Simulation Curriculum’s SkySafari 5 for iOS: Impressive New Features

| Quick Look Review

SkySafari is an excellent sky simulation and charting app for iOS. With it, you can view the sky at any date and time, identify objects in the sky, read about celestial objects, learn the constellations and even control an amateur telescope. On December 15, SkySafari 5 Pro was released, with Basic and Plus versions to follow soon. The suite of apps has an impressive list of new features.


I reviewed SKySafari 3.x back on 10 April 2012, and ever since, it has been my favorite sky charting program. For reference: "Explore the Sky with the Best: SkySafari for iPad."

The first thing I did was to install it on my iPad Pro, and it's absolutely amazing. Here's a photo, along with a 4.75-inch (12 cm) stylus for scale.

Stunning on the iPad Pro. Great on iPad Air. Very usable on iPhone.

You should know that SkySafari for iOS comes in three versions. Here's the overview from Simulation Curriculum.

  • SkySafari 5 (US$2.99, 180 MB), basic version intended for the widest possible audience of casual stargazers. Available 12/21.
  • SkySafari 5 Plus ($14.99, 430 MB), enhanced version with telescope control and solar system fly-through mode. Available 12/21.
  • SkySafari 5 Pro ($39.99, 1.6 GB), premium version with all features of Plus, plus professional-grade astronomy database. Available 12/16.

Learn the constellations.

The new features in all three versions are:

  • Support for Apple Watch.
  • Social media sharing.
  • Refreshed look-and-feel, with enhanced sky and translucent horizon panoramas.
  • New Tonight at a Glance view, with notifications of planet and brightest satellite rising and setting.
  • Complete audio redesign with new and user-selectable sounds.
  • Improved motion tracking for highly accurate celestial object identification.
  • Revised and expanded encyclopedia of astronomical objects, with illustrations.

Learn about our galaxy, the Milky Way.

The basic version is a great value for the beginning amateur astronomer or curious sky gazer. The more advanced versons, SkySafari 5 Plus and Pro have these added enhancements.

  • iCloud sync for settings and observing lists.
  • Revised deep sky object database.
  • On-line archive of astronomical observing lists, plus new “tour mode”.
  • Digitized Sky Survey viewer for import of NASA/STScI DSS images.
  • Improved multi-star alignment for telescopes with digital setting circles.
  • Galaxy View with 3D representation of deep sky object positions in the Milky Way (Pro only).

Simulation Curriculum's lead app developer Tim DeBenedictis told me that it took nine months to develop version 5. He noted that, "Our Apple users expect best-in-class visual aesthetics and cutting edge hardware support. And they’re ruthlessly demanding when it comes to fast, solid, bug-free feature implementation. With SkySafari 5, I genuinely think we’ve delivered all of that."

In my 2012 review, I wrote:

The celestial mechanics, proper use of data sources, mathematics and documentation are extraordinarily demanding in astronomy apps. This kind of app can’t be thrown together by an ordinary developer, and the harsh eyes of professional astronomers, professors and the entire weight of the history of astronomy can come crashing down on the slightest bit of unprofessionalism or carelessness. This app measures up in every way, and even exceeds my highest expectations based on my own career in the field. Considering that it’s priced at $3 makes it even more amazing (and valuable).

If you have even the slightest interest in what you can see and learn in Earth's sky, this is one of the very best iOS apps you'll ever use.


Postscript: Here is a more in-depth review of SkySafari 5 by an accomplished amateur astronomer.

Product: SkySafari 5 for iOS

Company: Simulation Curriculum

List Price: See article


Outstanding Product. Get It Now!


Full support for iOS 9, Apple Watch support, "Tonight at a Glance," satellite (including ISS) notifications, solar system fly-bys, social media support, iCloud sync of settings, telescope control, observing list, new sound effects in this version.



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John, love Sky Safari, too.

But, Cons:  None?

Seriously?!  You’re a marvelous writer and reviewer, but that’s just plain silly to ever say that there are no cons.  Not possible and suggests that you haven’t used it very much at all and left your critical faculties in your desk drawer somewhere.

I’ll give you an easy one and there are many—the Galaxy Sky View should be included in the lower-level app versions, which are more likely to be used by schools, clubs, and outreach where it could teach people about the galaxy itself.  Confining to the top, Pro version was silly, greedy, or short-sighted!  (Leave such things as advanced computerized-telescope control, and deep databases to it, but a galaxy view?  That should be for everyone!)

We’ve decided that you must be behind in your Christmas shopping and rushed this review/commentary/advertisement out the door!  grin  Much of it reads directly taken from their website! 

No cons?  Hmm…  grin

John Martellaro

skywatcher: A product “con” in my book is a badly implemented feature, a tragic, missing feature, a really bad bug, a price that’s way out of line, or some other reason to consider NOT buying the product. In that sense, I didn’t identify any “cons”  that say “Don’t buy.”  That said, all software has minor defects, bugs, or features that some people want but don’t get.


Thank goodness most reviewers haven’t embraced the definition that a “con” = a “Don’t buy it” problem!  Check out any car, astronomy, stereo, computer, or consumer’s magazine or review site and you’ll see plenty of products that are recommended buys but, for which, the reviewers point out various limitations.  That’s just helpful, informed criticism; plus, how important a limitation is will vary by reader, so they are worth noting.  It also nudges designers and companies to make the next version better, fixing the problems.

In fact, there’s a reviewer named Martello who’s almost always pointed out limitations as cons, even when they aren’t deal breakers!  Here’s his recent review of the ParcSlope prop up device for Macs and iPads.  It included even this minor limitation as a con!

“The front curb/lip isn’t deep enough to accomodate a thick case in some orientations”

Or, his Apple Watch docking station reviews, in which the Watch Stand by Griffin was rated as “Outstanding Get It Now”, yet included the following limitation as a con. 

“Cons:  Wrist band must be undone to present Apple Watch vertically.  Spacer required to accomodate both kinds of chargers (but easy to remove).”

I think you get my drift!  grin

Don’t get me wrong, Sky Safari is a great product, brilliantly designed.  I strongly recommended version 4 to fellow amateurs, but also cautioned them about several cons:  descriptive info that was too small to read comfortably, sluggish display response when asteroids were turned on,  inability to select which DSO catalogs to display, inability to set magnitudes by field of view, and a host of display “features” that would be deal breakers to some:  planets and 1st magnitude stars that are blobs, a visually irritating blinking cursor (still in version 5), hall of mirrors effects as one scans around the sky, garish green translucent ground, etc.

So, if one plans on upgrading, or even more so, if one is on the fence, he or she would like to know whether such glitches have been fixed—and, whether there are issues with the new features—e.g., it turns out that the new sky background in SS 5 is a deep blue, not black; the new Tonight View is dominated by a list of ALL of the planets, whether they are visible or not; and that’s followed by info on a couple of satellites, again whether they are going to be above the horizon or not!  That’s hardly a “tonight view” if the objects aren’t even visible!  Other apps have horizon filters. 
Worse, the Tonight View unexpectedly does NOT include any DSOs in the sky that night! 

The object descriptions touted as “updated” and a new feature seem little changed (did you check them?) and still include striking inconsistencies.  They still remain in text that is too small too read comfortably on smaller devices, hampering what is otherwise a fantastic feature that sets SS5 apart.

Finally, have you confirmed whether the new features you listed actually work?  As I mentioned, your “review” read more like a regurgitated press release or copied feature list from the company website than your usual more careful and more thorough analysis and commentary!

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