A new dimension
When I work on developing and updating the Starmap app for iPhone — it's been seven years now since I first published it — seeing it for the first time in full HD is a real surprise. I had seen it before using AirPlay on the Apple TV, but with the right resolution and the touch remote, it was a totally new experience.
The clean new interface of Starmap 2 works great with the new remote control. Or course some adaptations had to be made, but once you try it on Apple TV, you will find exactly the same features there as the ones you have on the iPhone, with the exception of telescope control. The remote has a touch area that allows you to move the map. Pinch and zoom has been replaced by a tap up and down, moving into and out of the map. Selection happens though clicking. Move the selection on the screen, click on any object and you are done.
Starmap on the iPhone and iPad is more of an individual experience. It is meant to be used and seen by a single person. On the TV, Starmap is meant to reach a larger audience. I've tested audience reactions on two occasions. In the classroom, a teacher was telling first graders about an upcoming partial solar eclipse. The new events section of Starmap 2 worked great for that. Here is how it works: Starmap has a replay mode. Simply select an event, like an eclipse or a conjunction, and press search. The map will switch to animation mode, go to the Moon pass in front of the Sun. of course, the 3D mode of Starmap — a fully animated 3D model of the universe — is a very good complement for teaching astronomy events.
I also tested user reactions at a TV shop. The owner has installed a video projector and a translucent screen on the upper part of the show window. Many people gathered fairly quickly around to watch the Starmap automatic animation. It goes randomly from one deep-sky object to another, flies around planets or shows the path of the Sun through the Zodiac. The short video below will give you an idea of what the mall visitors experienced. It was no surprise that the items displayed right under Starmap's animation sold more than usual that afternoon.
Starmap is a high-end astronomy application, containing most astronomical catalogs and 3D models of the universe ... out to the Virgo Super Cluster. We are especially proud of the Stories section. These are informal education astronomy mini-courses for beginning and advanced astronomers. They mix science, mythology and history. Beginning later in December 2015, all stories will be released in Full HD for the Apple TV. The stories are like mini-planetarium shows. We have heard from users who like to play them as they stargaze. Others prefer to use them in advance of stargazing — or on cloudy nights — in «couch mode». Each story takes you to a specific place in the sky and guides you from object to object. We have heard from science educators who use these stories as introductory guides for lessons to be taught in the classroom. Several planetarium directors have recommended that students use these stories before AND after their visits to the planetarium theater. In this way, Starmap both piques a student's interest before the visit and then reinforces what they learned.
Several users have written to tell us they have used specific stories as part of presentations at their astronomy clubs, with a Question-and-Answer session afterwards. One club leader who works with school children in an afternoon program said that the stories gave her charges a chance to explore astronomy on their own. Here is an interesting story behind the creation of the stories. Each story interacts in real time with the map, displaying images, arrows, and selecting objects. To make it perform smoothly, I had to program a full scripted animation engine, a sort of astronomical powerpoint.
For students studying astronomy more deeply, Starmap is a useful reference and study tool. It gives access to the 12 million references of the Simbad database. I think there is a lot of potential in the educational side of Starmap. One future addition to Starmap will be a programmable interface for creating your own presentations and displaying astronomical data directly on the map. This now makes sense as Starmap on the TV brings it to a large audience.