What’s Going On At Olive Tree?

Since the beginning of the year Olive Tree has been planning some major changes to the iPhone (and now iPad) BibleReader. It began last January with a few large brainstorming sessions and lots of whiteboard space. Then in February we got a bit sidetracked by the arrival of the iPad. The addition of the iPad to our app has been a huge success and from our work on that app we have learned a few things that have caused us to rethink a few of our ideas for the future of BibleReader.

Just as we thought we were getting our feet under us again, we went to WWDC 2010 – and everything changed again. ;-) As soon as we got back from WWDC we resumed our brainstorming sessions trying to incorporate many of the ideas we had been exposed to at WWDC into our BibleReader update. The past two months have been very focused. We have spent a considerable amount of time planning, having meetings, ad-hoc discussions, and friendly debates, all of which have helped us hone in on our new vision for BibleReader. We have also hired a few more people to help us carry out this new vision and now we feel we are ready to dig in and focus more on the work and less on planning.

Its all very exciting to me. Bible readers on mobile devices have been around since the inception of Olive Tree as a company. Since that time mobile devices have evolved and as such so have the readers on those devices. I believe we are still at the defining moments of this technology and Olive Tree plans to lead the way on what that technology will look like, I think you will be quite impressed.

Stay tuned for my next blog post discussing the trials associated with making large changes to an application that people use daily and love.


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Developing BibleReader for the iPad


Well it’s finally here! The Apple iPad. There has been no single technology that I have been more excited about than the iPad. Ever since the tablet rumors started last summer I have been anxious to get one and yesterday I finally did.I have been developing for the iPad since they announced the availability of the SDK in January. It’s been a long road for us at Olive Tree as we worked to prepare our software for the launch of the iPad. Not having the actual hardware in hand has been a bit frustrating for us.

For one thing we didn’t know what the performance of some of the features we were adding would actually be. Developing for the iPhone has taught us that the simulator runs things typically faster than the device and there are things that the simulator will let you get away with that the actual hardware would never let you get away with. So we have gotten into the habit of testing on the device and testing often to be sure we are not getting to far down the road with some performance bottleneck. This was one luxury we did not have with the iPad.

Second and just as important is usability and user experience. We knew from day one that this was not just a big iPhone, anyone who says it is doesn’t get the iPad, it’s a whole new device that the world has never seen. It is true that developers had access to the simulator from the first day the SDK was released but the iPad can not be fully experienced in a simulated environment. Let me put it this way the iPad is not simply software it’s the whole package, hardware, software and Apple magic. As such new and innovative approaches have to be developed along the way to capture that experience and you can really only do that with a real device in hand. So when we were faced with a design question that we just couldn’t answer with an iPhone we typically took the safe route and developed something we knew was familiar to most users rather than developing something so totally new and foreign to users which in the end could potentially be unusable on the iPad. I think time will tell but I believe our initial release will be a strong contender in not only the bible software arena but also in the eBook reader realm as well.

So finally getting the device in hand yesterday was exciting because for the first time in two months of solid development at Olive Tree we were finally able to see our software in action on this amazing new device. I was expecting the worst but amazingly everything worked and worked well right out of the box! From a usability perspective I think we did well, and do feel we have more room for improvement but our initial launch on the iPad is a strong one.

Make no mistake we are not done with BibleReader on the iPad we are only just getting started. iPhone users can also take heart in the fact that we have not stopped iPhone development either. We have so many plans for our upcoming releases that we will busy improving our product for years to come.

I wrote this on my iPad ;-)


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A Call for Beta Testers

In recent months I have been mulling over the idea of writing some apps to sell in the app store. I kept holding off for the perfect app idea until I decided that I was not going to come up with anything anytime soon and settled on an app that I knew I would use myself, an application that stores passwords and other valuable information.

Ever since my first Palm OS 4 device I have stored my passwords on my PDA. Back then it was the open source app Keyring then I moved on to WinMo and purchased Spb Wallet and kept Spb Wallet on the iPhone although I must say Spb Wallet on the iPhone is severely lacking in eye candy and feels more like a WinMo app than an iPhone app. Reluctant to switch to another app that I would then have to import all my passwords into I decided I would only do it if it was an app I wrote, hence the birth of Password Caddy™.

