Archive for year 2007

Exciting New Smartphone Features

We recently put up a new beta Smartphone BibleReader. This is one of the most exciting betas we have ever posted for any platform! The list of cool new features added to the Smartphone BibleReader is simply amazing.

For starters we added support for selecting hyperlinks on Smartphone using the 5-way arrow button. This opens a lot of new resources on Smartphone that were not usable before. With hyperlink support you can use the KJV and NASB strongs Bibles and see the Strong’s definition for each word in the Bible. You can also use the Complete Word Study Bible, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and many other Bibles and Bible study tools from Olive Tree.

We also added support for Greek and Hebrew. You can now use Gramcord, HMT, and any other resource that has Greek and Hebrew in it on your Smartphone.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also added support for dictionaries. So now you can use Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, EDNT, TWOT, and all the other Olive Tree dictionaries on Smartphone.

We didn’t stop there. We then went on to change the shortcut options to support more keys, reorganize the menu, add more options, add support for displaying images in Olive Tree resources, and add support for MacArthur New Testament Commentary.

Since this version of the Smartphone BibleReader is still in beta not all of the products that work on it will be visible on Olive Tree’s web site when you have selected Smartphone as your device. If you want to see the complete list of products that work with this new Smartphone beta BibleReader change your device to Windows Mobile Pocket PC on the Olive Tree web site. All of the products, with the exception of Bible Atlas, multimedia in iLumina, Chinese, Arabic, and The Message audio will work with this Smartphone beta BibleReader.

You can download the Smartphone beta BibleReader here.

Enjoy!

Stephen

Gramcord on Smartphone

Hebrew and Aramaic Developments

Exciting changes are happening here at Olive Tree Bible Software with regard to the handling and display of Hebrew and Aramaic text! A variety of new technologies related to the representation and rendering of complex scripts have been developed over the past few years, and we are looking to take advantage of them as much as possible. These changes will allow us to give a clearer presentation of Hebrew and Aramaic characters. We are moving to Unicode, beginning with the mobile devices that support it, namely Pocket PCs. We are making this switch first for our Hebrew Masoretic Text Old Testament, and we envision switching to Unicode soon for our Hebrew Masoretic Text with Parsing and BDB Dictionary as well. Unicode allows for a more consistent and font-independent representation of Hebrew and Aramaic texts than has been possible in the past, and its adoption is spreading across platforms and applications. Switching to Unicode now will allow us to take advantage of its implementation on the Pocket PC and position us well for the coming day in which more handheld devices will support Unicode. This switch to Unicode allows for better Hebrew and Aramaic font rendering. Now the consonants, vowels, dageshes, cantillation marks (accents), and other Masoretic symbols can all be shown. Moreover, recent developments in font technologies allow the vowels, cantillation marks, and other symbols to be placed appropriately around the consonants in order to promote maximum readability. The results can be quite stunning.

There are currently a variety of obstacles at the level of operating system support for the use of the most advanced Hebrew fonts on handheld devices, but we at Olive Tree are dreaming big. We have set our sights high, dreaming of a presentation that will provide you with an electronic version of the Masoretic text with all of the information in the main body of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) as well as kethib/qere information. Not only will the standard consonants, vowels, dageshes, and cantillation marks be present, but so will be other symbols like maqqephs, soph pasuqs, paseqs, raphes (when BHS prints them), pethuhas, and sethumas. Moreover, we are seeking to make the display aesthetically pleasing and geared toward maximum readability. We are hoping that it can equal the quality we achieved with this screenshot, which begins at Genesis 1:1:

HMT Sample

A beta version of the Hebrew Masoretic Text Old Testament for Pocket PC will soon be available from our website for trial. We will look forward to your feedback. If you know Hebrew and/or Aramaic and would like to be notified when the beta appears, let us know at beta02@olivetree.com.

For those of you who are biblical scholars or others educated in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, this is a major step forward in your being able to gain all the information you need about the Hebrew and Aramaic text on your mobile device wherever you are. For those of you who leave intense language study to others but still want to compare your Bible translations to the Hebrew or Aramaic original to gain a better understanding of a particular word or verse, this will make your decipherment of the original Hebrew or Aramaic an easier and more enjoyable experience.

