The present state of Bible software feels both amazing and terrible at the same time. I decided to propose my the top 10 ways your Bible software stinks and how I wish the Bible software and app creators should fix these problems.
Stylus Support in Bible Software
First, Bible study software needs better stylus support. A lot of Bible study programs will run on a tablet or touchscreen and the user can point and select onscreen elements using a stylus. This includes the Apple iPad Pro and Apple Pencil or the Microsoft Surface Pro with the Surface Pen. Android apps run on the Google Pixelbook, which converts to a tablet and has a great stylus. That’s not what I mean by stylus support. Instead I want to draw or write with a stylus inside the Bible software or app. Think of your paper Bible and highlighting, underlining or margin notes.
I know of no Bible apps or software that support writing directly on the text of the Bible or in the “margins”. There’s one app called Bible Mark Up that lets you add a Bible verse from a few translations. You can write on the screen, but it’s primarily a teaching or presentation tool. We featured the app on the Theotek Podcast.
I’d like to write in the margins or directly on the text. Programmers tell me this is not as easy as it sounds to add to apps. Also, Bible software makers don’t seem interested in prioritizing this with their limited resources. Maybe, they could give us a kind of margin notes by adding drawings to Bible notes. For example, in Olive Tree I tap or click on the verse number. A menu offers to add a note. What if it also had a button for a “drawing”?
Better Bible Software Touchscreen Support
In addition to adding support for drawing or writing on the screen in Bible software or mobile Bible apps, I’d like better integration with touchscreen computers in Windows.
Mobile Bible apps on iOS and Android handle touch with their user interfaces. They design these apps with fingers in mind, not small tips of a stylus or mouse. There isn’t a touchscreen Mac and Windows Bible software doesn’t make touch convenient. That’s what I want.
The icons on toolbars and links in books don’t work well with big finger tips. I often hit the wrong tiny toolbar button while using Bible software on my Surface Pro in tablet mode. If you get multiple links in a lexicon like the one above, it’s often hard to tap on the right Bible verse. The publishers could solve this by implementing a “touchscreen” mode. Tap a button or put a feature in the settings that let me turn this on with a keystroke. Even better, when the computer enters tablet mode, the software should recognize this and switch or offer to switch the Bible software display to touch mode.
Tablet mode in Bible software would increase text size and buttons. The programs could also include pinch out to zoom, so that the tiny links look bigger and easier to tap.
Get My Notes Out of Your Silo
Bibleworks saves user notes in RTF format. I can open the notes in a word processor like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice. Very few other Bible software programs offer the same convenience. Most don’t even let the user export their notes, unless you count printing a passage with notes or copying and pasting notes from the software to a word processor.
If a company keeps the user’s notes in their silo, then they’re putting their own interests above the user’s. They may not do so intentionally, but that’s the result. Some companies might choose to do this knowing that users are less likely to leave the program behind if they can’t get their user content out of the software easily. Most probably do this out of convenience or because they didn’t consider the problem when they first coded the user notes feature. Now they might not have the man-power to correct it.
I’m not a programmer, but is it that hard to strip away all but the bare text of the user notes? Offer an export feature that saves the text in a simple TXT file and attach the Bible reference to each note or label any notes attached to a single word or phrase with that word or phrase.
Sync Notes and User Content Between All Platforms AUTOMATICALLY!
Two programs shine and others fail at automatic syncing of user content. If I take a note in Logos or Olive Tree, the company uses their own servers to automatically sync the notes from your iPad to your Windows computer or from your Mac to your Android phone. It’s great!
Accordance offers a sync feature using Dropbox as the middle-man. However, notes in Accordance does not automatically sync between various platforms. That’s more important now that they have apps for iOS and Android as well as programs on Windows and Mac.
First, I have to save the note by hitting a button after I’m done editing it. I can set the desktop software up to sync my notes to Dropbox or from Dropbox every time I open or close the software on my Mac or PC. However, on iPad or iPhone (Android’s not supported yet) you have to do this manually. Learn how to do it in a helpful blog post made by Rick Mansfield, one of our Theotek co-hosts. Watch his video above.