I have been quietly working away on this app both in Photoshop and XCode and have come up with something I think is going to be a hit. It is my goal to have a password application that is as much fun to use as it is useful.

I am about 80% of the way finished and am looking for beta testers to help me work out any wrinkles that may be in my app (I am sure there are going to be many at first). Testers should use it as though it was their only password application but not rely on the app as their only storage location for their passwords since it is after all beta. If you are interested in being a beta tester drop a comment my way and I will be sure to keep you in mind. I plan to open up 20 spots for testers and all active testers will get a promo code for a free download once its released in the app store.

As a side note I should make it clear this is something I am doing on my own time and is in no way affiliated with Olive Tree Bible Software. It is also not something I am doing to replace my job at Olive Tree as I love my job, its the best job I have ever had to date, and I have no desire to run my own business at this time. (I see the stress it puts on our fearless leader Drew) I am just trying to supplement my family’s income some in hopes that we can pay off a credit card and put a down on a house soon.

As another side note I can only take testers from within the US and Canada as Password Caddy uses AES 256 bit encryption which is strong enough that the US Government will not allow me to distribute the app outside of the US and Canada. I am looking into obtaining a license to do so but it will take some time to do that.


What ETS Taught Me About User Interface Design

This week was quite a week for me. I had the honor of going to New Orleans and being one of Olive Tree Bible Software’s representatives at the ETS conference this year. I wasn’t sure at first what to think of the trip before I left but I can say today (as I am flying home) that I really enjoyed it and hope to go again next year and maybe even stay for SBL as well (which I am told is even more exciting than ETS). I probably enjoyed the conference in a far different way than most who attend because I did not attend any of the talks but instead manned our booth in the Expo Hall. This meant that I was able to interact with our users on a more personal way and they got to put a few faces to Olive Tree at the same time.
The interactions ranged from general questions about the product to tech support issues that they were dealing with. It was always fun to help people who just couldn’t figure something out. Their questions typically started with “I am probably dumb or something but…” followed with a question that almost always ended up being a design flaw in our interface where we thought something would be obvious to the user was clearly not obvious and watching them interact with the application really helped me see some changes we can make to in order to make our BibleReader more intuitive to the average user. You might ask why we didn’t catch these issues during our extensive beta testing and I think there are two reasons for this. The first reason is that most of our users are not tech savvy yet beta testers do tend to be more tech savvy and pick things up more quickly even if it’s not immediately obvious. Secondly we have many new users and our user base is growing rapidly each day which means we need to tailor our app to users who have never used a bible app and who may not be of the tech savvy crowd. Thus we need to find a way to do this in a way that still satisfies our hardcore users. It’s a balancing act which we can always improve upon, and we will improve upon as we learn from our users.
If you stopped by the booth the week of ETS I wanted to say thank you, it was a pleasure meeting so many satisfied BibleReader customers. Hope to see you again next year.


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Up Next…

With 4.10 out the door I am able to finally start on a project I have been dying to work on for a couple of years now. I authored the ReadingPlanner for the Palm OS several years ago and have been wanting to get back to it ever since.

When I was being interviewed for my position Drew, the CEO of Olive Tree, asked me what I would work on if I had unlimited resources to devote to that project. Daily reading came to mind almost immediately, and he suggested that one of my projects at Olive Tree could be daily reading.

That excited me but I tried not to get my hopes up to high as I know that real day to day work tends to trump pet projects, especially when you have to generate a paycheck from your work. Simply getting to work at Olive Tree was enough for me but daily reading would be a bonus.

I hadn’t been at Olive Tree a week and the subject of daily reading came up. Stephen mentioned to me that they were seriously wanting me to work on daily reading but we had a few other things to get done first.

Now that 4.10 is out the door that list has grown short enough that it has suddenly become the time to start work on this project, and I am excited to say the work has already begun. I don’t want to go into too many details for what I have planned but I think many of our users will never see daily reading plans in the same way again.

