Bible software for iOS

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This is an early review by our prolific software tester Jon Glass of the Bible software for iOS that was available in January 2010. Jon tested these apps on his iPhone, but they also run on iPad and iPod Touch.
The page now needs updating, particularly the entries on Laridian, OliveTree Bible reader and Accordance. The more recent review of Bible reading plans on iOS may help.

Laridian PocketBible and OliveTree BibleReader

(free; I don't see any difference between the free version and the paid, other than the modules you get)

These are good Bible readers, as far as that goes. Both offer a wide range of modules, but that's about it. As far as indepth study, they are a bit lacking. Oddly, it seems that the only program that allows split-screen viewing on the iPhone is OliveTree! Even more oddly, I don't find I miss it... go figure. Another unique feature: it allows backing up and synchronizing notes with Evernote. In any case, for the moment, they are still on my iPhone, but I don't know for how long. Summary: Neither offers anything much over the others, and the integration between modules that simplify more in-depth study are lacking in comparison to some others. To be honest, they just didn't make an impression on me–but I wanted to like both. ;-)

Update: One item I forgot to mention is that if you have modules from either of these products on another handheld (older Palms, for instance), then you do not have to re-purchase them to use the modules on the iPhone. This could be a very compelling reason to go with either of these products. But I'm also guessing that if you have them, you probably already know that. However, if you do own multiple handhelds, probably OliveTree would be your best bet, as they probably support the broadest range of systems.

YouVersion's Bible

This is also a simple reader, but with a twist. Instead of tons of extra modules–commentaries, dictionaries, etc., it is a reader with online contributions by the readers themselves. You can contribute to the project if you wish–just not from the iPhone app as far as I could find. It also has a very powerful and flexible reading plan. If you are looking at something primarily for daily reading, then this may be the one for you. It allows for downloading at least some of the modules, so if you need, you can do that, and treat it like an offline reader, but it is primarily intended to be connected. Summary: Two differentiations: reader contributions and powerful daily reading plans.

Update Nov 2010: YouVersion allows downloading a large number of both English and non-Eglish versions now. For example, I currently have installed KJV, ASB, ESV, GWT, HCSB, MSG, NET, NKJV, NLT (English), Reina-Valera Antigua (Spanish), and Louis Segond (French). –(Bob S-C)

PocketSword

First a warning. I'm partial to the whole Sword Project, so beware my bias. ;-) That said, this program is still very much in its infancy. You can simply read Bible and commentary modules. There are yet no capabilities for dictionaries or even the most rudimentary searching (though that is coming, and should be in beta by the middle of this month). It is open source and freeware, and the developer seems to want to make this the best program he can. So, I have high hopes for this one, especially as so far, it is the only Bible Study software that allows me to use both of the main-use Polish Bibles, and not the tragically-archaic Biblia Gdanska. (Laridian is the only other one that offers a Polish Bible.) If it results in anything approaching the capabilities of BibleTime, I may make it my primary software on my iPhone–but it has a long way to go yet–I'm hoping to help with beta-testing it. Summary: Immature, but shows potential? A capable Bible and commentary reader, with both older and ESV Bibles available.

Update: with version 1.1, released early 2010, PocketSword added Bible dictionaries and Search, as well as the ability to select and copy text from Bible modules. As of March 1, the beta for 1.2 includes displaying Strong's numbers, as well as definitions, including morphology.

Further update: 19 Nov 2010 As of version 1.3.3, PocketSword continues to mature. It has added full-screen mode, and rotation. Also, a form of quick-view for verse lookups within commentaries, or footnotes for those Bible versions that support them. Most importantly, this allows for looking up Strong's numbers and morphology without having to leave the Bible text view. This last addition makes serious study much easier, and moves PocketSword out of the class of simple readers and into a serious Bible study tool, as well as a serious contender for one of the best iPhone Bible study apps.

I would add that, due to its open source nature, you too can have a part in its development. The best place to have a part is on the crosswire.org forums.

Mantis Reader Bible Study

Wow! It's awesome! But not cheap. Actually, it's not really any more expensive than the other software, but it's the only one that has tempted me to actually pay for it. ;-) It has a quirky, different interface–at least until you get used to it, but as you learn it, you learn its true capabilities. It is a true Bible Study application, with integration between modules that make all the apps I've mentioned so far pale in comparison, and they ought to hang their heads in shame. ;-) You can view commentaries and cross references in-line, add notes that are backed up on their servers, and which can be read or downloaded to your desktop from there. Nice touch (but I think I prefer OliveTree's Evernote integration over Mantis's–but to be honest, I doubt I would use either much)

An illustration of Mantis' method: Tap on a verse number, and a little toolbar opens. You can mark the verse, add a note, email the verse, or analyze it. Selecting this option opens another window on top of your Bible window. It has four options below: Compare, Commentary, Define and My Notes. Compare simply compares your various Bible versions. You can hide or show whichever ones you want. Since I only have two installed, it is simple, and I can compare my Polish and English. Commentaries does something similar, but opens all your commentaries underneath the verse you are analyzing. Again, you can hide or show. But what's really cool is that if a particular commentary doesn't say anything on the verse under study, it offers the previous and next entries, which you can reveal and read inline. They are slightly greyed, so you know they are a sub-topic, of sorts. Define works a bit differently. It starts off the same as the Commentary and Compare views, but until you tap on a word, nothing shows under dictionary entries. But tap on a word and if any dictionary has this word as an entry, its entry shows up. I find this feature to be quite cool. ;-) Even better, You don't need to open the Analyze window to get some of this. When you click on the verse number to show this little menu, it also reveals the names of your various translations and commentaries. Tapping on a name opens up the entry for that item that is connected to that verse. Again, if a commentary doesn't have an entry for that verse, it offers the previous and next entry to be opened. So you can do inline comparisons and commentaries, right in the text. Now, granted, on a small screen like the iPhone's, you might find this overload, but for things like the TSK or parallel texts, it's useful. ;-) In any case, the approach that Mantis takes encourages exploration and further reading. It is quite immersive, and once I start, I find it difficult to stop reading and digging further. It reminds me of Accordance in that manner. ;-) But Mantis doesn't stop there. It also has one of the more flexible daily reading plan capabilities. I like that it offers check marks to show what you've read. Concluding: I like Mantis a whole bunch.

