STEP Scripture Tools

A few hundred yards from where I lived as a student lies Tyndale House, “a Christian community dedicated to researching all the primary evidence relevant to the study of the Bible”. They have some fantastic people based there doing all kinds of important Biblical scholarship, and more recently they have also birthed STEP: Scripture Tools for Every Person. The vision of STEP is “to equip churches in every country with the tools to study the Bible in its original languages from the best that Cambridge and international scholars have to offer” – in other words, it makes world-class Biblical scholarship and tools available completely free of charge, in a way that can be a blessing to the worldwide church.

“STEP is for everyone interested in the Bible, from those just starting to read it to those who want to dig deeper. Typing a few letters into a single box enables readers to pick a language, a Bible translation, a passage, a subject, or a word. It will work out whether readers want to find all the passages where a word or subject occurs, or if they just want to read a passage.”

They’ve just released a brand new v2.0 which looks absolutely fantastic, and you can read their press release here. I’m sure that the STEP project will be a huge blessing to many – so do spread the word!

I’ve known one of the developers, Chris Burrell, for a number of years now, and I know he’d love to hear from any Christian developers out there looking for a project to volunteer on! You can read more about opportunities to help here.

PrayerMate Useability Improvements Part 1

Do you ever get that feeling that you’ve been doing something for years, but are still only just beginning to figure out what you’re really supposed to be doing? I’ve been feeling a bit like that with PrayerMate for a while now. It’s grown considerably over the past year or so, both in terms of features and in terms of the number of people using it and the number of organisations publishing their prayer points through it (over 80 now!) One of the downsides of doing something as a side-project, and being massively overworked, is that you don’t always get to invest the amount of time as you would like just polishing the little details.

I think over the years I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by all the positive encouragement I’ve received from people about PrayerMate, when the truth is that there’s lots about it that could be better. The truth is that the positive encouragement all comes from people who have managed to figure it out and have started using it, whereas the negative feedback comes in the form of silence from the people who downloaded it, tried it once, couldn’t really figure out what it was for or how to get going with it, and then never came back to it ever again. It’s only very rarely that you get emails from those people, so it’s easy to miss just how many of them there are.

This last month or so I decided that enough was enough, and whilst my wonderful iOS beta testers have been trying out the new (as-yet-unreleased) syncing functionality, I’ve been taking a break from that brain-melting hardcore coding kind of work to tinker with the basic interface to try to improve the useability of the app, especially for brand new users. I’m still only really half-way through my list of ideas (with some of the more dramatic changes still to come!) and I haven’t yet had a chance to port these over to Android, but I thought I’d give you a little taste of what’s coming up when Apple approves the next release.

Improved onboarding process

I did a little experiment with a new onboarding process back at Easter, but for various reasons I don’t think it hasn’t proved too successful. Instead I’ve opted for more of a light touch approach. The user’s first session now starts and ends with these two pages:

useability_first_session
useability_last_page

The first page introduces some vocabulary (“My first prayer session”) and now gives a more explicit call to action (“Swipe left to start”). The last page urges people towards the key value-add action: adding your own subjects to pray for.

Revamped ‘Add subject’ process

That leads nicely onto the next big change, which is a totally revamped process for adding new subjects. Over time the subject settings page has become a slightly overwhelming and scary mess of options and features, and from the very earliest days I know people have struggled how to do even the most basic task of adding a new subject. Taking the approach that people basically want to focus on one thing at a time, PrayerMate will now hold your hand a little bit more through the process.

useability_new_subject_page

It starts off by asking you just to enter a name for your subject. I’ve observed that the majority of new users stick entirely to the default categories, so I thought I may as well make the most of that and tailor the description you see based on which of those default categories you’re adding to. So you’ll get given different instructions and example names if you’re adding family members to if you’re adding Biblical prayers, for example.

Historically there’s also been a bit of a discovery problem: people didn’t know that the feature existed to download prayers or subscribe to online feeds, so the new “Add subject” page is the perfect place to direct people towards these alternative ways of getting new content into the app.

