Blank Weather Forecast On Your Device? Blame MSN Direct

I remember it well: standing in the Sharper Image store debating between a three-day Bushnell wireless weather forecaster featuring AccuWeather forecasts and an Oregon Scientific model alongside it that offered more detailed information from a competing service provider, MSN Direct. Both weather stations did something unique: They didn’t require owners to hook up outdoor sensors that generate fickle forecast icons based purely on barometric pressure as opposed to a bona fide regional weather forecast. These weather forecast alternatives, unlike the vast majority of weather gadgets on the market, receive a radio signal that automatically displays forecast data from a genuine weather service.

For a weather junkie or just about anyone who doesn’t want to watch several minutes of TV, boot up a computer or drain a battery on a smartphone merely to check the weather, having weather alerts, pollen counts, humidity and UV Index information at a single glance at no cost beyond that of the device itself seems almost too good to be true. And, in hindsight, it was too good to be true. For those of us who chose wrong, the convenience was not to last. MSN Direct, the service provider for Oregon Scientific-branded weather units, powered down its US and Canadian network of FM radio transmitters on January 1, 2012. And yet, weather watchers were not the only ones to lose. MSN Direct broadcast a variety of data including traffic information, gasoline prices, Doppler weather maps, news, stocks, local events, movie listings to a variety of devices, all of which began with the debut of Microsoft’s novel “Spot” wristwatch in 2004.

It’s not clear whether competing AccuWeather-enabled devices, sold through Ambient Weather, are slated for the same fate. Existing products are out of stock as of this writing and I note new products carrying the service are no longer represented in retail stores or on the AccuWeather website. If the company has plans to retire the service they’ve done one worse than MSN Direct: They haven’t even bothered to warn anyone at all from all appearances. And yet, for now, desktop units that display AccuWeather forecasts continue to work. I am eying my mother-in-law’s AccuWeather-powered Brookstone forecaster with envy, and from the looks of things on Ebay consumer demand remains for these increasingly hard-to-find gadgets.

An alternative for a close-but-not-quite weather device consists of choosing from among a handful of La Crosse Technology products that require a considerably more complicated setup consisting of gateway access through a LAN cable connected to a modem with a separate Internet Service Provider (ISP) and a home computer as a prerequisite. Sound complicated? It is. All you have to do on the AccuWeather and MSN Direct devices is to — or was — insert batteries. Having set up many weather stations over the years, it doesn’t get any simpler than this. Nonetheless, a straightforward in-home weather solution is fading for reasons that may seem obvious at first glance, but in fact do not add up for those of us who have had the opportunity to compare modes and methods of ascertaining the week’s forecast with a minimum of time and effort.

It could be argued that the iPhone, Blackberry and Android smartphone weather apps — and the ubiquity of the Internet in general — have displaced the usefulness of the home weather station, and a radio-controlled version in particular. I beg to differ. Vacation homes are often in locations that are not serviced year around by Internet. Internet connections cost money, and not everyone has one in their home — just as not every American owns a television set, smartphone or computer. Moreover, DSL and cable modems are prone to glitches as any MagicJack or VoIP home user — through the likes of FIOS and other broadband-phone services — have undoubtedly experienced.

Current technology on our smartphones and web connections on our home computers are at their best interactive tools. When it comes to simply pushing data one way into a device nothing beats the simplicity and reliability of tried-and-true radio signal (this observation coming from a licensed ham radio operator, incidentally). Not to suggest, however, that broadcast signal coverage is uniform throughout the country. As the bad user reviews on some of these weather products will attest to, it isn’t a perfect solution for those who reside many miles away from the forecast location. Still, like dial tone on a land-line phone, when it works radio reception works very well with minimal hassle and few outages. Moreover, MSN Direct wasn’t just used in home gadgets. It was also built in to scores of GPS devices for use on the road where, again, a broadcast signal is frequently a more reliable solution. For these reasons, I have to ask what motivated MSN Direct to announce in 2009, less than three years after I invested over $100 into an Oregon Scientific weather receiver, to drop a fully operational nationwide infrastructure. In that amount of time, for that matter, why didn’t MSN Direct find someone else — Oregon Scientific, for instance — to which to sell the MSN Direct network technology? Did Oregon Scientific even attempt to negotiate such an opportunity for that matter?

