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Archive for the ‘Industry Commentary’ Category

Does It Matter Where Your Bible App Comes From?

Posted on: February 5th, 2015 by Craig Rairdin 11 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 12.08.58 PMTrevor McKendrick is an atheist who wrote one of the top-selling Bible apps for iOS. A former Mormon, McKendrick saw an unserved niche market on the App Store and created a Spanish audio Bible to fill it. Now he’s banking over $100,000 per year selling the app. He compares the Bible to Harry Potter and describes Christians as people who learn the spells in the book and try to use them to heal their children. He compares them to people who teach The Lord of the Rings as real history.

Does it make any difference whether or not the people who create the products you use for Bible study agree with the materials they publish?

When I started writing Bible software in 1988 there were very few other products on the market. I purchased the King James Bible from Public Brand Software, a distributor of freeware and shareware programs for MS-DOS. While browsing their catalog (paper catalog — this was before the Web) I saw a Bible program called WordWorker and picked up a copy of that, too.

WordWorker was pretty impressive compared to other programs available at the time. My problem with it was that the programmer who wrote it was associated with The Way International, which denies key teachings of historic Christianity and adds a few of their own. They encourage severing ties with family and friends and living with other “believers” instead, which many argue qualifies them as a “cult”.

Coincidentally I had been unsuccessfully recruited by a member of The Way while in college. Noticing a strange-looking guy observing me playing pinball at the student union, I struck up a conversation and bought him a couple games (he had never played pinball). He invited me to join his “twig fellowship”. As a brand new Christian with very little foundation in the Bible, I struggled with figuring out if this was God’s direction or not. Fortunately I dodged that bullet, and got involved with a local church that had a strong emphasis on the Bible and Bible study, which is what eventually led me into developing Bible software.

It was difficult to get excited about using WordWorker because I felt like I was supporting a cult. Even if it coincidentally met my needs, it was hard to recommend to others or even use enthusiastically because I knew where it came from. One benefit of using Bible software that comes from a person with whom you share a common faith is that you don’t have to feel guilty about supporting something with which you disagree. You and I may not agree on every fine point of doctrine, and we may not share a common worship style preference, but I bet we’re closer to agreeing with each other on the fundamentals of the faith than you would be with an atheist.

I originally wrote my Bible study software as a tool for myself to use. Its features were designed to meet my needs, which I obviously knew well. I didn’t have to do any research to figure out what people who read the Bible wanted; I wrote what I wanted.

I took my Bible program (QuickVerse) to Parsons Technology in 1988, where, over the next ten years, I employed a couple dozen different programmers. Not all of them were practicing Christians, but they were good programmers. Jeff Wheeler (who would later leave Parsons with me to start Laridian) and I led the development of the program. Both of us were Bible-believing Christians who were not just developers, but users of the program.

Having real Christians write your Bible study app guarantees that it is designed to meet the needs of someone who really studies the Bible.

Parsons Technology was not a “Christian company”. It was a plain-old software company that happened to have a Church Software Division that published church management and Bible study software. Parsons was eventually purchased by Intuit (1994), which sold us to Broderbund (1997), which was purchased by The Learning Company (1998), which was purchased by Mattel (1999), which sold the Church Software Division to a dormant company that was rumored to have previously been a booking agency for Las Vegas acts (2000). During those years we were faced with a number of demands from our pagan overlords that compromised the quality of QuickVerse. They saw “unserved niches” on store shelves and wanted us to create products that were just old versions of QuickVerse with a new cover. They weren’t interested in meeting needs, but in making money.

This was the final straw for me. When it got to where creating Bible software was about duping people into buying old versions of our program at a cheap price because BestBuy or Costco was looking for 25-cent CD-ROMs to fill an end-cap, I bailed out and started Laridian in 1998.

Our goal has always been to focus on our customers and our product, not on creating a company to sell to the highest bidder. The features and reference materials you see in PocketBible come from customer feedback (and from our own needs as our product’s first customers). We bristle at doing things like renaming our product “@Bible” so that it pops up first in alphabetic search results on the App Store, or calling our program “Bible App” to cause it to come up first when you do a generic search for a Bible app, or seeding the store with identical products, all with different names, so it appears more often in your search results. This is what marketeers do to trick people into buying shoddy products. We aim for letting the quality and usability of our apps speak for themselves.

So another benefit of having real Christians write your Bible study app is that they’re not just seeing you as a rube who will spend their hard-earned money on a quickly thrown-together, shallow product, but rather they are committed to creating not just one download but an ecosystem of products that will meet your Bible study needs not only today, but for years to come.

