature it feels like outside, and what weather you can expect later in the day. It means IBM will be able to bring the full force of big data to weather, and potentially predict the weather—and the chances of natural disasters—far more accurately than ever before. NBCUniversal and two private equity partners will continue to own and operate the television channel that is available in about 90 million homes in the U.S.

The TV segment — The Weather Channel — will not be acquired by IBM, but will license weather forecast data and analytics from IBM under a long-term contract, the company added. Weather will essentially be another real world application of Watson, which CEO Ginni Rometty told Charlie Rose back in April is IBM’s “moonshot.” Watson’s already being used by doctors to more quickly and accurately make diagnoses and by the city of Austin to help tourists find better tacos. This agreement will enable us to gather new insights on our fans that will allow us to be more efficient in our operations and provide a more personal and enhanced experience for all of our guests. Weather Company CEO David Kenney said it has “billions of data points from sensors” — in fact, three billion weather forecast reference points, as well as weather data from more than 40 million smartphones and 50,000 daily airplane flights.

The move underscores how companies are scrambling to reposition themselves for the digital era and use “big data” — analytics culled from mobile devices, Web searches and online viewing choices — to learn more about consumer behavior. Big Blue announced it has redesigned over 15 core analytics and commerce solutions with Spark, and of IBM Analytics on Apache Spark, the new Spark-as-a-service offering, Rob Thomas, vice president of Product Development at IBM Analytics, says, “It’s been an incredible success since we put this in beta back in June”. Away from the tech pimping, one high profile use case that was thrown into the mix was the Ottawa Sentators ice hockey team which is tapping into behavior-based, predictive analytics technologies in search of deeper understanding of its fan base, specifically their actions and thinking as individual consumers. Since the 1990s, IBM has collaborated with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help the government with short-term forecasting models.

To address this challenge, IBM is unveiling the industry’s first real-time Insights Services on the cloud, a dramatic shift in its analytics strategy through the re-design of its portfolio based on Spark and new cognitive capabilities to advance capture and extract more information and insight from enterprise documents. “IBM is applying data science expertise and advanced analytics to exploit external data, find and connect the signals in that data to create new insights, and then deliver these insights embedded in clients’ business processes”. “IBM’s cognitive computing platform, integrated with the world’s most-used and precise weather platform, will help businesses and governments everywhere make the best possible weather-related decisions”, said David Kenny, Chairman and CEO, The Weather Company. Meanwhile, in the Physical Analytics Lab at the company’s Yorktown Heights, NY, research facility, a team has been working with the Department of Energy on technology that could one day (fairly soon) accurately predict when clouds will form (and therefore, rain).

With the Weather Channel’s digital assets, accurate smartphone answers to “What’s the weather today?” will become more detailed responses to trickier queries like “Should I wear a sweater for the big game today?” or “Will I get too hot if I go camping in Norway in July?” Revenue has dropped at the $90-billion company for 14 straight quarters. Since IBM got involved in tennis—it powers the point tracking and analytics at the US Open and the other Grand Slam tournaments—it’s shaped the way we think about the sport. Over the last few years, IBM has employed the artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology behind Watson to sift through ever growing mountains of data to help businesses glean strategic insight. Now, thanks to IBM’s data analysis, we know in an instant the likely velocity of the second serves the player is going to make, and the likelihood that the serve will be in, given the player’s history in the tournament, against that particular player, and on that surface. Suitors zeroed in on the digital businesses and its weather forecasting app, which contains radar maps and pollen level indexes — rather than the fully distributed cable network.

Seven years ago, Bain Capital, Blackstone and NBCUniversal combined to pay nearly $3.5 billion for the channel (outbidding CNN-owner Time Warner Inc.). The team, lead by Hendrik Hamann, is trying to build this database to figure out when it’s going to get cloudy so that solar energy generating companies can more accurately plan what resources will be available when. IBM announced in July that its research has already led the team to create models that are 30% more accurate in predicting cloud cover than any other models out there.

But the TV channel — which has struggled in recent years with its programming strategy and squabbles with pay-TV companies over distribution fees — has taken a back seat as the growth in the business increasingly came from the mobile app and its partnerships with Apple and other firms. They have a solar array set up on the roof of Yorktown Heights, which they use as one of the myriad data points they’re collecting weather information from. Now, theoretically, they could have access to the Weather Channel’s sensors and historical data, which will only add to the machine’s ability to predict future cloud coverage, and potentially, down the road, other forms of weather. Predicting the weather more effectively could have a plethora of positive effects on the economy, enabling businesses to plan around inclement weather, from farmers and fishermen to builders and truckers. In a LinkedIn essay, Kenny said he was “thrilled” to join IBM because the company had “the global scale needed to keep us the worldwide leader in weather.”

It’s entirely conceivable that IBM will one day have a system that will tell you with 95% certainty that it will only be cloudy for 10 minutes today and that you can leave your jacket at home, or that it’s sure the next hurricane won’t come through your area.

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