Monday, March 30, 2015

Future upgrades to the app

How can we improve the app?

A bit more than a year ago I asked for your help in how we could improve the app. I updated the list as suggestions came in through comments, email, and in-person discussion, and with the release last fall a lot of the improvements made it into the app.

Now that the new version has been out for a few months, I want to start a new list for a future third - and ideally final - release. We have no source of funds at the moment, but I think it's valuable to keep track of what needs changing/fixing. If you have more suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Things to change/improve in a future version of the app

Star search

  • Further improve star selection based on app data (preferentially use easier stars)
  • Make more use of "pointing stars"
  • Allow search to start with Venus or Jupiter
  • Allow the user to change the sensor settings (speed and/or damping) to make the display more comfortable
  • When screen is frozen, allow navigation by sliding finger 
  • Allow the user to adjust the number of stars displayed on the screen to match a given skyglow level? (a bit dangerous, as this could potentially cause biased observations)
  • Shaking the phone unlocks the locked circle (goes back to arrow) 
  • Try to work out that the user is standing on a balcony, and don't suggest stars in that direction 


  • Figure out what causes the occasional crash on startup
  • Better way to deal with very bright locations
  • Strategies for classifying areas with NELM>5
  • Interface to allow advanced users to submit what their estimate of the limiting magnitude is
  • New "constellation mode". Highlights a single constellation, and the user has to click on a star to declare it visible (turns from dot to star) and click a second time to declare it invisible (turns from star to empty circle or x), click third time for "just at visible limit"
    •  Or extend this mode to cover several hundred stars over the whole sky, and the observer can just pick which ones she wants to label?
  • Arrange "my measurements" by date
  • Manual way to calibrate the compass to remove azimuth error 
    • Add a compass-free option in "settings" menu for places with weird magnetic fields
  • Investigate behavior of auto brightness on Android (does it turn to full on app startup?)


  • Have the database in the background: users can log in see their observations - where they were taken, how they relate to those of others, see the observations of others, tools to examine how it is changing over time, see the accuracy of the data they gathered themselves
  • Graphical web display of your like I have shown on the blog in the past
  • Option to share your observation via facebook and twitter
  • Badges - you've observed 7 stars, you've repeated an observation at the same location ~1 year later, you've done 10 observations, 5 times in a single city, 5 locations, etc...
  • Guide users to locations that we particularly need measurements (e.g. repeat measurements from previous years).
  • Incentivize good data: Have a friendly competition where the best quality and quantity is rewarded (with a visit to the closest telescope and a personal lecture from an astronomer). Reward observations in particularly important locations

Extra features

  • A "talking" tutorial that tells you how to find the stars, asks you to turn in different directions, etc.
  • Video tutorial
  • Find a way to calibrate the compass within the app (on Android, iOS already has this)
  • Port to WindowsPhone and Blackberry
  • Allow observing below 45 degrees and making maps of the stellar visibility on the full sky dome
  • Check the clock using GPS and warn the user if their phone's clock is off by more than 2 minutes (and then exit app). Prevents records having a false time
  • Allow option of displaying user's location on a map to make sure it is correct
  • Check whether the phone has a compass, and don't allow install if there is no compass
  • Ability to export your observations (e.g. to an email)


  • Change behavior of star search with "averted vision" decision (technical)  
  • Start looking for GPS location on app start up, verify again before star search
    • Especially for SQM report, GPS should run in the background while typing value
  • Reduce the size/thickness of the circle during the star search on Android
  • Better messaging in "Not dark enough" menu during high latitude summer 
  • Allow users to add SQM serial number

Now it's your turn. What other changes should we make to the app?

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