Scheduling modes explained

When choosing the scheduling mode for a subject, you now get a very brief explanation of what each option means:

useability_scheduling_modes

Downloadable biblical prayers

Although previously there was a gallery of Bible verses that would make for good prayers, for copyright reasons I was unable to make the text of those verses available for download directly into PrayerMate. Instead it took you to BibleGateway in your browser, from where you could copy and paste into PrayerMate. For various reasons, this really sucked. Mark Strivens has donated a huge amount of time to contact various Bible publishers and has managed to secure permission for me to include extracts directly from the NET Bible translation. He’s then set it all up, so now if you want to download a Bible prayer the text is right there and you just have to hit a button to turn it into a subject in PrayerMate.

“Download all” in prayer gallery

This one was sheer laziness on my part when I first added the prayer gallery: it’s been obvious all along that there needed to be a quick way to download a whole bunch of prayers all in one go. So now if you’re a wife wanting to pray for your husband, you can open up Jen Thorn’s “Seven hard things to pray for your husband” and download all seven with the touch of a button.

useability_download_all

Much better!

Changes to how feeds work

When I first added online feeds to the app last year, I had an inkling that people would love it, but I didn’t really know what it was that I was making. As people have started using it, and as more and more organisations have come on board, it was inevitable that there would be some changes required. The Android app benefitted from this hindsight and got built properly the first time around, but now iOS is catching up. The biggest change I’ve made is that feed subjects are now scheduled just like any other kind of subject – so I could say “I want to pray for Tearfund on Wednesdays and UCCF on Mondays”, and feed subjects no longer receive priority in the way that they used to, making it a bit easier to have several subjects all in the same category.

I’ve also tweaked the lingo when you first subscribe to a feed, so that instead of confusingly saying “View prayers” it now makes it more obvious that a new subject has been created for you. There’s also a little indicator of how often a particular feed is likely to be updated (daily, weekly or monthly)

useability_feed_changes

When viewing your feed subject, I’ve also broken out the upcoming prayers into a separate “feed items” page, making the subject page a bit more manageable:

useability_feed_items_page

Action button on prayer cards

I’ve been resisting this one for years, but it seems that no matter how many ways I try to teach people, most people still don’t realise that you can press and hold on a card whilst you’re praying to open a menu of actions. If you don’t know this menu is there, the app is so much harder to use. So I’ve finally succumbed, and added an explicit button to each prayer card to open the action menu:

useability_explicit_button

More tiny tweaks

There’s plenty more tiny little tweaks here and there. One user commented that it’s a little strange that the “Archive” button should be green when it’s really kind of a negative action. So that’s now orange:

useability_archive_button

PrayerMate is done as a labour of love in my spare time, but it does cost me real money to keep it all running month by month. Would you consider making a donation towards the work? Click here for details.

Kingdom Code: Christians In Tech London Meetup

As London Technology Week kicked off on Monday, it was thrilling to see a room at the Impact Hub Westminster packed with 60 Christians from the world of technology – developers, designers, tech entrepreneurs, data geeks, IT administrators and basically just all kinds of fascinating people united by a desire to see God glorified in and through technology. I co-organised it with Rupert Edwards, CEO of Lepton, and he described one of the central themes of the evenings as being about creating a space for “divine serendipity”. One of the exciting things about the evening was that we had absolutely no idea who was going to show up (when I organised it I thought we might get 20 people – perhaps 30 at a push!) and so we worked hard to try and create ways for people to figure out who else was there and what we had in common, and how we could help and encourage one another. And what a fantastic range of folks there was! It included representatives from all sorts of fantastic Christian organisations like Scripture Union, Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and the Good Book Company, as well as the creator of the Manga Jesus – and thrilling to see that over half the room was from outside the M25, including one guy who’d heroically travelled all the way from Northern Ireland to be there!

