While Norsat has a long pedigree with satellite broadband and cellular backhaul solutions, we’re relatively new to the world of smartphone applications.
Getting into smartphones was a natural progression considering our existing control software, the skills that Norsat has in-house and the needs of our customers. The difficulty was in deciding how to interact with our customers in a useful manner. After some examination, we looked at creating a very simple application, which would solve a common customer problem with satellite pointing.
One of the problems our users face is determining whether they have a correct sightline to their satellite. Near our main office we call this ‘Douglas Fir Interference’ since a common interruption in satellite linking is the realization that an 80 meter tree lies between you and the sky. While a chainsaw can solve some tree based problems, other common obstructions such as mountains, buildings or even busy roadways need a more elegant solution.
In order to provide a tool that would solve this problem we wanted to create something like a bore sight camera, which would let a user do a site survey and pick an optimal place for their dish, without having to deploy the equipment. Additionally, for customers with manually pointed systems (such as the ROVER™) the tool would also provide an intuitive estimate for the initial pointing.
With the choices available in the marketplace for Smartphone Operating systems we elected to go with iOS so that we could concentrate on the usability and rely on a consistent set of peripherals.
To develop the app, we used a camera, compass, inclinometer, and rough GPS data to get the information we needed and then paired these inputs with Norsat’s satellite almanac and existing LinkControl algorithms..
Initial development went well and we worked to ensure that the various data inputs were updated in a smooth manner. With the sensitivity of the compass and inclinometer we found that updates based on new positions were interrupted by new position changes and that unless a user possessed extraordinarily steady hands, it was going to provide a poor experience. We remedied this problem by using single process receive updates while the screen works on a periodic update system, ensuring a smoother look and a surer update.
During live testing we found that our initial graphic design had a critical flaw: Norsat’s corporate colours of blue and grey matched the colour of sky and clouds perfectly, making our satellite arc nearly invisible. Our graphics department suggested that the colour of the satellite arc and highlight colour could be a selectable options; also ensuring that anyone with colour-blindness can select a colour set that is comfortable to view. And a new feature was born.
After Norsat staff spent much time testing, tinkering and playing with the App, we submitted the Norsat Satellite Locator to the App Store last month and were pleased to see that our care and attention were rewarded by a very fast acceptance without update requests.
Since its release the application has been downloaded approximately 450 times a week and early results show good take up and positive feedback. But don’t just take our word for it- download the App for free and tell us what you think! With the relative success and the exposure of the application on the iOS network, we’ve elected to quickly port the application to Android, and look forward to sharing this tool with our Android users in the coming months.
On to the next adventure!
*Updated Oct 17, 2012: Satellite Locator for Android now available here.