On Friday, I wrote about one of the most interesting beta tests on the planet (and perhaps, the galaxy). SetiQuest Explorer, a newly developed app for Android, was produced by the Seti Institute – a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research and education on extraterrestrial life. For you sci-fi buffs, this organization was the inspiration for the movie Contact, one of my personal favorites.
The application lets users look for patterns in noise from radio signals picked up by the Allen Telescope Array in Northern California. The telescopes are focused on stars beyond our solar system, including stars with planets nearby that NASA’s Kepler mission has determined are in a habitable zone, meaning they could sustain life.
Anyway, I promised to get in touch with the developers of this application to learn more about the challenges they face in their current beta test. Francis Potter (pictured left) who led the development effort, was kind enough to field a few questions from yours truly. Here is the brief Q&A. My questions in bold.
Needless to say, this is not your typical beta test. What kind of information and feedback are you hoping to receive in the testing phase? And what is the nature of the issues already being reported (if any)?
FP: We decided to take a community-driven approach to many aspects of this application, including testing. The version that’s out there now is very raw, and we’re getting useful input on everything, from the placement of buttons to the authentication options. No major bugs being reported though.
The press coverage has mentioned that the iPhone version will be available later this year. Is there a particular reason why the SetiQuest Explorer was first developed for the Android operating system?
FP: We built the app using the Adobe Flex/AIR framework. It compiles to Android very easily; making an iPhone app from the code base is a little more work, so we decided to hold off. We did build an in-browser version for personal computer users, and we’re releasing it simultaneously with the Android application. Besides, those of us on the core team are all Android users, so it made sense.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far in testing the application? I’m guessing it had to do with transferring data from the Seti servers, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.
FP: Obviously the big challenge is that we don’t have all the handsets. We have a cross-section of them though. The Adobe toolset makes it really easy to test on the desktop using different pixel dimensions, so that was easy. But we know there are subtle differences between some of the handsets. Hopefully our beta testers will tell us if there is a problem!
We demo the app on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s a terrific form factor for this kind of app. I’ve become a big fan of that device.