The astronomical services of the CDS at the age of multitouch interfaces and mobility

André Schaaff (Observatoire de Strasbourg - CDS - CNRS), Boch Thomas (Observatoire de Strasbourg, CDS),
Fernique Pierre (Observatoire de Strasbourg, CDS),
Kaestle Vincent (Observatoire de Strasbourg, CDS)


Currently, we are witnessing a rapid evolution of new human-machine interfaces based on the widespread use of multitouch screens. This evolution is not just a replacement of the mouse-keyboard couple but requires a recast of the interfaces to take advantage of the new features (example: simultaneous selections in different parts of the screen). ′Traditional′ operating systems (mostly Windows and Linux) are also moving towards the integration of multitouch. It is possible in Windows7, also in Ubuntu (since release 10.10). The user interfaces of existing applications should be deeply impacted, as it is not just an adaptation of the existing ones: it is a transition from a “selection in menus, click on button, …” to an intuitive based interaction. In this context the use of the semantics could help to “understand” what the user wants to do and to simplify the interfaces.
The number of mobile devices (Smartphones based on iPhoneOS, AndroidOS and others, tablet computers (iPad, Galaxy Tab, etc.) is growing exponentially with a sustained frequency of replacement (18 months for a device). Smartphones provide an access to Web services but also to dedicated applications (available on App Store, Android Market, etc.). Investment in human resources to provide services on mobile devices could be limited in the first case (a simple adaptation of existing Web pages), but is higher in the case of dedicated applications (software development for a given operating system and the porting to other systems to achieve sufficient diffusion).
Concerning the use of multitouch screens we have focused our study on Aladin, which is an interactive atlas of astronomical images, developed in Java and a portal of the Virtual Observatory and on the main online services (VizieR, Simbad, Simplay, Dictionary of nomenclature). We will present the results of these tests and the future developments.
As a proof of concept, the CDS has developed a prototype (VizieR Mine) for mobile Android devices and a mobile online version of the CDS portal.
Following this step, we have developed an “Aladin Allsky” lite application for Android, SkySurveys. This application is based on HEALPix and it was a real challenge to provide a tool with good display performances on a basic hardware device compared to a desktop or a laptop.
We are now focusing the study on the use of HTML5, an emerging technology supported by recent versions of Internet browsers, which can provide rich content. HTML5 has the advantage of allowing developments independent of the mobile platform ('write once, run everywhere')′.
We also expect broadening of the user of the services to new audiences and in particular to the educational community through new interface user-friendlier in terms of usability and interaction.

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