I don’t have a doctrinal test for people with whom I do business, but I expect my Bible study materials to come from people who are as firmly committed to the Bible as I am. It’s not that they’re the only ones who I can trust to create useful products, but it is at least more likely that they’re doing a better job.

A Couple Security-Related Issues

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by Craig Rairdin 6 Comments

HeartbleedJust a couple brief comments  on two unrelated security issues. You’ve probably heard about the Heartbleed vulnerability that affected many websites this week. For some reason, the media didn’t mention that the affected servers are running Linux. (There are issues with certain programs running on other servers, but the primary impact was for those sites running Linux-based servers.) They’re quick to jump on Microsoft when it comes to security flaws in Windows, but I guess Linux doesn’t get the same treatment. Weird.

Anyway, we run Windows servers here and don’t appear to be affected by Heartbleed. This blog is on a Linux box, but there’s nothing valuable here except for my rambling a on various topics, and those are only mildly worth stealing.

Coincidentally, we were working on another security-related issue when we heard about Heartbleed. A few of you have given us grief in the past for sending password reminders in email. While your Laridian password doesn’t expose any personal information of import, except perhaps your mailing address — which is widely available elsewhere — it was still disconcerting to see your password show up in clear text.

So we’ve made some changes now so that we don’t send out passwords but instead send a link to a page where you can reset your password.  This should provide a little more security, especially if you’re in the habit of using the same password everywhere. :-)

PocketBible and iOS 7

Posted on: September 20th, 2013 by Craig Rairdin 62 Comments

This week brings the release of iOS 7 from Apple. As this new version of the operating system rolls out to more and more devices we’re beginning to hear from you about what’s working and what’s not. I want to take a minute to tell you how to work around the one problem we know about, then tell you what we’re doing to fix that, then tell you what I think about all this. Since that flows from absolutely important to “who cares?”, you can stop reading as soon as your questions are answered.

“Go To Verse” on the iPad

iOS 7 removed a feature of “popover views” (the box that pops up out of the toolbar to show you our “go to verse” buttons) that allowed developers to specify the size of the contents they were putting in the view if that size changes after the initial contents are placed. As a result, after you choose a book, the view gets resized to its default size, and the chapter buttons get cut off.

There are two work-arounds for this:

  • Press the button in the upper left corner to go back to the list of books and choose your book again. This little bit of magic seems to break Apple’s concentration and they quit trying to resize the view.
  • Choose a different go-to method for the time being. To do this, go to the Settings menu, scroll down to Program Settings, and choose a different Bible Verse Selection method. There are two other than the book/chapter/verse buttons that are the default: The Calculator method and the Spinner method. Of the two, the spinner is the easiest to use and is less quirky. Choose the Spinner and work your way out of the Settings menu. Next time you choose Go To, you’ll see the Spinner instead of the buttons.

There are other small cosmetic issues you may or may not notice as you use the program. We don’t know of anything that affects the actual function or usability of the program beyond the one mentioned above.

What We’re Doing About It

While developers have had access to beta versions of the iOS 7 developer’s toolkit for several months, we’ve found in the past that you can waste a lot of time chasing the changing specifications of the new version of the operating system if you start your work too early. For iOS 6, many developers were stunned to discover the apps they developed and uploaded to the App Store using the final beta version (which was approved by Apple for submission to the App Store) did not function correctly on the final released version of iOS 6. They had to scramble to make changes. So with all this in mind, and after reviewing the new features in iOS 7, we decided to wait until we had a version of the developer’s toolkit that was closer to final.

We’re working on version 3.0 of PocketBible, which will be fully iOS 7 compatible. Most of the changes we have to make are user interface related. That is, tweaking colors and behavior of the UI to match the new, flat look of iOS 7. There are several new features in PocketBible 3, but these have been in beta for a few weeks now and are in pretty good shape. In particular:

  • Advanced Feature Set – New Features
    • Journal Notes allow you to take notes that are not associated with any particular Bible verse.
    • Assign names to your highlight colors.
  • Features in the Standard (Free) Version
    • Autosync feature allows you to synchronize your user data (notes, highlights, bookmarks, etc.) with the Laridian cloud automatically in the background while you continue to work. Manual sync is still available if you prefer.
    • Synchronization speed is improved.
    • Added underline styles (underline, dotted, and dashed) to the list of highlight choices.
    • Display one verse per paragraph (start each verse on a new line).
    • Support iOS swipe gestures to delete notes, highlights, bookmarks, etc. from lists of those items.
    • When deleting a bookmark category, the bookmarks themselves are deleted (instead of being moved to “uncategorized”
    • Added “Email Passage” and “Text Passage” to the list of “Passage Actions”.
    • Various speed improvements and minor bug fixes.

