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Things I wish SkySafari Pro had for iOS

SSP is the best observing tool for mobile apps by far, but I still find it somewhat frustrating and cumbersome to use sometimes. After 4+ years using it, here are some things I wish it had:

1. Ad hoc observing plans

This is not the same thing as an observing *list* per se though the list functionality could serve the same purpose with some tweaks.

The idea behind this is an observing plan is a transient thing. I don't need to create a full blown list for a night's observing plan, but I would like to still itemize those objects that I want to observe that night. This may come in the form of combining two or more lists, or selectively adding certain objects to it.

Currently I have to achieve this by using a list called "Observing Plan" that lives at the top of my list of lists, and I have to either clear out the previous entries, or delete the list, re-add it, and then move it back to the top. It's quite an annoying user experience.

Ideally, there should be a built-in "Observing Plan" list pinned at the top of the observing lists list view, with the ability to quickly reset or clear the contents of the list, as well as import other lists into it if needed.

Alternatively, this functionality might be better in Observing Sessions, but it then we would need the ability to add objects into a session just like we do a list.

2. Global "observed" indicators

This is probably the biggest annoyance with Sky Safari Pro - the same object frequently ends up in multiple lists, but you only get to see whether you observed that object within the context of the list that you're in even if you might have already observed that object in another list or even outside the context of a list. It would be very useful if there was an indicator that shows you have indeed observed that object before, regardless of what list it's in.

The list can then split the "Unobserved" filter into two parts: "Unobserved" and "Unobserved in this list".

Moreover, it would be nice if the interface had an option to show a small checkmark next to the next object in chart view so that as you're panning around the sky, you can quickly see which objects you've observed and which you haven't as you're navigating the sky.

3. Better search

Search really needs to be improved. I shouldn't have to search for "Stephan's Quintet" exactly (including the apostrophe) to get a match. Fuzzy search is a thing that's been around a long time, and there are plenty of algorithms that can enable it - simple partial match for anything in the string (I realize that SSP already has a "begins with" match), or ideally something like Levenshtein distance to find imperfect matches (which would allow you to misspell some words and still get a match - important when you're fat fingering things with gloves on in the winter!)

4. A configurable floating toolbar in chart view

I find myself constantly performing three actions in chart view: tweaking the time, flipping the view to match the view in my telescope, and quickly adjusting the field of view. I have to open and close multiple toolbars by clicking on various interface elements, in order to achieve that.

I would like a single, customizable toolbar that lets me put quick access to functions on it. I have a RACI finder and a Newtonian reflector, so I would like to be able to add "Flip both" to the toolbar. I would also like a very simple hour time navigator. Don't need full blown time control, just something that lets me jump back and forth by an hour, with a quick reset to today, and something that shows the current time. Similarly, having quick access to FOV buttons would save a lot of pinch zooming.

5. A basic lunar calendar/planner

Yes, there are a lot of lunar calendar apps out there. Ones that are any good cost money. Being able to plan observing sessions around the Moon is a critical thing all astronomers do (whether trying to avoid the Moon, or catch a specific phase). A very basic calendar that shows moon phases and percentages, as well as rise and set times, would be incredibly helpful. It doesn't have to be complicated, just a single page that lists all that information at a glance. 

6. Custom log attributes

Typing an observing log into a phone is obnoxious (again, especially with gloves on). Voice recording isn't very accurate and I feel like I have to keep my voice down when recording so as not to wake anyone with windows open at the house.

Instead of having to type the details of a log, it would be nice if I could create custom attributes per object type, with pre-defined selection options. 

For example for planetary nebulae I might have the following attributes and pre-defined values: 

  1. Shape: Round, Elongated, Irregular
  2. Edge: Distinct, Indistinct
  3. Central Star: Invisible, Hard, Easy
  4. Color: N/A, Blue, Green, Blue-Green
  5. Color Intensity: None, Mild, Strong
  6. Brightness: Very Faint, Faint, Moderate, Bright, Very Bright

For galaxies, I might come up with different attributes. The interface should then strive to make those options as push-button as possible (i.e. not having to first tap to open a dropdown menu and then tap the option - it should all be enumerated with one-tap access, even if it means scrolling a bit.

This would make it easier to create consistent observing logs. If you then provided the option to export observing logs, these attributes could easily be listed in a spreadsheet for sorting/filtering or further analysis.

1 comment

  • 1

    Some great ideas here. Agree that #2 is the worst problem, and many of us have been asking for that for ages. Hopefully it gets done. #3 is also very frustrating at times. I really hoped that the pop up toolbar in SS7 when clicking an object would be extremely customizable.

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