You have manually sync by tapping on the library button on your iPad or iPhone and then tap on the sync button on the bottom toolbar. That’s a strange place to hide this button. I wish it showed up on the main screen.
In addition to notes, I want to sync other user-created content. Sync my highlights, bookmarks, favorites, and documents. Some programs let me create books that I can use inside the software. Few of these programs let me sync these tools to mobile.
The problem gets worse when I write a bunch of important notes on my iPad and then want to use them on my Mac. If I forget to sync on the iPad and then leave it at home, then I can’t access them on my Mac or PC.
Reduce Clicks for Simple Tasks
The above wish highlights another problem that many of the programs and apps suffer from, too many clicks to do simple things. For example, to sync my Accordance Mobile notes with Dropbox, I have to tap on the library button, then the sync button and then on the “Sync user content with Dropbox” button. That’s too many taps for something that should work automatically without any user input.
Let’s not only pick on Accordance. In the Logos Bible mobile app I used to link two books together with a couple of taps. I could open the ESV and the ESV Study Bible in one pane and then link them together with a button on the main screen. When I navigate from John 1 to Genesis 25 in my Bible, the study Bible will also go to that spot.
To sync two books now, I have to tap the new Logos Tabs button and then the link button and then select the panes I want to link and then tap the Done button. It went from a couple of taps to at least four taps. Granted, I can now link more than two panes at a time, but it seems that it should not take as many taps to link the two panes on-screen at that time.
We don’t have space to highlight every situation where we have too many taps or clicks in all the Bible apps and software programs. This problem shows up in nearly every Bible app or software where it’s even worse than the apps. Developers need to make the primary features accessible in two clicks or less or go redesign their programs/apps.
Add a Note in One Tap/Click
Going back to notes, let me add a note with only a single tap or click. The app or program needs a button on the screen that I can tap on the mobile app or click on the desktop program to quickly add a note.
The Accordance mobile app lets me add a note with two actions. I can select the verse number and a menu pops up with an option to add a User Note in the pop up menu (see above). Logos does the same, but to add the note to a verse I have to tap the Reference tab in the notes editor on the mobile app (see below). That’s 3 actions.
Olive Tree also adds a note with two clicks/taps. It works just like Accordance except you tap instead of select the verse number.
With the Logos desktop apps you have to right-click the verse, select the reference in the pop up menu and then select your notes document listed in the same pop up menu, if it’s open or you’ve used it recently. If you haven’t used the note document in a while, you’ll have to open it first for it to show up in the list.
Bibleworks and e-Sword both handle this best. Open the notes window pane and then navigate to the verse you want to add a note to. Click in it notes editor and start typing. Switch to a new verse and click in the notes editor to add a note to that new verse. See the Bibleworks notes function demonstrated in the video above. After you open Notes in these programs, you get exactly what I want – a single action to create a new note.
Accordance on Windows and Mac will add a note using one action. Hover over a verse and a pencil icon appears to the right of the verse. Click on it and a note editor box pops up. However, in Accordance you need to save your note or you’ll lose it. The editor should save it automatically each time you close it or click anywhere else in the program.
As you can see, these programs still don’t do what I’m asking. Accordance is close in the desktop program. e-Sword and Bibleworks work if you open the Notes editor first. However, none of the mobile apps offer this feature that I know of.
Save Space and Let Me Pick What Books to Install
I’m looking at you Logos. Almost every other Bible study program will let me choose which books to install. If I have a huge hard drive I don’t care if I have to install all of my books. But a large library eats up a lot of space. What if I only have a 64GB or 128GB MacBook Air or a small 32GB Windows tablet? Logos runs horribly on these small Windows tablets if you put it on an SD card. Let me pick only the books I know I’ll use instead of forcing me to download and then index every one book in my 18GB library. Thank you nearly every other Bible software or app maker.