This version of PocketBible will be uploaded to the App Store soon. We’re still working through all the issues brought about by the release of iOS 7. In the meantime, the only thing you really need to do is change your go-to-verse method.

So What Do We Think About All This

One of the frustrations with our industry as a whole and Apple in particular is the pace at which it changes. Most of the changes in iOS 7 that affect us are cosmetic. Apple has decided that it’s their user interface, not their limited availability and high price, that negatively impacts their sales. So they spent a lot of time turning everything flat, gray, and translucent. Many of those changes are applied to programs automatically, but not all of them are implemented well.

For example, in the intrest of transparency, the system status bar (the signal strength indicator and clock across the top) is now transparent. That’s great, but our app is used to a solid status bar and would never bother to put anything behind it. Now, since that bar is transparent, the OS tells us it isn’t there and tricks us into writing under it. So when the status bar is laid over top, it just is unreadable since it’s either black or white text on top of a white page of black text. So we had to take the time to create a little colored rectangle to put under the status bar so you can see it.

While changing the look of table views (those lists of contacts, appointments, settings, etc. that you see all over iOS), they decided the headings between groups of choices should ALWAYS BE UPPER CASE. So it looks like THE PHONE IS YELLING AT YOU all the time. Furthermore, they limited the text to six lines without documenting the limit nor truncating the text. So it’s possible for text to flow over the list items. This would be fine if they provided a way to say DON’T YELL AT ME but they didn’t. So we had to implement custom text views to put in those locations.

This is all characteristic of a philosophy that has little sense of history or the importance of supporting existing apps, existing versions of the OS, or existing hardware. For example, PocketBible 3 will be compatible with iOS 5 devices, but you won’t find much, if any, mention of iOS 5 from Apple. I know people running iOS 4 and 5 who just never bother to plug their device into their PC/Mac to download updates. It’s working for them, so why bother? I’m typing this blog article on a PC running Windows XP. It works great. Why upgrade? Apple doesn’t understand this idea. They assume everyone rushes out and buys a new phone every year or two, or they at least upgrade the operating system every time an update is available.

As a result of this blindness to the past, it’s not unusual to discover that something is broken in the OS and it’s just never going to get fixed. For example, we depend on a particular method being called (viewWillDisappear:) when one of our “dialog boxes” is dismissed. I found out yesterday that iOS 7 breaks that rule (it’s been around since version 2) in certain cases. As a result, instead of one programmer at Apple fixing one bug, it creates millions of bugs in hundreds of thousands of apps, and each of those hundreds of thousands of programmers has to take an hour or two to figure out how to work around it. Apple doesn’t care because programmers who start programming new apps tomorrow will never know any differenc and will always code as if viewWillDisappear: won’t always be called, and they are the only ones who matter.

It’s as if Apple has incubation pods where they harvest new programmers. They pull them out of their drawer and they start writing code with no sense of what came before. A year later, after working 24×7 with no sleep, they are recycled to feed the next batch, which are harvested just in time to release the next unnecessary update to the operating system.


We’re still in the process of making changes, but this is just a couple little things we’ve run into in the process of moving PocketBible to iOS 7. We think you’ll like PocketBible 3 when we’re done, but it’s going to take a couple more weeks to get there. In the meantime, change your go-to-verse settings and 2.0.6 will continue to work fine.

What is your ideal size for a mobile device?

Posted on: January 24th, 2013 by Michelle Stramel 33 Comments

The other day I got in an unexpected discussion with my 14-year old nephew about iPad minis. Like most 14-year old boys, he is an expert on all things electronic. He informed me that when he heads to high school next year, they will each be given an iPad by the school. He then mentioned he was glad it was not an iPad mini because he finds them to be worthless devices with no purpose for existence. He feels the mini is the wrong size for anything meaningful. Too small to replace a laptop. Too big to carry around. And definitely the wrong size to play games on.

