NASA’s Astrobiology Lab goes mobile with BiTE


A small shop came to us with a with a very big mission: to create an app for NASA’s Astrobiology Lab. The ambitious design centered around a spectacular, three-dimensional UI with complex moving objects. Our deep mobile knowledge let us know right from the start this UI would be very difficult to render on the then-first-generation iPad, and if we built it natively, the hardware just wouldn’t be able to handle it smoothly enough. We decided to work directly with the 3D animation house to pre-render a video of the 3D feature and app navigation. But making pre-rendered video behave like a real, dynamic interface wasn’t easy.


The iPad is optimized to play video from beginning to end, not to start, jump forward 16 frames then back 64 frames. With video an integral part of the UI we had to ensure there was no flicker, no jumpiness and no lag. We devised techniques to make video function flawlessly. We added 4-6 frames between transitions ensuring when the movie stopped it would do so cleanly at exactly the right frame. We meticulously tested and mapped touch events to individual elements in the video, making sure they responded to the user the same way a natively rendered interface would.


We managed the priorities and coordinated risk management between the agency’s creative team, the 3D animation house, NASA and our internal team. Our exceptionally gifted PMs were more than ready for this challenge. We provided the agency, animators and the client with a complete schedule including dates for internal review, client review and key points of integration. This centralized project management kept the project on track.

We produced a stable, seamless and impressive UI.

NASA ipad app connect screen


BiTE’s biggest challenge was bringing a complex, dynamic 3D interface to the the iPad and bringing this lofty design to life. We created a UX that was way beyond the device’s capabilities because our expertise means that we don’t hesitate in the face of technological challenges. Our nimble tweaks to the iPad’s low-level movie player APIs made the video a seamless and impressive part of the app. We made the hardware work for us, testing (and retesting) onsite to optimize code, manage the video load and ensure smooth performance. We produced a stable, seamless and impressive UI, pushing the hardware’s capabilities to their fullest.