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Status Update – PocketBible for iPhone

Posted on: August 31st, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 34 Comments

We’re at one week since submitting the app to the App Store and I want to answer a few questions that have come up in email and in the comments.

  • We will not get any feedback from Apple until/unless the app is approved. The current status is “In Review” and that’s all we’ll know until they actually either approve or decline it. If they decline it, they’ll tell us why and tell us what to do to fix it. We don’t have any reason to believe they won’t approve it, or if they find problems, that they won’t approve it eventually.
  • We appreciate your offers to give us donations to cover the cost of development. We’ve thought about formalizing that process but at the same time you can “donate” by simply not using our discount codes when you place an order for add-on books. We’re embarrassed to even suggest such a thing and are humbled by your generosity.
  • We will be having some kind of site-wide sale once the new product is approved on the App Store. We’ll send an email out to current customers and probably post something here in the blog. If you’re interested in building your library, that will be a good time to do it.
  • You will have access to all your current Bibles and reference books from inside PocketBible for iPhone. I’m not sure how to make this more clear. Take a look at the first video here. All I’m doing is logging into my existing account using my customer ID and password (you can also use your email address instead of customer ID if you don’t know it). Once I’m logged in, I see a list of everything I’ve previously purchased for any platform. I can download any of those titles to the iPhone.
  • Memorize!, DailyReader for Palm OS, and the old PrayerPartner for Palm OS are programs, not reference books, and won’t be included in the titles you can download for iPhone. We have not announced our plans for a version of Memorize! or PrayerPartner for the iPhone. The features of DailyReader are built into PocketBible and will be enhanced in future releases of PocketBible for iPhone.
  • MyBible users will probably have the biggest transition to make. As you might know, MyBible was written by an outside developer who was a Palm employee at the time. We marketed it on his behalf. At the same time, we developed PocketBible for Windows Mobile in-house. It was the original product that Jeff Wheeler and I wrote starting back in 1998 and which motivated us to leave Parsons Technology in late 1998/early 1999 together with Jim VanDuzer to start Laridian. PocketBible for iPhone is based on the Windows Mobile code base and overall philosophy of operation. The differences are subtle but you may notice them. For example, MyBible lets you highlight a single letter in a word. PocketBible highlights entire verses.
  • Remember, this is version 1.0.0. Other versions are coming. If you don’t see a favorite feature, tell us about it, then wait. We’ll be constantly working on updates for the next few months. Those of you who got involved in iPocketBible.com in the very early stages remember that we issued updates every couple of weeks for a few months as we rounded out the feature list. We’ll be doing the same thing with PocketBible for iPhone.
  • If you can find it in your hearts, give us a nice review. Early reviews are important. If you can do us the favor of complaining to us directly by email instead of through your reviews on the App Store, that would be great. We’re going to do everything we can to be responsive and make sure PocketBible for iPhone is everything you want it to be. If people express their complaints through App Store reviews instead of directly to us, the product could fail before we have the opportunity to finish it.
  • We haven’t forgotten Windows Mobile. There will be a new release of WM next year and we currently plan to revisit PocketBible for Windows Mobile sometime before then and release an update. Nothing firm yet.

That’s it for now. I just checked and there’s no change in the status of the app as of this morning. I’m sure one of you will probably spot it before I do. :-)

PocketBible for iPhone Uploaded to App Store

Posted on: August 24th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 42 Comments

PocketBible Splash ScreenThis afternoon I uploaded PocketBible for iPhone version 1.0.0 to the App Store.

Now we wait.

Apple says it will take about two weeks. We’ll see. I know that uploading took me only 15 minutes, but that was after spending hours trying to find the right combination of options NOT to choose and titles I was NOT allowed to use for the program. So I’m not going to be surprised if approval takes longer than two weeks.

In the meantime we have a lot of work to do on the Web site to get it ready for the release. We’re going to try to make some changes to the way our e-commerce works at the same time. Hopefully we won’t break anything important.

I previously posted several videos of PocketBible in action. So if you’re curious, take a look at those.

One of the last things to come together was the program icon. We went through three major themes before finding a last-minute idea with promise. Our first idea was to lift the Bible icon from our Windows Mobile app. But when we looked at the 60 or more Bible apps on the iPhone, it seems over half of them had the same idea. So we were afraid we’d get lost.

So then we went with a version of our company logo. That had some fans, but suffered from being not very scalable as we release new programs (i.e. we only have one company logo but we expect to have more than one iPhone app). Plus it was boring.

While this was going on we had an artist work on a “Bible in a pocket” icon. The beta testers weren’t crazy about that one.

One of our testers is a fellow developer. He turned us on to his icon designer, who had the idea to used stained glass as a theme. We weren’t crazy about this at first but then I found a stained glass artist in Minnesota who had done some very contemporary looking work for a Lutheran church that seemed like it might work. We contacted the artist (Nicholas Markell) and he was willing to work with us. There were some interesting copyright issues, but Nick was a very reasonable guy and was pretty knowledgeable on the topic and we were able to work through those very painlessly.

So the program icon and splash screen (shown here) are based on a stained glass window entitled “Baptism of Jesus”. While the baptism of Jesus has little to do with our program, a little creative reinterpretation makes it work well. The Holy Spirit, represented here as a dove, illuminates the Scriptures for the believer. The water represents the “living water” (John 4) of the Word of God that gives eternal life through the cross, which is in the background of the image. Across the surface of the water runs the “scarlet thread of redemption” that ties the Bible together from the first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation.

