TV's next killer app: Weather

Comcast is testing a new version of its cable box, which has a weather app.

By Mark Milian, CNN

(CNN) - Of all the digital bells and whistles that Comcast put into its next-generation cable box, executives were surprised about one hum-drum feature that was most popular during testing.

"They love being able to check the weather," Tom Blaxland, a senior director for the company's Xfinity TV digital platform, said in a recent interview. "That's actually the most popular app we have."

"They say it's amazing," he added.

Comcast assumed, understandably, that people testing its Xcalibur set-top box would be most taken by the Facebook integration or Pandora Internet radio. During the test run, which has included more than 1,000 homes in Augusta, Georgia, that has not been the case.

    Perhaps, it turns out, the most obvious features can also be the most innovative, or at least the most demanded.

    Xcalibur lets couch potatoes sign into their Facebook accounts and see which shows friends like to watch. This feature has not been widely adopted during the beta-test period, Blaxland said.

    "People are not accustomed to signing into their TV," Blaxland said. However, people have asked, more than anything else, for the ability to create a list of favorite shows and receive an automated Facebook wall post shortly before an episode airs, he said.

    The hype in the television industry is mostly centered around stuff that, on its face, sounds more innovative: voice commands similar to Apple's Siri; motion controls similar to Microsoft's Kinect; three-dimensional programming; and social networking.

    Yet, testers of the new Comcast hardware are most eagerly pushing the dedicated weather button on the remote control to check their local forecast in the morning, Blaxland said.

    They are less likely to navigate to the Weather Channel and wait for the program to get around to discussing their city, he said.

    Other companies, too, have noticed this desire for easy access to weather forecasts. It is a main feature of Nintendo's Wii dashboard. On Boxee's TV platform, a weather icon is always present atop the navigation screens.

    And even on the small screen, Apple added a local-weather widget to the iPhone, which can be activated with a swipe of the finger from any application, in the latest software version. When first demonstrating Siri on the iPhone 4S, Apple exec Scott Forstall dedicated a sizable chunk of the presentation to showing off all of the different ways to ask the virtual assistant if it was going to rain.