I would like to hear from you as to what you think would make daily reading more useable and interactive. Any ideas on how we can integrate daily reading into the social media? What are some of the limiting factors of traditional daily reading schedules?


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Evernote Backup – Progress…

I have been working nearly full time on the Evernote backup implementation and things are shaping up nicely. I became inspired by Tweetie 2′s refresh tweets idea so I decided to implement something similar in our app. I have been wondering for a while how we could have a sync button without a sync button and this works perfectly. Simply pull the table view down beyond the end of the list and release. If the user does not want to sync they can push the list back up before releasing and no sync will occur.
The beta testers have been testing it although we do not have as many testers for this round due to my warning to our testers that this may very well wreck your notes. Users are pretty partial to those things so only a few have been brave enough to try it and so far its gone well. None of our testers, to my knowledge, have lost any of their notes, and as an added bonus their notes are making their way to the evernote server and back.
I am hoping to release another beta to our users later this week as we are shooting for a final release to Apple by the end of the month so that we can have something to show off at ETS next month.


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iPhone BibleReader Progress Update

So after a slight delay I finally posted a new beta for our beta testers today. It was a long haul but worth every bit of work in the end. I totally underestimated how much work would need to be done on our end when using someone else’s services. I figured that since they were doing the heavy lifting we had it easy, but I was wrong. There is just as much book keeping on our end as there is on their end. Adding the concept of a trash bin is what really tripped me up and exposed some hidden bugs in our already existing notes system.
See, when I promised a beta last week I had not yet added the trash bin and really didn’t give it much thought, but as I played with the two together I found not having the trash bin on our side was clumsy and short-sighted so I decided to add it. That unraveled everything on my end for a few days and in the end I learned something about myself.
Isn’t God amazing, He uses my simple little problems at work to teach me something about myself. What I learned is that I am easily unsettled and expect everything to go smoothly. I feel like just because I ask God for a good day at work He should grant it. (After all I am doing the Lord’s work, right?) Then I hit these obstacles, and I freak out inside. If you could have seen me (inside) these last few days you would laugh, because I was pretty frantic trying to pin down what ended up being about 3 bugs stacked on top of each other. Funny thing is I should expect that this is going to happen as I write code, that I am human and do not write perfect code, but I don’t always do that, I rarely do that. Instead I freak out that my code does not work and second guess every design decision I have made in the last week. Things might have gone more smoothly had I been a bit more calm inside.
I think I might try that next time.
Matthew 6:25-34
Prov 12:25
1Pe 5:7


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Evernote Backup Update

Progress on the Evernote backup is moving along quite nicely and I expect to be releasing our first beta with Evernote integration to our beta testers later this afternoon or early tomorrow morning. I am excited to hear their initial reactions and feedback on how to make it better.

Because Evernote is not intended to backup bible notes I had to get creative with the note tags that Evernote does offer, and I think I came up with a simple yet effective system that does not intrude on a user’s experience when using Evernote for notes outside of BibleReader.

Every note has associated with it a category, a verse reference, and an icon. I used tags to store this information, so a note referencing John 3:16 will have a tag [Verse:Jn 3:16]. If that note is in a folder such as “Bible Studies” I create a tag [Category:Bible Studies] and associate the tag with the note. Also it should be noted that in order to keep a user’s notes separate from their bible notes I create a notebook in Evernote called “Bible Notes” and place all the notes we sync from BibleReader in that notebook.

We are trying to make this as open and as generic as possible so that end users do not feel like their notes are forever tied to Olive Tree and so that hopefully other bible programs such as Accordance can make use of the Evernote system and we can have desktop to mobile note synchronization.


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Waiting for BibleReader 4.09?

