BibleTech08: Day 2 – Session 04, The Challenges & Future of Bible Software in a Mobile World

I met Stephen Johnson at the beginning of the conference, after introductions, and learned he worked in Spokane for Olive Tree Bible Software. His presentation was taking place in room 1, which was primarily for the very techy people such as developers, but since he was talking about mobile then I made it a point to attend. I am glad I did as I found Stephen to be one of the most dynamic and energetic speakers of the conference who really knew his stuff and even a user like me appreciated his talk.

While Drew touched on some of the global challenges in the mobile landscape, Stephen went into more detail in regards to the programming challenges faced by developers. Olive Tree currently supports 14 builds of BibleReader on 5 platforms (4 for the Palm OS, 2 for Windows Mobile, 6 for Symbian, 1 for BlackBerry, and 1 for J2ME). If you haven’t visited the Olive Tree Bible Software site in some time, then I highly recommend you check it out as they have completely redone it and made it MUCH easier for you to use and find resources for your particular device.

Stephen stated that he spends more time on cross platform development than on Bible software development. I personally appreciate this cross platform focus as it allows me to use BibleReader on S60 and Windows Mobile devices. BibleReader is actually one of the only options I have on S60 so I appreciate their work. I also learned that Olive Tree acknowledges and understands that many of their users switch platforms and devices regularly so nearly all of their Bible translations and texts have a common database shared across all platforms. I talked with Stephen after his talk and this means that you can buy a translation or text and then “own” that forever so if you switch devices or platforms your purchased content goes with you. This was a GREAT relief to know so I can now purchase content without any worries about which device I am using.

Stephen presented possible solutions to the issue of cross platform development and the large number of mobile devices. Some possible solutions were a common database layer, common text rendering engine, shared data structures, and the use good cross platform coding practices. A vendor could limit themselves to one or two platforms and avoid this cross platform issue, but it is good to hear that Olive Tree plans to continue their multi-platform support.

There are also many challenges when it comes to development tools since there is a wide range and quality of tools available. He mentioned that 3rd party software developers have less priority for wireless carriers than getting a new phone out the door. There are issues with tools (such as Metroworks and PRC Tools) and issues with emulators. I mentioned before that Windows Mobile offers good support for the developer with Visual Studio. Testing and debugging are issues to address since emulators don’t always emulate the actual device and it is quite costly to purchase all of the latest and greatest devices for thorough testing. Olive Tree does add debugging information into their software so they can try to address any issues that may arise on your particular platform.

The different programming languages and content delivery methods were mentioned in my coverage of Drew’s talk, but Stephen did go into a bit deeper detail. Often a problem is that users do not even know what device they have so they do not know what software to purchase or download. Stephen also mentioned that there are issues rendering complex scripts and fonts (like Hebrew).

Stephen had some thoughts on the future of mobility that included the merger of the desktop and mobile device. Hey, has Stephen been brainwashed by Nokia and their idea that their phones are really mobile multimedia computers? (Just kidding) Will social networks have an impact or serve as a mechanism for sharing in the Christian environment? The “in the cloud” strategy may be the future, but Stephen said it will most likely take a while since getting data over the air is not as fast, is expensive, and coverage is not universal. However, I have been using Laridian’s iPocketBible that works over the network and Laridian has optimized the functionality for the iPhone and the web to make it a very similar to a stand-alone experience that I am enjoying.

There are new UI paradigm’s such as touch (thanks to the iPhone and Microsoft Surface) and Nokia gestures. There are different display technologies to consider, like eInk and foldable displays.

I completely agree with Stephen that the mobile world will continue to explode and there will not be a clear winner that captures more than 50% of the market anytime soon. Olive Tree may have to create 3 to 4 more platform versions over the next couple of years. Collaboration between software vendors may help with some of these future challenges, but that too will be a challenge moving forward.

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