Logos

Regular readers know how much I don't like Logos. All that said, Logos has shown the rest how to do it. Or at least how powerful and integrated an iPhone app can be. It is fluid, it is flexible and it is capable and powerful!

What does Logos bring to the table? First of all, its shortcomings. 1. Its commercial nature. Its "home" screen is really nothing more than advertising for their desktop app. But since it's free software, I suppose that's unavoidable. 2. Its reading plan, as far as I can tell, is rather weak. There is no flexibility, and no options, and only one plan. useless. So the entire home screen is a throwaway. Secondly, it is primarily an on-line reader (like YouVersion's). This means you need to have some kind of data connection, whether it be wifi or 3G. I suppose you could try Edge or GPRS, but that would be brutal! Version 1.2 added the option to download some modules for offline reading, but only for those who have paid for Logos 4, and who should, by all rights, have that right, due to the high price Logos charges for their desktop software.

Now, some of the good. There seems to be well over 50 different titles available (via a live internet connection) for free. This includes some of the most modern translations, including the ESV, NKJV, HCSB, GNT, NCV, NLT. It also contains a whole bunch of Greek New Testaments, although I couldn't find one version of the Hebrew OT. It also has several different KJV Bibles (and more on that in a moment). There are a few commentaries, as well as several different books of various sorts. Most of these are older, and the same as you would find with the Sword Project, but some are unusual and interesting. Strong's Systematic Theology is there, as is In His Steps, and The Imitation of Christ. Eclectic and useful.

What I find most useful, however, is the Cambridge Paragraph Bible of the Authorized English Version, done by Scrivener back in 1873. This one is completely linked to the Greek Strong's both dictionary and morphology. You access this, as well as other dictionaries by pressing and holding on a word. This pops up a menu whereby you can either search the word in the Bible, or do a word study on the word. In the case of most Bibles, it does an English word study, including showing all the various Greek and Hebrew words that are translated as the English Word. But in the case of this particular Bible, it brings up the Greek word, and shows you the various ways it was translated in the KJV. At first, the screen that pops up is boring. You see a circle each for the Hebrew and Greek (in the case of an English word) or for the Hebrew or Greek root. But tapping either on the label to the right of this circle (the legend), or on one of the colors on the circle, does a wonderful thing. It opens up a list of all the places in the KJV where this particular variation shows up. Lastly, below this, it shows you example uses in an unusual-looking context table. All of this is done, apparently, on Logos' servers, and downloaded to your iPhone via the network. Yes, this means that you don't have access to it while you are offline, but if you have a decent connection, it is very slick and powerful.

I almost neglected to mention that in the text, footnotes are live-tappable. Tap on one, and a list of verses, or the footnote pops up in a tooltip-like popup. Tap on a verse reference, and it opens up in the tooltip popup. This is even nicer than Mantis, but maybe a bit more "touchy" in practice. I frequently have a hard time tapping in the right place. But it is attractive and less distracting and intrusive, as text doesn't have to move out of the way so you can read the footnote. The search is also quite flexible, and extensive. But most programs have nice searching facilities. What separates Logos is its integration and the ease of it. I also cannot overlook its appearance. It is immediately professional-looking and attractive. This is something some of the others are lacking, but when I say attractive, I mean in a productive sense. It's not just eye-candy, but functional attractiveness–very Mac-like. I must say, they've done an iPhone program right... there is a good example in their iPhone app to be emulated. That's about the highest form of praise one can offer a program.

Summary

I think we may expect a product from Accordance in the near or not-so-near future.

Logos is an impressive program–though not perfect. I have to summarize all programs by saying this. Absolutely none of these programs will meet my needs all by themselves. I find myself constantly referring to the last three (PocketSword, Mantis and Logos) constantly when I'm studying without my Mac. I must also confess, while I did not want to jailbreak my iPhone, I'm now glad I have. With Backgrounder and ProSwitcher going, I can bounce back and forth between the three freely, so it is much less of a hassle than it would be, had I not had this capability. In fact, I installed these two hacks just so I could multi-task these three programs.

Having said that, I'm holding out high hopes that PocketSword and Accordance will be able to step up to the plate, and give us a complete solution. I know it's not easy to go from working on a modern system with all the resources in the world like the Mac, to a tiny 320x480 pixel screen, with grossly underpowered processor and limited memory resources. In fact, it is amazing that any of these programs can do what they do. I have high hopes for the iPhone, though, and am looking forward to big things. Even if we aren't there yet–I think we can get very close. I do hope that Accordance will be a part of it. ;-)

Sorry for this long, rambling and rather disjointed, and hurried review. But I hope it helps somebody.

Accordance

Accordance for iOS was released on December 30, 2010 as a free app. It will sync with the desktop version of Accordance and run any additional modules that you may have purchased.
See also the Accordance news item "Buzz: Accordance for iOS Now Released", detailing the modules available free of charge.

Others

Starting with just a list: (by Bob S-C)

See also

External links

Credits

Contributed on Mac Ministry List by Jon Glass on Jan 2, 2010 with subsequent updates by himself, Bob Sander-Cederlof and Neville Reid. The indented paragraphs were not written by Jon.