Friday, May 1, 2009

Notes for BibleReader on iPhone - A First Look

I've been using Olive Tree's BibleReader for iPhone for almost a year now. I love the interface and am completely thrilled not to have to carry a few pounds of paper with me all the time.
The biggest complaint I've have with using an electronic form of the Bible is the inability to take notes in it. Our pastor regularly encourages us to mark up our Bible, underline important phrases, make reference to other parts of the Bible, etc. Sitting in church I had no way to comply with these suggestions - though I really wanted to.
So, I was super excited to have a chance to get an early look at the implementation for BibleReader notes by participating in the beta program for the feature. Now I too can mark up my Bible!

Overall I like the implementation. And though it is beta, it seems quite stable.

It's easy to add a note to any verse. Tap a verse number (or the '+' icon at the bottom of the page) and an edit window slides up in which you can type your notes. Tap Done and you're viewing the note. A Note icon appears at the start of the verse. Whenever the icon is tapped, the note slides into view. Tapping on the page makes the note slide away. Slick. This is consistent with how other notes work in the application. The difference is that these are notes created by the user rather than by a theologian (unless you, the user, happen to be a theologian).

By default, you get a speech bubble icon for your notes. You can change it to one of a few dozen other icons. Presumably if you come up with a standard for each icon, it could help you identify certain types of notes - say 'prayers', 'cross references', 'special word from the Lord', etc. I struggled at first trying to do this. But with a bit of creativity, I was able to come up with a mapping for myself that worked at least for this small set (i.e. speech bubble, direction sign and heart respectively). There are various forms of push pins, speech bubbles, paper pads, traffic signs, stars, etc. with many colors to choose from. Though there are many icons built in, it would be nice to have user-defined icons that convey meaning of user-defined categories.

I've got a couple of other things on my wish list (below). But the biggest drawback I've encountered is that my notes are trapped in my phone.
While I love having the Bible in my phone, it is not my only Bible. I also read a paper copy and an online copy. I would love to have my notes show up in the online Bible I am reading - something quite feasible. I would love to have them show up in my paper bible also - not so feasible unless you stretch the definition of paper to include a Kindle.
I asked the developer about getting notes off the phone and found out that in fact Olive Tree has plans to sync notes over the web. I wasn't able to get more details. But I'm hopeful. This will make a huge difference in the usefulness of the feature.

Here's the wish list I promised:
* Auto-tag a date to each note. I find myself repeatedly entering this manually (not the time, just the date).
* Add ability to search notes.
* Include a way of going to the verse text from viewing the note after selecting 'View Annotations' (kind of like a bookmark).
* Recognize scripture references in notes and make them tappable links (like the cross-references in built-in notes).
* Add ability to place note icons mid-verse.
* Add ability to indicate a note (even a blank one) by underlining or highlighting a section of text - not bounded by the beginning or end of a verse.

Looking over this list, you might think the feature falls short. But that's not the case. The implementation is simple and gets the job done. And it is more full-featured than other notes implementations I've seen. The only show-stopper is the inability to get notes off the phone. Solve this, and I'll be writing up a storm of notes in my iPhone BibleReader.


  1. For context, here is a great review of the already release application:

  2. Replied to your comment on Gabe's site. :)