I own an iPad and iPhone. I haven’t even held the mini let alone considered purchasing one. However, I have been drooling over the Galaxy Note to replace my iPhone for many months (so long in fact that the Note I wanted has become the Note II). Bottom line, I want a bigger phone. From Twitter to PocketBible, I like the bigger screen size of my iPad yet I don’t want to lug it around everywhere. So the solution in my mind has been to get a bigger phone like the Note.

Today I came across this article on ZDNET by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, “Has Apple redefined the tablet as an 8-inch device?” where he explains how he fell in love with the iPad mini and ditched his iPad. He makes a case for this middle size device becoming the new norm with the popularity of devices like the iPad mini, Google’s Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire. He’s got me thinking about getting a mini to replace everything!

What do you think? Could you live with one device for everything? What is your ideal mobile device size?

Laridian and the Better Business Bureau

Posted on: November 12th, 2010 by Craig Rairdin 11 Comments

About a year and a half ago we let our Better Business Bureau (BBB) membership expire. We had been members since 2000, and were some of the earliest members of their “BBBOnline” program that sought to separate the better businesses from the scams that are so much a part of online life. At the time we joined, we paid $310 to join the BBB itself and another $225 for the BBBOnline program.

From the beginning, it was clear that the BBB was just a consumer con-job. From the fact that it has absolutely no power nor willingness to involve itself in resolving disputes, to the minimal requirements it places on its members, to the shoddy paper membership certificate it sends you to “display proudly”, the BBB is little more than an organization that shakes down businesses for $350+/year with vague offers of increased credibility while offering those businesses and the consumers whose interests it claims to represent little in return.

Now, ABC News is reporting here and here that the BBB is little more than a pay-to-play scam, where the terrorist organization Hamas received an A-minus rating, while Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants get F’s. The difference? Hamas (or at least, a blogger claiming to be Hamas) pays their dues. Wolfgang Puck does not.

I went back through my records and found three complaints in the ten years or so we were members. One complaint was from a customer who had purchased from us twice. The second time he claimed to be a new customer and as a result his new purchases ended up in a separate download account from his old purchases. However, when he logged in to download, he logged into the old account rather than following the login instructions in the confirmation email we sent him. This kind of thing happens fairly regularly, of course, and we’re always able to handle it through tech support. This customer, however, contacted the BBB before contacting us. Once he contacted us, of course, we resolved his problem instantly like we always do.

The second complaint was from a customer who had purchased a Bible but not the PocketBible program that was required in order to view the Bible. Again, instead of contacting us when he couldn’t view his Bible, he contacted BBB and filed a complaint. By the time we received notice of the complaint several days later, he had contacted tech support and the problem was solved within hours — all before we even received his BBB complaint.

Complaint number three was similar to the first. Customer orders a Bible but no reader. We tell him to buy the reader, which he does, but now claims the Bible is not on his download page. We log into the customer’s account, and there it is. We write back and tell him “it’s the third one from the top” and he files a complaint with the BBB. Again, problems like this happen from time to time, but we’re always able to solve them without any help from the BBB.

Unfortunately, when you look at our BBB status report, all it will tell you is that we’ve had complaints. It doesn’t say that they were all from customers who technically didn’t have a claim in the first place. It just says they were “resolved”. (Since we haven’t had any complaints in the last three years, our current report will say “no complaints”.)

My one big experience as a consumer using the Better Business Bureau was a complaint against a competitor who was advertising their software as “the only true PDA Bible study software”. I felt this claim was demonstrably false, since there were dozens of PDA Bible study programs available at the time. BBB is very particular about advertising claims. You can’t say things like “discounts up to 50% off” or even “lowest prices in town” (the latter is OK only if you can exhaustively demonstrate that it’s true). So I felt the claim that this company had the “only” Bible software was simply false, and since they were BBB members, the BBB should hold them responsible for their clearly false advertising.

The BBB forwarded my complaint to the company, and the company replied that their software contained Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and therefore was the only true Bible study software for PDAs. I wrote back with a list of six Bible programs that included Greek and Hebrew lexicons for the same mobile platforms as this competitor supported. That was the end of the discussion. The BBB didn’t do anything against the company even after an advertising review. The whole issue was simply dropped.

In 2004 we did a customer survey. We selected several hundred people who had purchased within the last week or two and presented them with a list of certifications like “Better Business Bureau”, “BizRate”, “Verisign”, “Verified by Visa”, “Good Housekeeping”, etc. We asked how important each of these were, and if any of them were instrumental in their decision to purchase from us. Here are the top four, in order from most important to least important:

  1. Verisign
  2. Verified by Visa
  3. TrustE
  4. BBB Online

Ironically, at the time, neither the Verisign nor Verified by Visa logos appeared on our site yet customers told us the appearance of those logos is what changed their mind about ordering products from us. (The exact question was: “I was uncertain about ordering from Laridian until I saw this certification.”) More importantly, these imaginary logos were more important (by a factor of almost 2) than the BBB certification that was actually on the site!

