Joshua Howland volunteers as a developer on the Gospel Library iOS project. iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system, used on devices such as the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. In this article, Joshua shares information about the Gospel Library iOS project, its purposes, features, roadmap, and challenges.
What’s the purpose of the Gospel Library iOS project?
There are quite a few scripture apps on the store today. A couple of them are very good, but they are expensive. The Church wants to give all users a chance to use the scriptures across multiple devices. The other scripture apps on the store also don't contain the official scriptures, nor do they include the bookmarks, links, and information that are only available from the Church. Gospel Library for iOS is all about giving users a great experience reading and studying their scriptures on mobile devices.
What are you working on for the next version?
We’re currently working on version 2.1. In this version, you’ll be able to take advantage of the Study Notebook on LDS.org, and with your user account, sync anything you take notes on, highlight, or tag online with your device.
You’ll also be able to back up annotations, notes, and bookmarks so that if you get a new device, you can just sync it up to your account and have all your notes back.
The team is also working on bug fixes. We’re doing a great job testing bugs and putting together a very stable update to ship to users.
What’s on the roadmap after 2.1?
We just started a new section of the app called Gospel Art. We get a lot of requests for artwork to be on the device. Especially with the iPad version of the app, users want to show artwork to their classes when they teach, or to their children when they are studying scriptures as a family.
I think scriptural art makes a big difference in the feel of the scriptures. It gives a sense of warmth. As an added bonus, we will be able to add the maps section of the scriptures.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing with this project?
The biggest issue I face is that I am sitting in the middle of two paradigms. Now that we have a new device, we can display and show digital content however we want. We can use examples like Instagram, or Flickr for our design, and create an entirely new way of navigating and displaying content.
However, there is an existing physical paradigm to consider as well. We have the scriptures with pictures, and gospel art books printed. Following these models, we can display and show the content so that it’s consistent with the way these printed materials display their content. This type of interface design is called skeuomorphic.
A perfect example of apps that use the physical paradigm are the calendar app or contacts app on the iPad. These were made to look and feel like real printed calendars and address books.
The iPhone or iPad photo app, however, feel completely different from a photo library or printed book of images. The team is developing along similar lines to the iBooks app.
This challenge is not unique to my portion of Gospel Library, let alone this app. Choosing whether to create a new design paradigm or attempt to follow after relevant print version is a common issue faced by developers.
Neither paradigm -- design evolution or a skeuomorphic interface -- is wrong or right. It is all about giving the user the best experience possible.
What are some highlight moments for you on this project?
We have a weekly conference call in which we discuss the progress of the project and any major issues. I’ve spent many hours talking to fellow developers over the phone. I had an idea of what they looked like and what their personalities were. But it was completely different when I was able to meet them at the LDS Tech conference. Development can be a lonely task, so meeting the other developers on the project -- David Weiss and Stephan Heilner, for example -- made a big difference in feeling like I was part of a living project.
It is always fun to see your idea drafted on paper move onto a device for the first time. Also, watching someone interact with gospel art on a device is so cool. Like I said, I think art adds a level of warmth to the scriptures.
Does this project have any needs for additional volunteers?
The project (not just my section) really needs testers. Right now most of the developers are working through major steps to prepare the app to be updated on the store. However, when they are done it would be good to have people with iOS devices willing to test the app and look for bugs. It simplifies development if bugs are reported along with a description of how they occurred. Typically we just receive an e-mail from a user saying something is not working.
If you are interested in helping out on the Gospel Library iOS, please browse and sign-up for that or any other project here.