Matt Barker (‘19) and Austin Astorga (‘19) Take the ‘Um’ Out of the Forecast with Brella
Like every day, a blasting alarm begins your typical bleary-eyed morning routine. You sleepily scroll through your phone for the most important info to start your day. What should I wear for today? You remember you were freezing and forgot your umbrella yesterday, a victim to crazy Ithaca weather yet again. You scroll through the hourly forecast, keeping track of conditions and temperatures, and loosely convert all this data into what to wear and what to bring for the day. And now you’re further exhausted before the day has even started.
A new weather app called Brella, created by Matt Barker (‘19, College of Engineering) and Austin Astorga (‘19, College of Arts & Sciences), hopes to solve this daily problem. Brella delivers your personalized daily forecast right to your lock screen in the morning, so you know what to wear, what to expect, and if you need to bring an umbrella. Matt remembers “the idea for the app came from rushing out the door and realizing, ‘Wait, this is not what I expected.’”
When you open Brella, you are greeted with a unique and whimsical sentence describing the weather and what to wear for the day. “Weather is different for everyone” Austin said, “and we wanted a way to for people to customize their own forecast.” Users can add their wardrobe to their items list and what temperatures they consider to be hot and cold. After chuckling at a weather-related pun in their personal forecast, a simple swipe up reveals a detailed view of the forecast, with hourly and daily forecasts intuitively visualized for quick glances.
Brella was especially designed to bring a sense of order to the weather forecast, focusing on both aesthetic visuals and quick functionality. In reflecting on the design process, Matt recalled “people check the weather not for the numbers, but to inform decisions about other activities, and we wanted the app to present that information immediately at first glance.” The bold, vivid colors of the display indicates the current temperature, and fun emojis indicate the type of weather within the personal forecast. “We wanted to put a smile on people’s faces when they check the weather,” Austin noted. There are dozens of pop culture references, snarky humor, and even some Easter eggs for users to discover. (Check the About page!). The app has been downloaded in dozens of countries, boasts hundreds of monthly active users, and has been reviewed by several tech websites such as App Advice and Macworld.
Launching back in Fall 2016, Brella has come a long way from the initial code written during finals week of Matt and Austin’s freshman year. One of the most significant challenges was creating a backend service to reliably send push notifications to users. Having just learned iOS app development, the team didn’t know where to begin. Austin took to the web for answers. “I found help through channels like StackOverflow and Slack channels for open-source development” Austin explained. “The community is always willing to help out new and aspiring developers, and we couldn’t have done this without their support.” The team’s drive and initiative to make their vision and reality, on top of rigorous coursework at school, demonstrates Austin and Matt’s commitment to their project.
Austin and Matt’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. They recently won the Ron G. Kermisch Cornell Engineering Innovation Award for “implementation of a fully demonstrated prototype”, and are finalists for Cornell’s Student Business of the Year Award. All the recognition and prize money they have won is being directly reinvested into the company. Brella’s lean operating costs will allow the money to go towards advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as pursuing a trademark for the Brella name. Right now, Brella incurs minimal costs to maintain their backend service. Their revenue comes from offering push notifications as an optional in-app purchase after a free trial of the service. However, the app is free for everyone to download and use.
“Our ultimate goal is to be featured by Apple, and be one of the top weather apps available,” Matt said. He and Austin are well on their way.