Why have millions of Americans been left to dispose of tons of e-waste that in the flip of a switch have rendered their weather gadgets useless?

Tech service providers and gadget manufacturers’ rush to embrace the next big thing without regard for how many consumers feel an existing technology meets a unique and specific market need undermines the long-term supply of so-called early adopters of future tech as the reputation for investing in a technology and then abandoning it with equal haste gains perceptual traction on the part of shoppers. Translation: None of this engenders my confidence to buy another Oregon Scientific product or MSN service. A 40-percent coupon to buy a new product on the Oregon Scientific website is not a solution to the landfills that will undoubtedly become a dumping ground for Oregon Scientific waste in the days and weeks ahead.

Oregon Scientific scrap should be collected and recycled at the manufacturer’s expense!

I, for one, have lost confidence in both companies, not unlike my decision to stop watching ABC’s new season lineups after I got sucked into “Flash Forward” and “V” sci-fi dramas only to find both television series cut off without a gracious explanation or satisfactory conclusion (not even a continuation online or in DVD form). It’s exactly this kind of corporate decision making that creates a noncommittal consumer. Electronics and the tech that powers them may have come to be viewed largely as disposable novelties and necessities but for the ordinary consumer that’s hard-earned money buyers will think longer and harder about plopping down on the next make-my-life-easier gizmo or must-have gadget.

When one factors in the increasing public awareness of the not-so-green environmental ramifications of easy-come, easy-go — coupled with the rising cost of living — it’s difficult to foresee a market that can or will embrace change as fast as the technology can serve it up over the long term. As a society we remain in the honeymoon phase, enamored by the wonders of a shrinking silicone chip paired to a slick graphical user interface (GUI). And yet, the irony of innovation in the post Steve Jobs’ era is that it just may become too commonplace for consumers to commit to with a high degree of confidence. With a plethora of choices comes the sense that holding off to see if a particular technology “sticks” might be the wiser or more frugal course. To cite an adjacent example, the phenomena of “consumer fatigue” may be one reason Windows 7 smartphones face such an uphill battle against Android and iPhone competitors. A product may, in fact, represent an innovative leap but the more competitors a given solution goes up against the less desirable any one one of them may be perceived — and hence the growing pressure to consolidate for the sake of a sure bet. Similarly, though the Internet is virtually unlimited the demand for MySpace and Facebook to coexist faded. It’s the Beta vs. VHS debate all over again, with the result a decrease in tolerance on the part of consumers for doubt — doubt that diversity perpetuates.

A decision to introduce and subsequently pull a product, service or solution heightens consumer uncertainty.

Whether the subject is a network television station’s debut-it-and-dispense-with-it fall lineup or a weather gadget manufacturer, what a shaky economy needs least are a slew of increasingly skittish consumers, overwhelmed by the multitude of choices and dearth of staying power. Companies have forgotten that in providing a level of consistency — if only to keep a smaller market segment happy — it is a goodwill investment toward the brand or service at large. Keeping the customer happy, even a seemingly small cohort, pays off in ways not entirely accounted for by a corporate balance sheet. It’s one thing to put money into a losing proposition, another to rip away a solution that is already in place and serving its intended purpose. From MSN Direct’s website:

MSN Direct

  • Thank you for visiting Microsoft MSN Direct product page. As originally announced in October 2009, the MSN Direct service was discontinued as of January 1st, 2012.Discontinuation of the MSN Direct service means your supported device no longer receives the MSN Direct content such as Weather, Traffic, News, etc.  Other device features not dependent on MSN Direct content, such as navigation, should not be affected by discontinuation of MSN Direct service.Microsoft customer support is available to answer any questions about existing subscriptions or refund eligibility at 1-866-658-7032 only until January 31st, 2012.