So a year and a half ago it seemed abundantly clear that (1) very few people were actually making use of BBB; (2) those who did make use of it were actually making baseless claims that were solved by tech support without help from BBB; (3) all claims, regardless of how specious, were counted against us regardless of their resolution; and (4) customers weren’t relying nearly as much on the BBB certification logo as they were on certifications which they only imagined seeing on our site. We explained all this to our BBB rep and told them we’d be willing to sign up for another year for $30 instead of $365. (We figured it might result in one or two more sales over the course of a year, so $30 seemed more than fair.) They declined our generous offer so we let our membership expire.

We hesitated to mention publicly that we had dropped our BBB membership because we were afraid of what that might imply. But now that the facts about the BBB have finally come to light, I think it’s safe to let you know that despite our current “A” rating and being complaint-free for the last three years, we are no longer paying protection money to this particular gang.

PocketBible for iPad

Posted on: February 3rd, 2010 by Craig Rairdin 38 Comments

Apple announced its long awaited iPad tablet device last week, and like you we were all anxious to see it.

What we’re being told is that it will run most iPhone apps unmodified. They will only take up about 1/4 of the screen, since the iPad screen is significantly larger than the iPhone. We don’t have any reason to believe PocketBible won’t run on the iPad, but we’re doing what we can to make sure.

While the SDK has been distributed to developers, it is only a beta and we are unable to build what Apple calls “universal apps” that will allow the same binary file to run on either an iPhone or an iPad. We also don’t have access to pre-production devices, so we can only run in the emulator that is built into the development tools. So we have some reason to believe that PocketBible will work as-is but can’t be absolutely sure at this point because we’ve never seen it run on a device.

There are some simple user interface changes we’ll be making in the short term to better take advantage of the iPad’s capabilities. In addition, there are some new capabilities in the iPad version of the OS that aren’t yet in the iPhone that we’d like to investigate — what Apple calls “Core Text” is at the top of that list.

It’s not obvious from the end-user point of view, but PocketBible pushes the limits of the iPhone’s abilities when it comes to displaying text. PocketBible is exactly the type of application that the iPhone OS was not designed for — that is, an app that does sophisticated text rendering. The new iPad, with its bigger screen and potentially more usable keyboard, invites applications like word processors that need sophisticated layout capabilities. PocketBible is in that camp.

This is not unique to the iPhone. Windows Mobile also lacks key text rendering capabilities that are present in its big brother, Windows on the desktop. For example, it’s not possible in Windows Mobile to accurately measure the width of a piece of text as it will be displayed on the screen. You can almost do it, but it doesn’t work right for bold and italics. So we’ve had to implement our own functions for this.

We could probably get into a lengthy discussion of whether or not this form factor is something the public will accept. I’ve seen everything from people who want it to replace their phone (assuming they can keep from knocking themselves unconscious when they answer it) to those who point out that tablet computers with full-blown operating systems have failed to capture consumer attention, which causes one to question whether a similar device with a mobile OS stands a chance.

That said, one of my long-standing complaints about devices such as the Sony Reader and the Kindle are that they don’t allow any kind of third-party software. (Or at least until recently when Amazon announced a “Kindle Developer’s Kit” for Kindle.) My Kindle is great, but it’s horrible for Bible study because the software simply doesn’t have the features you need to access an integrated Bible library, or even perform moderately sophisticated searches. Viewed as a souped-up e-book reader, the iPad may stand a chance. While it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Amazon’s selection of e-books for Kindle, if anyone has a chance of doing so it would be Apple.

The iPad could actually be the perfect electronic Bible study device. It’s just portable enough to be truly portable, while being large enough to facilitate convenient cross-referencing between titles.

From a developer’s standpoint there’s not a whole lot to complain about. It’s like a big iPhone, so everything we’ve learned about iPhone and Mac programming transfers painlessly to the iPad. We’re not crazy about the shortsightedness of some of their new features (“split views” being at the top of that list for you programmers) but we’ve also seen initial shortsightedness in the iPhone OS get repaired in subsequent releases. Unfortunately, like the similar issues that arose years ago on the Palm OS, by the time the official solutions are released everyone has already coded their own work-arounds to meet user demand.