Stephen and I put a lot of time into iPhone’s BibleReader 4.09 which was partially released last week in the App Store. I say partially because of the way in which we post our application to the app store. Due to the limited search capabilities of the app store and because users looking for a specific resource such as the NIV or ESV Study Bible may miss the finer details of these resources in the BibleReader app we release bundled applications. These bundled applications are the same application but bundled with some specific resource such as the NIV. This makes it easier for the person who is looking for the NIV to learn that Olive Tree’s BibleReader has access to the NIV Bible. Thus we have several bundled applications including but not limited to the ESV, ESV Study Bible (a personal favorite), Amplified, NLT Study Bible (another great bundle) and so on. Each of these bundles is powered by the same underlying software just sold separately for the reasons I mentioned above.

This typically is not an issue but with our latest release things got a bit more complicated. This latest release includes a new way of purchasing resources from Olive Tree using an iPhone feature known as in-app purchasing. Due to the complexity of implementing the new system and the app approval process we decided to hold off on submitting the update for all our bundled apps and just submit the Amplified and a new BibleReader app known as BR Free (See BibleReader price change for more on that). The Amplified was our test case for the new purchasing system. Things went as well as we had hoped so we submitted the rest of our bundled apps shortly after receiving news that Apple had approved the Amplified Bible bundle.

This brings me to the reason I am writing this blog… I know many of you are anxious to get your hands on the latest release and I am excited to get it into your hands, and guess what its possible. If you are currently running one of our bundled resources all you need to do is get an Olive Tree account (if you don’t have one already) and from within the BibleReader 4.08 go to the Settings page and tap the “Olive Tree Account” item where you will find a place to enter your Olive Tree login info and a “Synchronize books” button which will sync your purchases from iTunes with the Olive Tree server. Once this step has been completed we will have an accounting of your purchases that you made with us, allowing us to allow you to re-download those titles into any of our iPhone BibleReaders including the new BR Free. Simply install BR Free onto your iPhone, go to the Library page, find the “My Account” tab. Note: You may be prompted to enter your iTunes password at this point; you can enter it but you will still need to perform the next step. Now tap the “Syncronize books with your Olive Tree account” where you will be prompted for your account information enter it and wait for the synchronization to happen, if it worked your purchased items will appear in a section labeled “Books in your Olive Tree account”. All your past purchases will show up in the reader and you can download them and start enjoying 4.09.

I must warn you however this BR Free does not allow for doing in app purchases as it is Apple’s policy that only paid apps can have in app purchasing. So you must either wait for the generic BibleReader app that is now $0.99 to be approved, or make purchases directly from OliveTree.com.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it really isn’t but if you need some incentive to try it allow me to whet your taste buds. BibleReader 4.09 includes:

  • Full screen support
  • Auto-rotation locking
  • New color options
  • Nicer looking note popups
  • A focus visual that subtly gives you a queue as to which window currently has focus.

Overall the app performs better, looks better and has quite a few new features. As I said at the start of this post, Stephen and I put a lot of time into this release and that is no understatement. We also had a great beta testing team help us iron out several of the kinks and bugs along the way. Many of our testers put in several hours per beta release to ensure that your experience was top notch, we all really owe them a debt of gratitude. :-)

If you still want to hold out and wait for your specific version of BibleReader to be approved, you can ;-) but be warned it may be another week before it is.
Yours In Christ,
David


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iPhone BibleReader notes backup teaser

BibleReader to Evernote backup

BibleReader to Evernote backup

My life lately has been notes backup and Evernote. Its been fun, and I wanted to give those who are missing out on my fun a little teaser of some of the progress I am making on the notes backup. To see a sample of a note that currently exists in both the iPhone app and the Evernote servers click the image to the left.

Notice that the note contains greek, because Evernote supports unicode we believe we should have no problem preserving greek and hebrew in your notes.

So far I can push actual notes from the iPhone to the Evernote servers. I have most of the backup framework laid out and now I am just plugging in the pieces. The hardest part is going to be in keeping the two in sync, and gracefully dealing with outages either with the the Evernote service or network.

I can say that so far I am very impressed with the Evernote service both in its network communication’s responsiveness and in the elegance of the service as a whole. If you have not checked out Evernote yet, I would say go check it out. (No Evernote did not pay me to say that)

Stay tuned for more as I work through the implementation of this…