Those of you who read this blog regularly may not recognize my name. I am a new addition to the Olive Tree team, specializing in those areas of Olive Tree’s software that deal with Hebrew and Aramaic. After studying computer science and mathematics at the University of Virginia and working in software development for a few years, I shifted my primary attention to the Old Testament. I picked up a Master’s degree in Old Testament at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and I am currently working on a PhD at the University of Chicago in Northwest Semitic Philology in the Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations Department, the department to which the Oriental Institute is attached. (Hebrew and Aramaic are Northwest Semitic languages.) I am excited about improving the quality of the representation and rendering of the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Old Testament as well as advancing searching capabilities. I am also excited about bringing additional ancient texts to your handheld device as well; look out for a release of a module containing non-biblical texts from Qumran later this summer or fall! Let us know (beta02@olivetree.com) if you would like to be notified when these texts, which are important both for the study of the Old Testament and the New Testament, become available.

Olive Tree at ICRS

ICRS logo

For five days at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS)—Sunday, July 8 through Thursday, July 12—attendees were surrounded by a wealth of opportunities for learning, networking, discovery, joy, and prayer. Olive Tree was one of the many companies from around the world represented there. We met with national and international publishers and distrubutors, working to bring in more content for our users, and more distribution channels to make our software available. 

Here’s a quick summary for you on how electronic publishing works, and why Olive Tree’s relationships with different publishers are so important:  As an electronic publisher, we work with other publishing companies to acheive permissions for Bibles, study tools, devotionals, and Christian eBooks. We then get eText for those books, convert it to the Olive Tree format, and post the final products on our website for you to download! So that’s how things work in the realm of electronic publishing.

We made great progress in opening up more channels for resources, and if you know Olive Tree, you know more products will be coming soon! :)

 ~ K

NIV Study Notes

Having done a number of conversion projects for Olive Tree Bible Software in the past year, perhaps none have been as satisfying as finally being able to offer our users the NIV Study Bible Notes. What I like so much about this resource is its versatility. The casual reader can take advantage of these notes simply by looking up a verse and reading the commentary. Those looking for more in-depth study will appreciate the numerous links both directly to cross references as well as links to similar commentary on another verse. Users can find a verse that talks about “God’s grace and peace,” like Romans 1:7, and appreciate the value of God’s unmerited favor toward us and the abiding peace He provides. If I want more verses on “God’s peace”, I can quickly navigate to Romans 5:7, Philippians 4:7, Galatians 1:3, or Ephesians 1:2, and if I want to read more commentary about “God’s peace,” the NIV Study Bible Notes provides links to notes on Philippians 4:7 and John 20:19. The presence of links within the text to other commentary AND links to related Bible verses makes studying the Bible with the NIV Study Bible Notes an enjoyable, easy and meaningful exercise.

NIV Study Notes

I truly believe that this is the most user friendly, useful resource I have had the pleasure of working on, and it takes full advantage of the powerful, customizable capabilities of the Olive Tree BibleReader. Using both the Verse Chooser and the Table of Contents (TOC) Chooser, users are afforded several navigation options. The Verse Chooser allows for speedy navigation to commentary on a specific verse, while the more detailed TOC Chooser provides a more in-depth navigation system that includes detailed navigation to elements of the introductions to each Bible book, 5 short essays, useful indexes and all the notes as well.

One last feature of the NIV Study Bible Notes that I would like to mention is the index system. This resource has two indexes, an Index of Subjects and an Index of Notes. The Index of Subjects has links to Bible verses on a particular subject, and the Index of Notes has links to commentary on a particular subject. Both indexes are topical in nature, and you can navigate to them using the TOC Chooser. Navigating to a topic like “Peace” simply requires going to TOC mode by unchecking the box at the bottom of the Verse Chooser that says “verse mode.” I select Study Helps, choose Index to Subjects or Index to Notes, click on the letter P, and lastly select Peace. Then I have a helpful list of Bible verses or commentary on the topic of peace, and I can continue my Bible study on that topic.

The NIV Study Bible Notes is a powerful resource that I can happily recommend for all readers of the Bible!

The oFone and Cross Platform Development

Working with mobile devices is a lot of fun and very challenging. New devices and mobile platforms are springing up all time. For example, see the new ofone from Microsoft. This phone does things most developers would not have thought about when writing applications for mobile devices. (In case you didn’t catch it during this video, the ofone is not a real phone. It was used by Microsoft to humorously point out the challenges of developing for mobile devices.) Olive Tree currently supports a staggering 12 platforms! Each of these platforms requires product support, maintenance, web site changes, and development. Looking at the future, more platforms are on the way. Palm is planning on releasing a version of their operating system based on Linux. Motorola is developing more and more Linux based cell phones. The iPhone, which runs a version of Mac OS X, was just released (right now there is no way for developers to create local applications for the iPhone). ACCESS is working on their ACCESS Linux Platform for mobile devices. I am pretty sure that Nokia is working on the next version of Symbian series 60. Who knows, maybe someone is even working on the ofone :) For a software company to stay current in today’s mobile landscape they have to be able to move and adapt as new devices and platforms are released.

