It was a lot of years ago, but MMM rightly predicted and noted how Bible apps were going to go mobile and why this was a suitable area for companies and developers in this space to pay attention to. Now, let’s take our gaze to the future a bit, what could be next?
Know Your Past
The old paradigm was simple: developers licensed content from publishers; then crafted a user interface and added varying degrees of value to that content offering. This was usually done by creating a reader” to which this specifically licensed content, and the value-added abilities were wrapped into.
This worked well even in the beginning stages of the Internet. With smaller pipes, and few persons able to afford what amounted to a “extended licensed” content (license went from publishers to developer, and then content was made available to the user), it made sense that connected features (email, notes, send to blog, etc.) would appear also within these “readers.”
PDAs and Mobile Pioneering
Then we had those PDAs. Applications followed the PC paradigm of use by offering a reader and downloadable content. Some of these applications would even sync with desktop counterparts so that bookmarks or notes could be shared (remember, initially PDAs weren’t wireless-data capable except for a few isolated and very expensive models).
From PDAs we started to see the Nokia Communicators and Palm Treos of the world start moving users to this idea of constant connectivity. Bible apps for mobiles started to adapt – first in general user interface design, and then slowly in the adoption of mobile/web features.
From Mobile Boom to Realizations
Then came the boom known as iPhone, and this greater acceptance that people were more apt to want to read their Bible or have Biblical content on their devices before consulting a desktop, and even a dedicated application. An explosion of mobile websites and mobile apps for iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, webOS, and Windows Mobile showered the mainstream marketplace. For most it seemed that this model pioneered with having a reader app that people would read licensed content would work.
But, something happened as data became looked at as more than just accessible anytime. A type of user workflow began to rise to the surface. It wasn’t so much that people were not using their desktop Bible readers and websites, but they no longer were using these screens in isolation from their mobile screens. Searches, notes, and bookmarks needed to appear on all of these screen equally, without the intervening of a syncing conduit (after all, everything was connected to the web already). These workflows and behaviors weren’t really new, but the abilities of the technology along with the flexibility of the delivery conduit made these behaviors easier to see and adopt.
The understanding and shaping of Biblical data even began changing. What was once understood on the print side as glyphs and manuscripts became chopped and reorganized alongside Unicode languages, metadata schemes, database types, and even the constraints of physical devices (displays, inputs, etc.) and their presentation layers.
To add to the fun, people also embarked on changes of their own. Now, Bible reading wasn’t just a personal affair driven by devotions and reading plans, the idea of going social set in. Doing more with your Bible included engaging within virtual communities, affixing a Biblical context to social activities. The Bible and biblical data was just as much about the devices and data as it was the behaviors and actions of people once they assimilated it. And so instead of just a group of trained (technically and linguistically) users as the primary userbase, we started to see various communities arise as accessible user types, collecting more around the social actions, but using software and services in a shared manner (for ex., YouVersion and Facebook communities).
So What’s the Future to Behold
A common theme emerges when you look back at this summarized history of Bible software, we go from technical abilities, to social activities, to new technical abilities, to richer social activities. What is to be gained from biblical software now then, it does seem as if all that’s left is to live it, right?
I can see a few distinct software changes coming to biblical software and the faith community at large. On the software side, we should begin to see more consolidation in terms of the larger companies in this space. Don’t be surprised for more announcements similar to the one forged with Zondervan Publishing and Olive Tree. It makes a lot of sense for publishers and software houses to align their resources as they are building and mining on the same data.
Look for a few companies to take an approach similar to Logos and their Biblia.API project. The benefit of an API is that you can stack data into new kinds of applications or services. For example, if you are a missionary who lives in your car (so to speak), it would make a lot of sense to map your GPS device’s POI database to passages you might have preached or privately held for devotions. Imagine possibilities also where augmented reality services allow you to embed a Scripture on a virtual location, but you are able to interact with it in the physical world. These and other possibilities are doable.
Also, we should expect the loosening of English as the primary language of our Biblical communities. Even as I write this, there are more mobile web users in China alone than there is the total population of persons in the US. English definitely served as the world’s language when there was only the G7. There’s the G20 now, and you can bet that all languages will have to be given space on the world’s stage for communication and interaction.
Imagine this, a future Bible software application isn’t an application at all, but a validation key brokered between you, the developer who holds the API, and the publisher who owns the content. Your license enables you to read the content via whatever reader or browser you choose, and you have a limited license to share it with certain people or through specific regions. The developer, as part of their service agreement with you, gives you access to a panel where you can purchase additional API capabilities or upload your own contributions. And the publisher also has a panel, to which you can offer feedback, purchase additional licenses, and view the analytical data that goes into their marketing and research efforts.
In my opinion, we aren’t that far off from this happening. Will you as a user, developer, or publisher be ready to make the next change in offering or engaging with your Bible/biblical software. The idea of owning content, managing apps, and even browsing is changing. What I describe might not be the future realized, but it does point to what are some of the likely outcomes.
For those of you invested in the future of Bible software, I hope this helps to address your current plans for what’s next.