What irks me even more than my own personal disappointment is that phone calls placed to Oregon Scientific before the cessation of MSN Direct weather service implied that there might be another provider to pick up the service. Without a press release to announce as much and with millions of product owners dumping their devices into the trash this week it seems unlikely now, and it suggests that both MSN Direct and Oregon Scientific representatives used the tactic as a ploy to get customers who knew of the impending change off the line by feeding concerned callers vaguely worded but nonetheless false hope. Even less forgivable: brand-new (old stock) MSN Direct devices carrying the Oregon Scientific and Garmin names, among others, are still being sold to unsuspecting consumers on Amazon and elsewhere.

If this decision has been in the works since 2009, why are products carrying MSN Direct still on the market?

There is nothing like bad publicity to solicit a response as consumers have seen on the decision to waive fee hikes at Bank of America and, most recently, to forgo the proposed surcharge on Verizon wireless customers’ credit card payments. At the very least, customers deserve answers as to why a radio transmission network that was already up and running couldn’t be left up and running — or at least aggressively licensed to someone else for the purpose of maintaining it. If making the service profitable was the problem, consumers should have been offered a low-cost subscription option to obtain a more functional feature set from a given device, with existing owners of such products grandfathered in to what their device already displays.

My advice for frustrated owners of these weather prediction gadgets is this: Bypass the script-reading customer service representatives and contact the executives and media relations personnel at MSN Direct and Oregon Scientific. Write a letter. Place a phone call. And don’t throw away your MSN Direct weather receiver just yet.

Let’s hope there is a solution short of chucking our devices.

For consumers who stumbled across this blog in search of a recommendation on a basic home weather station with a minimum of hassles and no loss of third-party service down the line, here’s my top pick for the easiest-to-use-and-read home weather device: Cheney Instruments uses a unique algorithm over a 14-day learning period to more accurately provide 12-24-hour weather forecast. This is a contrast to most units of this type which frequently change the forecast icon with every barometric change throughout the day making it practically impossible to surmise anything about the next day’s weather. Check out the Acu-Rite 75077 Forecaster with Remote Sensor and Atomic Clock on Amazon and select Lowe’s stores.

And with that a parting note for what may very well become the last man standing in the (accurate) home weather forecasting business: La Crosse Technologies, don’t go getting any ideas about dropping your Weather Direct product line.

 

###

 

Resources

Microsoft
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
1-800-642-7676
 
Oregon Scientific
19861 SW 95th Avenue
Tualatin, OR 97062
1-503-783-5700
1-800-853-8883

13 thoughts on “Blank Weather Forecast On Your Device? Blame MSN Direct

  1. Thanks for this info.. I was wondering WTF was wrong with my Oregon Scientific (OS) device. OS was no help and I had forgotten about it being driven by MSN. Another reason why I dislike MicroSoft and use Apple and LINUX devices only.

    Cheers!

    Like

  2. CW

    Unbeknownst to me, you’ve expressed every feeling and thought I’ve had and uttered since this morning when I finally did some research to find out why my OS WMS801 hasn’t been working since New Years when it had worked just fine the past 2 months. (I picked mine up for $15 at a thrift store, lucky me, but now I see why it may have been there.)

    I spent an hour plus on the phone with Oregon Sci. and receiving the same 40% discount offer and the promise of a return call with 1 to 3 days from a corporate manager.

    I did manage to find out that if the device was within the 1 year warranty period that OS would replace it free of charge with a comparable unit but that begs the question of whether these were sold within the past year to anyone beside me? ; )

    OS also implored me to be sure to ‘dispose of my device responsibly’ when I asked what I should do with this now worthless piece of electronic junk.

    Just now hung up with tier 2 at MSN who says take it up with OS and that there is ‘no demand for the service’ even though at the end she admitted I wasn’t the only one calling.

    When pressed for the figures on how many people owned the devices that used the service that were now utterly defunct, she admitted she had no idea. I also asked her how MS knew in 2009 about what the demand would be now.

    I thought Bill Gates had lots of money and lots of ideas. Instead of shutting it down, why wasn’t it passed to the public? As far as I know weather.com is still viable, the physical infrastructure is still intact and the implementation doesn’t seem to be hurting MS’s or anyone else’s wallet.

