Posted in ISS Detector - redesign

Competitive Analysis – ISS Detector

Purpose and Method

The reason I wanted to do a competitive analysis was to see what other ISS-tracking or sky-watching apps had to offer.  There was not a specific question I started out with, though thinking back, it should have been, how do these competitors get their users to convert to paying customers?

I started out with a general internet search and then got more specific as I saw what the landscape looked like.  The general search led me to an article about several ISS tracking and sky-watching applications, I did searches on Google Play and iTunes to see what apps popped up.  Between the article and the app store searches, I had quite a list of apps to go through.

To get the details on each application, I started looking at AppBrain, but they only look at Google Play, and I wanted to see data across Android and iOS app stores.  I found App Annie offers statistical data across app stores.  Of course, on a shoestring (aka non-existent) budget, I wasn’t going to sign up for the premium content that probably could have made compiling this data a little easier. And finally, only Google Play gave information on the number of downloads of apps, so for iOS, I could only use the number of reviews to get an idea of the app’s popularity.

Finding competitors

After looking through different sky watching apps, I noticed two different categories of apps: 1) apps that are specifically for ISS tracking and 2) apps that are for sky-watching and happen to include satellite tracking (ISS included).  Since ISS Detector starts as specifically for tracking the ISS, and Iridium Flares, as part of their free offering, and then offers add-ons for looking at more celestial events, there is value in looking at both sets of apps.


ISS Tracker Apps

ISS Spotter Sputnik! GoISSWatch ISS Locator ISS Tracker Satellite Safari
  • Price: Free
  • iOS only
  • Uses 2D map, not sky map
  • Set alarm for flyovers
  • No ads, in app donations
  • Has a compass, and elevation, magnitude indicator – helping user to find the ISS
  • Night mode(green and black)
  • Rating: 5.0 (444 reviews)
  • Price: free – .99 for no ads
  • iOS only
  • Simple sky map with compass, magnitude, elevation
  • Time of passover
  • Countdown clock
  • Social media sharing
  • Rating: 5.0 (379 ratings)
  • Price: Free
  • iOS only
  • Simplified overhead sky view – it is a perfect circle view, rather than a hemisphere view
  • Real time tracking
  • No ads, no in-app purchases
  • Alerts for passovers
  • Rating: 4.0 (38 ratings)
  • Price: Free; In app purchase for additional satellites
  • Text based
  • Globe map used, not sky map
  • Notification and alerts can be set
  • Rating: 1.5 (6 ratings)
  • Price: Free; Pro version – .99
  • iOS & Android
  • Live video feeds from ISS
  • 2D global map of current location
  • Rating: 4.0 (223 reviews)
  • Downloads: 10,000 – 50,000
  • Price: $2.99
  • iOS & Andriod
  • Multiple interfaces: Globe, 2D, and sky map
  • Tracks ISS and hundreds of satellites
  • Gives information on each satellite
  • Aesthetically pleasing – dark UI design
  • Ratings: GP: 4.4 (575 ratings); iT: 4.5 (191 ratings)
  • Downloads (GP only): 5,000 – 10,000
iss-spotter-compass-elevation sputnik_screenshots_sky goisswatch iss_locator_globe ISS_Tracker_map1.png satellite_safari_skymap

Sky Watcher Apps

Stellarium Mobile Sky Map SkySafari5 Night Sky 4
  • Price: $2.99
  • iOS & Andriod
  • Includes stars, constellations, galaxies (catalog), artificial satellites (ISS included)
  • Realistic graphics
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Nightmode (red lines)
  • Downloads (GP): 100k – 500k
  • Google Play rating: 4.5 (7,322 ratings); iTunes rating: 3.5 (64 ratings)
  • Price: $2.99
  • iOS & Android
  • Same makers as Satellite Safari
  • Extensive astronomy app, with satellites (like ISS) listed
  • Not sure if it will show ISS tracking real time – is not shown in screen shots
  • Has both text UI and sky map interface
  • Downloads (GP): 1k – 5k
  • Ratings: GP: 4.5 (96 reviews); iT: 4.5 (76 reviews)
  • Price: .99 / 1.99 monthly subscription for premium content
  • iOS & Andriod
  • Sky watching app that shows planets and satellites (including ISS)
  • Will identify what is in the sky, and show you what is showing up that night
  • Not sure if it will notify you
  • There are premium features that require subscriptions (maybe tracking / notification / alerts are in that?)
  • Downloads (GP): 100k – 500k
  • Rating: GP: 3.6 (1,472 ratings; iT: 4.0 (9,000 ratings)
stellarium_skyscreen1 Skysafari_Screen.jpg nightsky_screen

Key Take-Away Items

ISS Tracking Apps

ISS Detector is most like the ISS / Satellite tracking applications I examined.  

Common features:

  • Free with option to upgrade for a small fee
  • Simple in structure and functions
  • List of fly over times
  • Alerts or notifications of fly overs
  • Simple maps – either 2D, globe, or sky map
  • Not heavy on graphics or aesthetics – unpolished

Satellite Safari is the exception to what the other ISS tracking apps have to offer, as it looks complex, aesthetically pleasing, and does not come with a free option.  This was the most popular of all the ISS tracking apps I included.  

I noticed that Satellite Safari uses a sky map with high quality graphics that simulates the visual field of the horizon, meant to look as close to what the user is seeing in front of them as possible.  This fits in with the Neilsen Norman Groups Usability Heuristic of having the system match the real world.  Sky maps that are as close to what users will actually see when they look up from their phone will be the most useful in helping users find the ISS in the night sky.

Sky Watching Apps

The sky watching apps are more like alternative products, rather than substitute products for the ISS Detector.

 Common features:

  • No free options – users pay for these apps from the beginning
  • LOTS of information about celestial objects – large database
  • Multiple ways to view these objects, skymaps, globes, zooming into the object, etc.
  • ISS or satellite tracking is incidental
  • High quality and aesthetically pleasing graphics

I think there can be a take-away from looking at the sky watching apps: the high quality graphics give the apps a polish the ISS tracking apps don’t have.  From the high ratings and large number of users who left ratings, I would think that users feel they are getting quality for what they are paying for.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to know if users of the ISS Detector have used these other apps, and which of the features they felt were the most compelling.  I’d like to know if they successfully converted, and the reasons behind why or why not.  There are a lot of good questions that came out of this exercise that I can use in user research.

I would also like to learn more about doing a competitive analysis, and different techniques.  I feel I could have done this more efficiently rather than just going in it with a very broad goal of seeing what’s in the market.


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