Monday, December 7, 2015

Ideas for future app releases

Update: Changes have been made to the app since this post. For a more recent update list see here.

How can we improve the app?

Your feedback helps us improve the app. Since we're in the process of releasing an update (it is out for iOS, but not quite yet for Android), I wanted to re-post the list of outstanding ideas for improvement. For reference, here are the older lists (first, second).

The changes made in the last release were mainly technical. I hope that if we can obtain funding we can do one final change to the method, and then fix it for a long period. If you have more suggestions for how to improve the app, 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)
  • When screen is frozen, allow navigation by sliding finger 
  • 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 
  • Allow the user to adjust the number of stars displayed on the screen to match a given skyglow level? (we don't want to do this, as this could potentially cause biased observations)


  • 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?)
  • Allow "SQM only" install for phones without gyroscope/compass


  • 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 (expert mode)
  • 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


  • 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, and SQM-L or SQM
  • Increase font size also for the visible/not visible buttons when user has selected increased font size in settings

My Sky at Night

  • Allow users to customize font size and color, and background color

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


  1. I agree with the constellation search, or perhaps a certain section of the sky at one time. I'd rather do a slow 360°, looking for stars instead of constantly doing 180° turns.

    If I'm observing during partial cloud cover, stop suggesting stars in that part of the sky when I've already put that I can't find a different star due to the cover. Or because a building/trees are blocking the sky.

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  3. Thanks Jessica! I do hope that we can eventually work out avoiding stars in the same part of the sky, but we will need to get funding for that. It's actually not a great idea to use the app on partly cloudy nights, because even when you can't see the cloud it often has an affect on how many stars you can see. We mostly allow that possibility for people that want to try the app for the first time.