Tagged Bible Comparison Tool for Word Studies Within the Tool
When I open an English Bible that has Hebrew and Greek tags, I can often do some simple word studying. Also, these kinds of tags show up in most of their Greek and Hebrew Bibles too.
Some programs have a “reverse interlinear” that shows the English translation in the top row and then underneath that shows Greek or Hebrew words, transliterations, parsing details and a lexical form and definition. You can also hover over an English word in a regular Bible book sometimes a pop-up will show these details. Other programs let me double or triple click the word. Still others have a right-click menu to open language study tools.
These tools help me do some language study, but I’d like a parallel Bible or Bible comparison tool that has the same kind of tags. You can put the various tagged English, Greek and Hebrew Bibles in parallel windows.
I really like the layout of the Logos Bible Software Text Comparison tool. It has columns for each verse and shows visually the differences (see above). A verse, like John 3:16, shows up in my preferred translation on the left. See above I have the CSB in column one with the other translations in the next columns. That gives me the CSB next to ESV, NASB, NKJV, KJV and NIV. I can add or subtract any translation I want. I can also add the Greek or Hebrew Bibles.
Unfortunately, the Logos Text Comparison tool doesn’t include tags for language study. I can’t hover over words, right-click them or double/triple click to show Greek or Hebrew info.
Bibleworks will show various translations with one after another listed from top to bottom. I can get language information by hovering or clicking. I prefer the layout in the Logos tool so I wish Logos would add this.
Accordance also presents the various translations with tagged words if I use the Interlinear tool. Open the Bible and then use the “Choose interlinear rows to display” button. It’s next to the text tool in your Bible’s window in the upper right corner (see #1 above). You can hover over the word and the Instant Detail window will show you the language details for that word (see #2 above). Triple click a word and the word will open in your favorite Greek or Hebrew lexicon based on the Strong’s number of the word you triple clicked.
None of the mobile tools will do what I’m asking.
Create Books Without Programming Language
The Bible software programs that let me create my own books, do not make it a simple task. I want a tool, built into the program, that lets me import a simple Word document, TXT or RTF file or even a PDF. The program should then convert that file to the format that the software uses to display their books.
After I import the document, the programs should find all Bible references and turn them into links with a pop-up window to display the verse. If I click/tap the link it will open that verse in my Bible. It should let me add notes, highlights and bookmarks to the document. If I format it with the right heading styles, then it should break it up into chapters and sections for regular books. If I add a bible verse per line it should see the document as a Bible and make it work like the Bible’s in their program.
Many of the programs (Accordance, Logos, WORDsearch, Bibleworks, and e-Sword to name some) will let me create books to use in the program or even from within the program. But many of them seem too complicated for the average user.
Sync My User Created Books to Mobile Devices and Other Computers
Following the previous gripe, the program should then let me sync these books to my other devices automatically. I should not have to go through a manual sync process or copy it using iTunes or Dropbox, unless the program uses Dropbox or another 3rd-party server for automatic syncing.
Export Books to Kindle, Word or PDF
The inability to export books probably isn’t the fault of the Bible software companies. In fact, Logos had an export to Kindle feature before the book publishers or Amazon or both stopped them from including it.
I want to open a book in my Bible software and hit export to save the book in a file on my computer that I can then open on my iPad, iPhone, Android phone or tablet or on my Kindle and read on one of those devices. Some books are more enjoyable to read this way, like Christian Living books.
If you want to export a book from Logos, you can follow the steps outlined in a forum post by Mark Barnes, an expert in Logos Bible Software. You can watch Mark’s video from YouTube above.
Dr. Kevin Purcell is pastor of High Peak Baptist Church, an author and writer at Church Tech Today (www.churchtechtoday.com). He used to write for a number of other Christian and secular technology and mobile tech sites. Now he's one of the hosts of the Theotek Podcast, which you can find by checking the menu above or over at www.facebook.com/theotekpodcast.