The Battle Mobile: Olive Tree Reader 5 and Accordance

Introduction

I’ve been an Olive Tree user since 2001 when I picked up an iPaq as a seminary graduation present. By the time I’d moved from Palm and on to iOS I had collected quite a library for my personal study. In fact, after Seminary I rarely carried a print Bible with me! When Olive Tree moved to iOS I became a beta tester and was instantly impressed, they also allowed me access to some resources I would have not been able to acquire otherwise – for which I’m grateful. I was so glad to see the progress that Olive Tree has made in version 5 of their iOS reader, that I purchased their $.99 version, rather than wait for the free edition to be released. Yes it’s only a dollar, but I wanted to show my support.

I’ve been an accordance users for just about 2 years, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Their library and resources are a joy to use, and I’ve had a lot of fun incorporating many of their tools into my preaching and teaching. I’ve invested heavily in Accordance, and it’s not disappointed me.

I’ve met developers from both these companies, and find them to be a gracious, group of people who do what they do because they love God’s word and God’s people, and want to make tools available to others which will make Scripture come to life. I’m comparing the two apps not to tell you which one is better – but because I though it would be helpful for both users and developers to see what I found lacking and compelling in their offerings (don’t ambush me on twitter, gang).

Verse Chooser: Olive Tree

The verse chooser is one of the places where Olive Tree’s experience in mobile devices shines. While version 5 offers a spin-wheel selector as the default (which many users are actually upset about), their tried and true grid selector is still present in the reader and becomes the default option by, using it. The grid view selector has been around since Olive Tree’s Palm OS offerings, and they continued to refine it for iOS devices right up until the present – it’s fast, intuitive, and a pleasure to use. Olive Tree also allows you to type in a verse reference via the virtual keyboard, a nice touch.

By contrast, Accordance solely makes use of a spin-wheel verse selector (though you can search for verses, just as on it’s desktop counterpart – more on that later). Below the spin-wheel are up and down arrows, underneath each wheel (book, chapter, verse) in the chooser. These arrows “page” the corresponding wheel up or down, allowing users to spin through the choices easily. It’s a nice concept – but their presence makes the UI look cluttered.

Text layout: Olive Tree

In this category the “reader” aspect of Olive Tree’s offering shines through. Text is displayed beautifully – with paragraphs and poetry laid out well for such a small screen (Olive Tree 5 looks even better on my son’s iPad). The ability to change font sizes is a matter of touching one control (without leaving the book to drop into settings), and users have the option to progress through books via either flicking (vertical scrolling) or paging (horizontal scrolling by… “page”). The result is a Bible reading experience.

Accordance, on the other hand, functions more like a research tool and less like a reader. Verses are displayed one after the other, each marked with a bold header with the full reference at the start. Paragraphs are marked only by a paragraph symbol, and poetry is not laid out as nicely as in the Olive Tree reader. Accordance is also limited to progressing through the Bible by flicking – which makes reading long passages a bit more tedious (you have to remember where you were when you started scrolling forward).

Library: Olive Tree

Both apps have a huge amount of material available to users, but Olive Tree’s experience in the mobile realm again shines in this category. They make it easy to sync works purchased both through the iTunes App Store and their own web-site. When you access your Olive Tree account you are presented only with the books that will work on your device. When you decided to download one of your purchased works, a nice progress meter is displayed so you can see how long you have to wait (I still need to see if both apps support task completion, so I can do other things while waiting for a download to finish). The result is a well though-out and intuitive way of working with your purchases.

Accordance’s library easier to access, as they don’t have “in app” purchases through iTunes, and they’ve done a nice job of making nearly all their vast library accessible via “quick install” (which is how the books get installed on the phone). There are, however, two problems with their set-up. First, the library section displays all your purchases modules, even those which are not compatible with the device, this needs to be fixed ASAP. Second, there’s no progress meter for downloads. Which this might be though of as “eye-candy” by some, the reality is that a progress meters confirms for a user that something is actually happening in response to their actions. This should be added in a future release.

Speed: Push

Both apps are snappy, though I did notice that the pop-ups in Olive Tree 5 are actually slower than the 4.x series. When you think about the amount of data these apps are asked to process – their speed is amazing.

Split Screen: Accordance

I love how Accordance implements their split-screen settings. You “add a pane” to the display and chose from text, reference tools, or user notes. Panes are automatically synced (though I did notice some mis-alignments when using some reference tools) and the divider is clearly marked with the selected tool.

I’ve always enjoyed Olive Tree’s split-screen view, though I have though the way one selects a text for the split-screen is a bit too involved (you open your library just as with the main pane). Olive Tree Reader 5, however, kinda messes with their mojo. The added margins, which make reading in single-text view so splendid, make the split screen feel cramped. Additionally, the divider itself now adds a menu button below the dividing line – adding to the clutter. Syncing also feels “off” – but this is more because of the new “paging” option for progressing through the text – because no all versions use the same number of words you sometimes have to scan a pane to see why it’s syncing the way it does. Olive Tree 5’s split screen is still usable , but ti’s not as elegant as it once was.

Search: Accordance

During the long wait for the iOS version of Accordance to be unveiled, Oak Tree software kept releasing images of search results by way of teasing their user-base. At the time I thought it was an odd choice, as I was interested in what their interface would look like for more than just search. Having used the app for myself, however, I see the reasoning behind the teasers. Accordance on iOS takes all the immense options from the desktop application, and implements them wonderfully on the new platform. You can search for verses by typing a reference (which will display only those verses in the viewer). You can also search for words, phrases, and grammatical structures with an insane amount of options (if you’ve never done a “fuzzy” search – you need to do it, now). The sheer speed with which these searches are done, is mind-blowing. Once you see your search results, you will understand Accordance’s decision to display texts the way they do. The search results are neatly organized – and the search formula you used is clearly displayed at the top – you can also change your search version in the dialog. Simply put, it’s amazing.

Olive Tree also has a powerful search features, but to access these (for grammatical searching) you have to learn the codes by which to mark the text (much like BibleWorks, on the Windows platform). Now, the geek in me appreciates having to do something like programming in order to get powerful results, but on a small screen it’s a bit of a pain. A “quick chooser” would be helpful to do some powerful searching (especially in the original languages). One think Olive Tree does well, however, is the ability to go back and forth between a search’s results, and the full text. Olive Tree 5 remembers your last search so when you touch the search icon again, your results are all there. This is something Accordance needs to implement.

Conclusion

All I can say about both these apps is, “wow.” I will continue to use them both regularly, depending on what task I’m attempting to accomplish, and I hope that others will continue to support both these wonderful companies. The fact that the folks at Olive Tree and Oak Tree are friendly with one another is something that all their users can be glad for. We can hope that a sense of friendly competition, and collaborative learning, will make studying the Bible on our mobile devices a true joy.

2 Thoughts

  1. Nice comparison Wes; I’ve got to remember to pay attention
    to the experience in apps – as these days, its more or less just
    “jump in a browser and find the text” approach that I’ve been
    using. Good to know that applications are not missing the boat in
    getting better at the core features.

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