So how does a small company like Olive Tree manage to do this? Even more importantly, why is this important to BibleReader users? I can’t give too many technology secrets away, but I can share a few things that we do to make managing multiple platforms easier. Firstly, we have a common set of database files that run on 10 of the 12 platforms we support (The common database files do not run on the iPod and the BlackBerry, due to limitations on those platforms.) This makes the task of creating databases much easier since we only need to create one database. Secondly, we have a cross platform text rendering engine. The bulk of the complexity of the BibleReader is in figuring out how to display the text on the screen. This part of the BibleReader is written in such a way that it can run on almost any platform (BlackBerry and iPod are the exceptions). For example, I am currently working on being able to select hyperlinks using the 5-way arrow keys. I got this working on Windows Mobile Pocket PC. Now with very little effort I will be able to get this feature working on Palm OS, Symbian, and Smartphone. If we did not have a cross platform engine, I would have to spend days coding this feature for each platform. Finally, we have a cross platform database layer. This means that there is only one set of code for reading and searching the databases. Having code that can run on multiple platforms makes the task of moving to new platforms and supporting new platforms easier.

We have also changed our website to help users manage the complexity of the different platforms. Not all of our products work on all platforms. As new platforms come out we initially get Bibles working on that platform. Then, if there is enough interest in that platform, we start enabling more and more products for that platform. Our new website makes it easy for user to find out exactly what will run on their smartphone or PDA.

So why does this matter to BibleReader users? You may be thinking that this really doesn’t matter to you since the BibleReader works on your current smartphone or PDA. If you never get a new device, then this doesn’t matter. However, consider what will happen when you decide to renew your 2-year contract with carrier XYZ and decide to get a new smartphone. Will you continue to use the same mobile operating system that you are using today? With the numerous mobile device platforms out there it is common to switch. Maybe you will decide to try the iPhone, a Palm Treo, or a device we don’t even know about yet (ie the oFone). Will the BibleReader run on the the new device that you buy in two years? Will you be able to continue using the Olive Tree library you have built on your new smartphone? Hopefully, the answer to this question is yes. Since we have positioned our technology to more easily transfer from platform to platform we will hopefully support all major mobile device platforms. I can’t make any promises about what platforms we will support, since we do not know what the future holds. But I can tell you this, we are well positioned to move to new platforms as they arise.

Reading Electronic Books Made Easier

I have been doing most of my reading electronically on a PDA or smartphone for the past 2 years. When I first started reading books electronically I did not like how much I had to scroll. When reading a paper book you can usually read for a few minutes before turning a page. On a PDA or smartphone it usually takes less than a minute before you have read all the text on the screen and have to scroll. This makes for a lot of scrolling to read through a book. The second problem with scrolling is that the text “jumps” by a line or screen when you scroll. Your eye has to do a quick adjustment to find out where to begin reading again after you finish scrolling. This becomes tiring when reading electronically for a long time.

So you may be wondering why I didn’t give up on reading electronic books. Auto scrolling was the reason. Auto scrolling solves both of these problems with reading electronically. On the Pocket PC BibleReader you can turn on auto scrolling by going to Menu->Display->Toggle Auto Scroll. On the Palm BibleReader you can turn on auto scrolling from Menu->Options->Toggle Auto Scroll. When you turn on auto scrolling the text will begin automatically scrolling. The text will do a smooth scroll. This means that the text doesn’t “jump” up the screen which makes it easy for your eye to follow. You can control how fast the text scroll by using the up and down arrows. You can make it go faster with the down arrow and slower with the up arrow.

If it weren’t for auto scrolling I don’t think I would be doing most of my reading electronically. For me, once I start reading a book with auto scrolling I forget that it is electronic. I start enjoying the book and forget about the medium that is being use to present the book. I have even found that reading electronically while riding a stationary bike is much easier than reading a paper book since I can do it completely hands free when I prop up my smartphone.

Happy Electronic Reading!

Stephen

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