I really shouldn’t be surprised by the number of lunar and star map applications for the iPod and iPhone touch that are aimed at amateur astronomers: I already have to bring a lot of gear out to the field as it is; if I can keep my charts on my iPod touch, rather than having to lug out a couple of star atlases or a laptop running planetarium software (plus, you know, a table), so much the better. Here’s a brief roundup, based on a little digging I’ve done. Note that this isn’t a review, and I haven’t had a chance to play with them yet (most of these apps cost money, you see).
Kari Kulmala has three flavours of Moon Map: a free “Lite” version for binocular observers, a regular 99¢ version for small telescope users, and a “Pro” version for large telescope users that costs $2.99. Each level up uses more detailed maps, but they’re separate apps: the higher versions don’t also include the lower maps. But these apps are meant for observers: if you know what you’re looking at the Moon with, you know which app to get.
Moon Atlas is a much more general application, with more features, such as far side imagery and spaceship landing sites, that are probably not much use for lunar observers; it costs $5.99. Also $5.99, from the same developer, is a similar application for Mars, which will be of even less use at the eyepiece. While having a virtual globe of the Moon or Mars is interesting, it’s not exactly necessary on a portable device except for observing purposes; you’re just not going to see the far side of the Moon or that much detail on Mars, from your backyard telescope.
There are an awful lot of planetarium and star atlas applications out there. Dan Schroeder reviews seven of them, rating each on their usability, features, and fun factor. Two apps that seem to have gotten a fair amount of attention are the $4.99 Star Walk for its accessibility and visual appeal (see TUAW reviews here and here), and the aggressively full-featured (but apparently slow and buggy) Starmap, which costs $11.99 (a new pro version costs $18.99).
From what I can see, Starmap delivers a huge amount of data and features — perhaps too much for the iPhone’s hardware. Indeed, it seems to be trying to do on the iPhone OS platform what heavy-duty planetarium software does on the desktop — the developer is even promising telescope control in a future release. I’m duly impressed, but I think I might opt for a laptop if I need that much firepower in the field.