In addition to the obvious symbolic significance of this particular work of art, there’s the bigger symbolism of stained glass in a Christian context. Beyond its obvious beauty, stained glass windows served a valuable purpose in churches: They taught the stories of the Bible to a largely illiterate population. For many people in medieval times, church windows were their Bibles.

We like the meta symbolism of the medium of stained glass representing the Bible, and the specific symbolism of this piece as it relates to studying the Bible with our program. And besides, it looks really nice on the iPhone.

It’s unlikely we’ll hear any good news until the program is approved. We’ll pass along any bad news we receive just to keep you informed. Until then we have plenty to do to get ready. We appreciate all your kind words and prayers.

Laridian Logo Apparel Available at our Lands’ End Store

Posted on: August 21st, 2009 by Craig Rairdin No Comments

Laridian LogoOne of our PocketBible beta testers spotted a picture of Jeff in a Laridian pullover with me in a Laridian polo and asked if he could purchase Laridian apparel anywhere.

We have a long-standing relationship with Lands’ End going back to our days at Parsons Technology. I have a picture on my wall of the entire Church Software Division staff at Parsons in our purple Parsons polos from 1995, and for a couple of years I gave out Lands’ End gift certificates to them as Christmas gifts.

Lands’ End normally password-protects logos so that they won’t be used without permission. So I went fishing for a way that you can use our logos on your purchases there. Turns out they have a way for us to create our own store. We don’t get a commission, which is dumb, but you get to use our logos.

So here’s a link to Laridian at Lands’ End. There are two versions of the Laridian logo. One is the one you see here. The other has LARIDIAN in large type with a very small version of the flying book logo below it. That version is in black and looks good on most colors.

Note that you don’t automatically get the Laridian logo on everything you buy. You have to add it. Once you select your item, there’s an option to choose a logo and a location on the item to put the logo.

Like I said we don’t make a dime from these sales, but the quality is very good and customer service is excellent. We hope you’ll enjoy your Laridian apparel from Lands’ End!

PocketBible for iPhone Video Demos

Posted on: August 10th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 10 Comments

I put a link to these videos in my last post but some of you may have missed it since I edited an existing blog article.

I’ve posted some videos of PocketBible for the iPhone in action on our YouTube channel. You can view those videos here.

These videos were created while running the program in the iPhone Simulator on the Mac. It makes for a nice video but the program runs faster on a Mac than it does on the actual device.

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.

And the winner is…

Posted on: June 10th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 3 Comments

Actually, it should be “And the winners are….” We had so many great responses that we decided to choose three winners from each site. If you are one of the winners please let us know if you would like your library on CD or USB (both include the ability to download the files from the web site). Also, please make sure that we have your correct mailing address on your account (you’ll need to log into your account on our web site to make sure we have all your information).

The winner in each category will receive the Gold Library, the runner up, the Silver Library and the second runner up the Bronze Library.

Thanks to everyone who submitted an entry letting us know how you use PocketBible. This was a lot of fun to read and a great encouragement to all of us here at Laridian!

So…on to the winners!
(more…)

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 InformationWeek.com: 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.

PocketBible for iPhone Update

Posted on: March 18th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin

If you’ve been a Laridian customer for a while you know that our policy has always been to avoid talking about products that we are working on until they’re actually available. Starting with the Web-based version of our iPhone product (iPocketBible.com) we made an exception to that rule and openly talked about our development activities for iPhone. We continued that with the native PocketBible for iPhone. We did this as an experiment to see how it would work out.

It’s been an interesting experience. We’ve received many positive comments and suggestions on the blog and by email. Several emails, though, attacked both our products and our personal character, and criticized our programming and management skills. Needless to say, these both consume our time as we try to address the criticisms and drain us of enthusiasm for the project. Even the positive comments often result in lengthy email exchanges.

We’re at the point, especially with the upcoming version 3 of the iPhone OS, that we need to return to the old way of doing things and allow ourselves to work undistracted by both incoming emails and the pressure to release information to the PocketBibleiPhone email list. I’ve removed a few articles from our blog and disabled comments on others. We will return to a “no comment” policy with respect to products which may or may not be under development, and reserve the right to read but not reply to your emails.

We do appreciate your interest but hope you’ll understand our need to focus.

Meet me at BibleTech 2009 Conference in Seattle

Posted on: March 17th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 3 Comments
Official Conference Portrait
Official Conference Portrait

Looks like I’ll be speaking at the BibleTech 2009 Conference in Seattle on March 27-28.

My session is the very first one on the schedule at 10AM Friday morning, March 27. I’ll be talking about our group SMS texting service for churches and demonstrating some features that are going to roll out right before that conference. Specifically, using the service for microblogging, voting, and receiving replies from your broadcasts. I’ll be demonstrating the service of course, but will also be opening the hood and talking about how it works. (Since this is a technical conference I have to include something for the programmers in the audience.)

Why am I not talking about Bible software at a BibleTech conference? The main reason is that I spoke on that topic last year; specifically about our synchronization feature that syncs notes, highlights, bookmarks and other personal data between our Windows desktop software and the various mobile platforms we support. And our friends from OliveTree will be there giving the same presentation they gave last year on mobile Bible software development. So I wanted to mix it up a bit and present something different.

Regardless of the topic of my presentation, though, I’d love to see you there and we can talk Bible software if you want. Visit www.BibleTechConference.com for details about the conference, and www.ChurchTextingManager.com for information about our group texting service.

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