It’s been downloaded by more than 1 million
An application that an Oregon State University student programmed to teach school kids about the moon has been downloaded by more than 1 million people in 150 countries.
Chris Vanderschuere said he never imagined that his app, Moon, would get so much attention and be used for such a broad range of purposes. The junior electrical and computer engineering major introduced the first version of the app his freshman year and has been improving it ever since.
The app, which can run on any iOS device like Apple’s iPad or iPhone, calculates information to answer questions about the moon. What did the moon look like on July 4, 1776? Where in the sky will the moon be tomorrow? How far is the moon from Earth right now?
It uses the current time and location, or those that the user enters, and displays details of the moon such as the phase, location in the sky and moonrise and moonset times.
A lunar surface image from NASA creates a three-dimensional center graphic that changes second-by-second as the shadow travels across the moon. A smaller picture of a moon spins around a compass to show where the moon is located in the sky, and another displays the angle above the horizon.
Vanderschuere worked 14-hour days over a week and a half during winter break his freshman year to program the first version of Moon. His mother’s colleague, a teacher, had requested the app for use in the classroom. Vanderschuere has since learned through user feedback that the app has infinite other uses.
“It’s crazy all the anecdotal stories I hear about what people do with it,” he said.
A U.S. Air force pilot utilizes the app to calculate the brightness of the moon so that he can calibrate his night vision goggles accordingly.
A Portland kayaking company schedules its full-moon kayak trips with the app’s information, and a photographer on safari in Africa uses it to get the perfect moon picture.
Vanderschuere noticed that the app is also popular with Muslims, whose holidays and festivals are based on the lunar calendar.
Vanderschuere began experimenting with programming an app when he got an iPhone the summer before he began college. He created an app for hikers that included a compass, a flashlight feature and information about the location of the sun and the sunrise and sunset times.
“It was very basic but it’s what I learned to program with,” he said.
He used resources and learning tools from Apple’s website to teach himself the programming language and then he submitted the app for approval at the Apple store.
Moon is superior to his first app, he said, so when it was offered for download at the Apple store, he expected it to do slightly better.
“I never expected it to be as popular as it is, though,” he said. “I’m still surprised.”
Fine-tuning it is a never-ending project. The amount of time Vanderschuere spends on the app depends on how much of a perfectionist he wants to be. For example, he spent countless hours trying to speed up the time it took the app to run data through the algorithms and spit out answers.
“When I first did it they were all really slow — it would take 5 seconds to find a full moon,” he recalled. “I would work for weeks to change it millisecond after millisecond till it got to a time where I was happy.”
Though he can become absorbed in tinkering with it, he’s content with the current version.
“There may be some things I want to do, but they’re not pressing changes,” he said.
There are 20 to 30 different moon apps, he said, but his stands out. “Not many of them have a free version, and if they’re free, they’re not very good.”
He profits from the paid version of Moon and the free version that contains advertisements. He’s learned a little about supply and demand by playing with the price.
“Whether it’s $1 or $2, the number of downloads are not different,” he said. “But I’ve tried going up to the $3 range and they certainly care.”
The project, Vanderschuere said, has provided a great educational experience.
“I’ve learned a whole new programming language, I’ve learned to write much cleaner programming code, and a lot more about how you make products and how you market products,” he said.
Though the app has brought in some income, he said, money has never been the driving force behind its creation.
“It has earned money, but that’s a side thing for me,” he said. “It’s more of an experiment.”