Pocket Universe 1.7
Celestial cellphone, anyone?
iPhone App Review Pocket Universe is the creation of one John T. Kennedy who was inspired by lack of opportunities to view the night sky with any clarity or frequency in his native Dublin. The app is basically a star map, which takes advantage of the new iPhone 3GS compass to provide a Virtual Sky, which follows your movements, enabling you to identify any object in the firmament.
The startup screen (left) is the portal to all other features
The app needs to know the time and also requires that location services are active. The startup screen offers you three main options, with all functions accessible from the Planetarium, which is where all the action is. Once Virtual Sky is turned from within the Information page, you are ready to gaze and your movements are tracked.
As your iPhone scans the heavens, constellations, planets and Messier objects are revealed. Tap on the major, yellow objects and a link to Wikipedia will inform you of their details and statistics. Pocket Universe will also locate any of the major features in the current night sky for you and can also move forwards or backwards in time to recall or project past and future positions.
The range and depth of information available is captivating
Testing was done in Liverpool, which suffers from far too much cloud cover, as well as light pollution. On the first night we caught a glimpse of Jupiter, but it was another five days before Pocket Universe could be tested against a clear sky, instead of just viewing positions on the screen. The controls take only a short time to master. Horizontal tracking is steadier than vertical, with the on-screen celestial map changing with your movements. The zoom needs to be adjusted a little, but once this is achieved, you are away.
Virtual Sky even has Wikipedia links to report on chosen objects
A walk down Penny Lane with the Virtual Sky enabled revealed the location of the summer triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb, before the inevitable clouds returned. The compass went awry when crossing a bridge over the main electrified railway line but, all in all, it worked a treat. It wasn’t until the next night when the sky cleared that Pocket Universe really revealed its power and utility. We saw constellations we never knew existed and could locate objects we’d previously only heard about.
Also featured, is a wealth of information on phases, events and plenty of fascinating general knowledge, with not a hint of sci-fi or mysticism. In fact, one of the finest things about this app is its creator. It is evidently a labour of love and support is swift, with the app being regularly updated and expanded. Pocket Universe is the first astronomy app we know of to make use of the iPhone 3GS compass, though some of its more expensive competitors are now catching up.
The only criticism is the sound, which should be kept off under all circumstances and consists of one bleep which would have shamed a digital watch or pocket calculator circa 1974, but that is a minor quibble and should not detract from an otherwise excellent product. Pocket Universe has booked a permanent berth on this iPhone 3GS and is everything an app should be: interesting, informative, useful and fun. And in a universe containing over 400 fart apps, that is a great achievement indeed.