What all this boils down to is that we fully plan to support the iPad and in fact enhance PocketBible over time to take advantage of unique iPad features. We think it could be an ideal Bible study platform for those who have the spare change to invest in one.

AT&T vs. Verizon 3G Speed

Posted on: January 18th, 2010 by Craig Rairdin 24 Comments

A few months ago Verizon started running some pretty obvious ads for those of us who use both Verizon and AT&T. They compared their 3G coverage map to AT&T’s. AT&T came up wanting.

AT&T fired back, saying that their 3G network covers 97% of cell phone users, and that it’s faster. They further brag that AT&T users can surf the Web while they’re on the phone.

I’m sitting here this morning using a Verizon 3G modem connected to my MacBook, writing code for the iPhone in my pocket. On a whim I went to on both the Mac and iPhone to see what the results would be. on the iPhone took me to the App Store to download their free native app. On the Mac, runs in your Web browser. I downloaded the app to my iPhone and made sure both the Mac and iPhone were connecting to the same server in Kalamazoo, MI.

The results of three tests tests on each device are summarized below:

  Verizon AT&T
  Download Upload Download Upload
Run 1 790 Kbps 60 Kbps 205 Kbps 233 Kbps
Run 2 230 Kbps 60 Kbps 105 Kbps 130 Kbps
Run 3 430 Kbps 110 Kbps 70 Kbps 190 Kbps
Average 483 Kbps 77 Kbps 127 Kbps 184 Kbps
Overall 280 Kbps 156 Kbps

AT&T has an upload advantage, but most mobile Web surfing and email activity depends on download speed, not upload speed. Furthermore, AT&T’s overall speed (average of upload and download) is lower. So even if you did an equal amount of uploading and downloading (which would be very unusual), Verizon is faster.

This seems to undermine AT&T’s argument that their network, while covering very little of the geographic area of the US, is faster. It appears to me based on my one sample location (Coffee Emporium in Hiawatha, IA) that this is not true.

And while I may be able to surf and talk at the same time with my iPhone, if you read the fine print you’ll find out that only applies when you’re in 3G coverage. The one time I’ve needed to do it in the last two years I was not in 3G coverage and therefore couldn’t surf while I was on the phone.

The iPhone is a great device and if you live in certain areas of the country very close to an ocean you have great coverage. And the connection speed, while slower than Verizon, is certainly adequate for mobile Web and email activities. I really like my iPhone and recommend them to everyone. However, AT&T is its weak spot.

On Christian Economics

Posted on: August 8th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 26 Comments

From time to time we’re approached by (or we approach) a publisher with a Bible or reference title they’d like to distribute through Laridian at no charge. That’s fine with us, of course, especially if they do all the work to create the title with BookBuilder. But some of these folks have second thoughts when they find out that we charge for our reader software. They feel uncomfortable having their work supporting a for-profit company. (Of course if they knew how little profit was in it, perhaps they’d change their minds.) :-)

I used to use a biblical argument to support the idea that the “laborer is worthy of his wages”. Paul asks “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?” (1 Cor 9) However, I found that people couldn’t follow this argument. It wasn’t that they thought it didn’t apply in our situation, but rather they just didn’t understand what the passage was even talking about.

So now I take a different tact: It’s OK for people to go to Best Buy and pay $1000 for a computer or $300 for a mobile phone on which to run Bible software. And it’s OK that $50-$100 of that purchase goes to Microsoft or Apple or some other company to pay for the operating system on that computer or phone. When they get the computer home, it’s OK to pay Qwest for high-speed internet access for the computer on which you’re going to do Bible study. Computers require electricity, so it’s OK to pay the local utility company for power to keep the computer running while you do your Bible study. Assuming we’re talking about a home user, and realizing that most people have a mortgage, it’s OK to pay interest to J.P. Morgan Chase or some other big bank for the privilege of having a roof over your computer.

Everyone agrees there’s nothing unbiblical about paying for your computer, operating system, internet access, electricity, and mortgage interest. However, next you want to install Bible software. But God forbid that we should pay the fellow believers who dedicate their lives to creating software to help people study the Bible! Sure, we’ll pay Best Buy, Microsoft, Apple, Qwest, the power company, and the bank — we all know how selflessly dedicated these companies are to advancing the goals of the Kingdom of God — but we’re certainly not going to pay fellow believers to create our Bible study software! That would violate our deeply held Christian principles!

