Star Walk is one of my favorite iPad apps which I use all the time. So I was really interested to meet the people behind this app when its developer, Vito Technology, hit town for WWDC this week. And as their demonstration shows, they’ve gone all out to enhance even further the beauty of their wares.
Today I had a welcome chance to meet the lovely ladies of Vito Technology, makers of the really excellent and super popular astronomy apps Star Walk and Solar Walk. With upgrades due out shortly, they have really enhanced the beauty and functionality of these great apps.
Star Walk tracks heavenly objects in real time. If you hold up your iPad in any direction the app projects the stars, planets, satellites, and deep space objects that are behind it onto the screen. It will even overlay the app-generated sky onto what your iPad camera sees, giving the names and info of objects right in front of you. It’s a really thoughtful app that outlines the constellations with classical depictions of the mythical deities, heroes and creatures they represent to show clearly how those tiny, shining dots join up. The app cannot help but spark real interest in astronomy, and for those who already know about the stars and solar system, it’s a wonderful tool to enhance astronomical observations. Especially for people who live in cities and rarely get to see the stars in all their splendor.
The app uses GPS to pin down where you are standing and your device’s magnetic compass / accelerometers to know which way it is facing, and projects its 3D map of space onto the screen as appropriate. The whereabouts of the planets at any date and time are, of course, known, and the flight paths (orbits) of artificial satellites are also public property. Star Walk tracks 8000 satellites, including the International Space Station (ISS), which is visible to the naked eye at night.
In the new version of Star Walk the horizon will be… well, horizontal. This is a great tweak over the old version, which was a little bit annoying by jumping about when you repositioned your iPad.
The new version will also integrate Facebook in addition to its existing Twitter stargazing community. Users will be able to post their celestial observations onto Facebook from inside the app. The beta iOS 6 SDK also promises to make future iterations of the Walk apps even more beautiful.
Star Walk’s sister app, Solar Walk, has also had a makeover with cooler graphical effects and a more convincing feel of moving the massive inertia of the planets with swipe gestures on the screen. Before, the planets span round when touched but now they are hard to move, which feels somehow more realistic. Solar Walk has added deeper info about the sun and planets as well as new sections on comets and dwarf planets such as Eris, Ceres and Sedna.
Vito Technology has also updated another of their popular apps, Geo Walk. Geo Walk is an encyclopedia of interesting places, people and animals, with a historic timeline going back 600 million years and forward 250 million years. It’s not an encyclopedia of everything but rather of Earth’s curiosities.
The Walk apps are truly an example of how useful and innovative the iPad can be. For amateur astronomers, Star Walk is about the best thing to happen since the invention of the telescope.