    It seem like a big slap in the face, especially to those who paid full price, and a gigantic waste of something that seems to be useful and functional that doesn’t seem in any way to be a burden to anyone that’s just being thrown in the garbage heap right next to the devices themselves.

    We got taken and it’s all our fault for buying their crap yet again. I hope there’s a giant blowup about this and something productive comes of it.

    Like

  3. CW

    PS I was able to reach MSN at 866-672-4551though it’s only a call-center. (I asked her what the second number she would call after 911 would be in case of an emergency and she wouldn’t!)

    I reached OS at 800-853-8883 and will report back if I ever receive my phone call.

    Like

  4. Eric

    An excellent Article! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    This is just another example of corporate America’s shameless disregard for the American public, who, ironically, just happen to be their customer. It’s a net zero game that leaves us all out in the cold with an empty glass in the end.

    Cheers indeed!

    Like

  5. Hal Johnson

    I spoke with Oregon Scientific and they said that they have known for many years that the MSN Direct service would be discontinued January 1, 2012. I have my owners’s manual that confirms that to be the case. My weather station was purchased in late 2007 and my manual was printed prior to that. I think that Oregon Scientific has exposed themselves and their retailers to a massive Class Action lawsuit because, for at least four years, they continued to maliciously supply weather stations to retailers who were selling them to unknowing customers (read that as victims). Oregon Scientific should be made to make it right with these customers by buying back the weather stations or offering a replacement unit free of charge!

    Like

  6. The Social Critic

    I checked my user manual, which was printed prior to 2009, and it guaranteed no-cost MSN Direct service through 2012. It misleadingly implies that the service, if it changes at all, may become subscriber-based at a future date. If MSN Direct made Oregon Scientific aware that the service was going to be retired, one or both companies had a good-faith obligation to disclose this fact.

    Like

  7. David

    Thank you SC for writing in detail on this.
    My n3i has also gone dead. Is there any releif ?
    Any alternative at all? What about ambient devices ? What signal do they tap into?

    Like

  8. james braselton

    hi there i had a msn weathere station now run a acurite 01512 color weather station with a single 5 in 1 out door sencor with 1 sensor and useing energizer eco batteries in it has well

    Like

  9. great article , Bushnell 7 day still works. I wanted to get one for my son . anytime they are asking 500$ for a used one there must be demand . , i love it because i get an idea what to dress for especially this time of the year when it can be 70 one day and snow 3 days later . will it be chilly in the am and nice later in the day vs chilly all day

    Like

  10. J Smith

    I have the 7-day Bushnell. Lately it’s been getting more frequent “network lost” errors, resulting in missing days, out of date forecasts and incorrect time. So unplug and remove a battery to reset, then it says “In Networks Pls Wait 1 hour” This has been going on for months. I think it’s finally bit the dust. My wife got fed up with it and took told me to get it out of the kitchen. It was a great product, though. I’ll have to start asking Alexa now.

    Like

    1. Susan M Lange

      Mine has just started to experience these errors – clock is no longer accurate for this time zone – the last day of forecast is missing on the day showing only dashes and the current conditions per AccuWeather appear not to update. I love this thing we affectionately call the “Wooley Bear.” Please tell me it’s not kaput!!!

      Like

  11. Rodger Saunders

    I have had the Bushnell 5 day weather station for about 10 years or so. Two days ago, there was a power failure in my area. (For only 5 to 10 seconds. Just long enough for the microwave clock to need resetting, but not the stove. Odd.) I later noticed that the weather station device was dark. This has happened many times over the years and it either would come back up by itself, Or would, after I unplugged and plugged it back in.But after several hours, nothing. I am getting 3 bars on the right, beside the word, Ambient. I moved it over to the window and nothing. The display says, “Lost network connection” and the screen isn’t lit. Then I go online and read all of the, ‘Bushnell is no longer supporting…’. Bummer. Prior to seeing these, I was all set to buy a new one.

    Like

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