I know that 99% of you reading this blog agree with my argument. It’s great that there are brothers and sisters who donate their time to advancing the Kingdom. But there are some of us who have no other means of support other than what we do to help others understand and apply the scriptures. If we “donate” our time, our kids go hungry. We all think this is obvious, but not everyone does. I thought you might find it interesting that there really are Christians out there who have no trouble supporting secular programmers but balk at supporting their brothers and sisters.

And if you’re in the “Bible software should be free” camp I hope you’ll take a minute to think about who you willingly give your money to (your grocer, mortgage holder, utility company, doctor, plumber, paper boy, internet service provider, mechanic, movie theater, dentist, garbage man, and others) and who you think should go without (your brothers and sisters in Christ) so that you can have cool stuff.

PocketBible for iPhone Beta 2 (Finally)

Posted on: July 18th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 26 Comments

It’s been a long six weeks since we released Beta 1 of our native version of PocketBible for iPhone. At the time I said we were expecting the beta period to be short. Needless to say I was wrong.

A Wrench in the Works

Two major things happened to really slow us down. First, we have been really struggling to get adequate performance out of our code to allow you to be able to smoothly scroll through the Bible like you would a Web page in Safari on the iPhone. Safari has the advantage of being able to render the entire page. Once that is done, scrolling around on it — even zooming in and out — is pretty easy with the features of the iPhone OS. In our case, however, we can’t render the entire Bible while you wait. We have to load it into memory in pieces. Unfortunately, computers can only do one thing at once and while it was busy loading the next chunk of text it needed to display, the scrolling would get clunky. It wouldn’t keep up with your finger motions.

We actually got to the point where it was working pretty well. We were loading text in a separate thread and drawing during otherwise idle times (say, while the graphics processor was busy animating the motion of the text). But then we installed the OS 3 SDK and things fell apart.

We couldn’t afford to take the time to figure out how and why the new version was causing us problems. Suffice to say that the particular functionality we were taking advantage of was rewritten for version 3, and in so doing the handling of touch events changed in ways that may not be significant to some applications but were significant to us.

As a simple example, when you’re tracking a touch event, the system can send you a “cancel” message. This means the phone is ringing or some other event has happened and your program needs to stop what it’s doing and let something more important take over. Well, with version 3 we’d be happily tracking a touch event and suddenly we’d get a “cancel” message. It seems the system was watching the touch events and had decided that the touches weren’t doing anything it cared about, so it told us to cancel our handling of those events. We could’ve ignored the “cancel” message (knowing it was just the OS trying to take over touch handling) but since the “cancel” message also means “really — the phone is ringing — you need to stop right now” we couldn’t afford to make that assumption.

Anyway, the end result was we threw out about six months worth of work and in about a day I coded a replacement that doesn’t depend on a lot of fancy background threads, idle-time drawing, or system touch event handling. The new user interface is simple, practical, and best of all — it’s done.

As if That Wasn’t Enough…

So as we’re recovering from that crisis, the 3GS is released. Now, when you’re developing for the iPhone there are some strict procedures you have to follow to install your program on your phone. Apple wants to make sure all program distribution happens through the App Store, so they limit how many devices you can install your app on outside the App Store. Every time we distribute a beta version (or even one of our own builds we do internally and install on our own phones) we have to identify exactly which phones it will run on. Apple lets us install on no more than 100 devices outside the App Store.

To manage this, developers maintain a list of “unique device ID’s” (UDIDs) in their account on the Apple Web site. Each phone as a UDID that uniquely identifies it. We ask all of our beta testers for their UDIDs and enter those at the Apple site. When we distribute a new build we request a certificate from Apple that contains all the UDIDs we want the program to run on.

So as I was saying, the 3GS was released. Jeff bought one for us to test with. A bunch of our beta testers bought them. So anticipating the release of Beta 2, I started collecting all these new UDIDs so I could update our account on the Apple site and create the new distribution certificate with everyone’s new UDID in it. I got about half way through entering them and the site told me I couldn’t enter any more. It said I had already used my 100 devices.

I only had 82 devices in my list. Turns out when you change someone’s UDID it counts as a new device. I had added 85 devices, deleted 3, and made 15 changes. When you delete a device you don’t get its “slot” back, so from Apple’s perspective the total was 100.

After several email, support forum, and telephone conversations with Apple and other developers, we concluded that we were out of luck. We had to wait until our annual program renewed on July 12. At that time, Apple said our device count would reset. We could delete all our devices and start over. But once we started adding devices, we were stuck with those for a year.