KingdomCode1

I opened the evening by saying there was one particular Bible verse that God had put on my heart as I thought about the event: Matthew 9:38. Jesus has just been out proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Then he turns to his disciples, and says this:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”

We live in a world that is so lost and confused when it comes to God – and nowhere is that more obvious than on the internet! But what an incredible opportunity our modern technology gives us to get the gospel out there, and what a great responsibility we have to make the most of our gifts and our skills to use them to further the work of God’s kingdom. It was great to hear from some of the “founders” there at the event of some of the ways they were hoping to see technology used for God’s glory – but I hope also that even those who don’t think of themselves as “makers” could find encouragement to live our their lives for the glory of God in the roles in which he has put them.

I for one had a really enjoyable evening, enjoyed seeing some old friends and meeting some new ones too, and I look forward to seeing what God is able to do with the connections that were forged. We have a follow-up event planned for Monday 13th October.

How to donate to the work of PrayerMate

Developing Software is Expensive

PrayerMate Logo 1 Since September 2016 I have been working full-time on further developing and improving the PrayerMate app. Somehow I have to also try to find a way to pay rent and feed my wife and three kids. I know that we serve a big God who is able to provide – and, praise God, we’re a little over half way towards our funding goal! Please prayerfully consider whether you might be able to make a contribution towards the work of PrayerMate using one of the three methods below:

UK Givers: Give Tax-Efficiently via Stewardship Services

If you’re a UK tax-payer then you can give via Stewardship Services, allowing you to Gift Aid your donation to make it go even further:

Anybody: Give regularly (or one-off) via PayPal

You can give via PayPal either as a one off or (even better!) as a monthly recurring payment using a credit card – even if you don’t have an account with them:





Anybody: Give regularly via Patreon

If you want to make monthly payments to support me (in exchange for various levels of rewards) then you can find me on Patreon.

A Health Warning About Prayer Apps

If you’ve not come across it already, can I commend to you an excellent little book by Mike Reeves called “Enjoy Your Prayer Life“? It’s super short (genuinely! only 46 pages) so that even I managed to read it in just two sittings, but it packs so much¬†encouragement into such a small space!

As the developer of a prayer app, there was one little chapter near the beginning that leapt out at me. Mike says this:

“It’s very easy to think and speak about prayer as if it’s some abstract exercise – one of those ‘things Christians “do”‘”

As a consequence we fall back on all sorts of tips and techniques to help us do prayer “better”:

“So, for example, you sort out a prayer diary, get a prayer list app for your phone, use Operation World, try praying out loud, and have your quiet time first thing in the morning.”

Mike says that advice like this can be helpful… “in its place”.

“However, that’s not the heart of prayer. Furthermore, if those techniques are what hold together ‘prayer’ for you, then it’s going to be a burdensome duty – or perhaps something that even veers towards magic, whereby you can get what you want by saying the right ‘spell’.”

He cites the chilling example of the Israelites in the book of Isaiah, who come near to God with their mouths but their hearts are far from him – “Thus prayer is not an abstract ‘thing to do’, for clearly you can ‘do’ prayer and get it all wrong

Yikes! That’s a serious health warning to people like me!

So what is prayer? Mike turns to John Calvin for a definition, who calls prayer “the chief exercise of faith”.

“In other words, prayer is the primary way true faith expresses itself. This also means that prayerlessness is practical atheism, demonstrating a lack of belief in God.”

So if you’re a fan of apps like PrayerMate, then good! But take heed:

WARNING! Regular use of this app does not guarantee good standing before God

Using submodules in Cocoapods sourced from Git

I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall for a few hours now on this, so I thought I’d post this for the benefit of anybody else searching:

If you are using the wonderful Cocoapods in an iOS project you’re developing, and you make one of your Pods load directly from a Git repository (perhaps GitHub) then there’s a little gotcha to be aware of: if the Podspec includes :submodules => true in the source section then it is necessary to manually add that to your Podfile too.

In my case, I’m hacking on my own version of the Bypass-ios Pod, so I had tried adding this line to my Podfile:
pod 'Bypass', :git => "git@github.com:andygeers/bypass-ios.git"

However, that was missing a few files from a submodule, causing compile errors like this:
'element.h' file not found

It feels a bit cumbersome, but instead it is necessary to write the Podfile like this:
pod 'Bypass', :git => "git@github.com:andygeers/bypass-ios.git", :submodules => true