One thing that meant is that we couldn’t have 82 beta testers. We needed to cut the list dramatically. I wanted to get down around 40 testers. That would allow us to add some people over the next year and have room for device upgrades. We should be able to struggle through until Apple figures out that its developers aren’t trying to rip it off; we’re just trying to test our software.

So last week we sent out an email “firing” about half our testers. It wasn’t pleasant, but we had to do it. I think we have a pretty good group left. I can tell they’re good because I disagree with them most of the time. It’s good to be challenged to look at things a new way, and these folks are definitely keeping us honest.

Beta 2 Features

There are some notable features in Beta 2 that the testers will be looking at over the next week or two. These include:

  • Easily navigate to the next/previous page, chapter, or verse using simple taps and gestures.
  • Rotate between open books and Bibles with a tap or a swipe.
  • Hide all controls including the system status bar for full-screen reading, while having instant access to all the controls with a tap.
  • Search for words, phrases, and combinations of words using Boolean logic. Limit searches to any passage, book of the Bible, or range of books. Limit searches to only verses you’ve highlighted in a particular color or bookmarked in a particular category.
  • Add books from your Laridian account. Purchase books at our Web site and download them directly into PocketBible. Remove books as needed to free up memory (just download and install them any time you need them again).
  • Select from any installed font and font sizes from 8 to 72 points.
  • Lots of customization options, and many more features….

What’s Next?

There will be at least one more beta version before we submit PocketBible to the App Store. We’ll post an article like this one when Beta 3 is released, and another article when we send PocketBible to the App Store.

Once submitted, it will take a while for Apple to approve it. They might send it back and ask us to make changes. There’s no way of knowing how long that process will take. Sometimes it takes just a few days or a couple weeks. Other times it takes six months by the time you make all the changes they want and submit version after version for review. We don’t anticipate it will take that long but we have no way of knowing.

Any Bibles or books you buy today for any platform will be accessible from PocketBible for iPhone.

Yahoo Pulls the Plug on Mobile Development for Platforms Other Than iPhone

Posted on: May 19th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 13 Comments

Laridian VIP Ed Hansberry posts the following on Too Many Mobile OS’s Limiting Development For Companies.

Ed writes, “…there are a bewildering number of platforms and variations within the platforms to develop for. Enterprises will take the easy way out and just stick to one platform and a precious few models. Software developers that are selling their apps will have to have enough penetration for each platform to make development worthwhile. Each platform requires its own development team or at least a dedicated development process that takes time away from other supported platforms…. While phone carriers may support six or more mobile platforms, I am not sure the software industry will.”

We’ve been talking about this problem for some time:

Ed makes a good observation: There are at least six major mobile platforms. What if there were six desktop platforms? The software industry would be a significantly different place as companies tried to solve the huge problem of cross-platform development, multiple-platform development, and having enough market on any one platform to justify the incremental cost of maintaining or entering the market on that platform.

One thing you can say about Windows: By dominating the market Microsoft makes it easy for developers on desktop platforms. You can focus your development on one operating system. If you make it there you can consider Mac if you have enough users to justify the expense. Once you’ve covered Windows you have 80%-90% of the market. Whether you go for the 10%-15% represented by the Mac OS is a big decision, but at least it’s the only decision you’ll have to make.

For those of us writing software for mobile platforms there’s not only the issue of supporting a large number of platforms, but there’s the fact that the relative mix of market share on these platforms changes over time. Palm OS used to be our largest platform. Today the Palm OS is dead. Palm and Windows Mobile used to dominate the market; today iPhone and Windows Mobile hold the dominant share of customers. Deciding how we allocate development time and money is an ongoing process that changes a couple times every year.

Meanwhile Apple doesn’t make it easy to develop for the iPhone. I am having a major problem with getting the XCode programming tools to talk to my new 3G iPhone. The information at the Apple developer site is insufficient, and the developer forums they provide have numerous questions identical to mine that have gone unanswered for months. When you call “developer support” at Apple you get a guy in Great Britain who admits he has absolutely no idea how to solve the problem because he’s not a programmer and knows nothing about programming. He points me to the documentation, which is what I’ve been following to get me into the predicament I’m in.

It’s actually encouraging to see a major company like Yahoo make the decision to abandon all other platforms but the iPhone. (Actually, they’re supporting other platforms through customizations to their Web-based products.) It makes it easier for us to consider similar options.

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