What if I told you there was an app that has been installed on one out of every 17 iPhones, iPads and Android devices, downloaded more than 34 million times and had logged more than 11 billion minutes of usage by its audience? What would be your guess of what that was? Angry Birds? Pandora? Nope, all of these milestones were achieved with no advertising!
The stats given above are of the YouVersion Bible app, a creation of LifeChurch.tv, which is a ministry with 14 locations nationwide and a very large outreach online. The app, which has had a global impact, is available for iOS, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone, WebOS and Java phones, and even some Web-enabled mobile devices.
This post is not a commercial for the YouVersion Bible app, however, but a look at why it is so successful in its reach and in its design. The team at LifeChurch.tv took on a seemingly insurmountable task: to reach people and nations of all languages around the globe and to make the content of their app easy to understand and navigate. How’s that for a goal? Let’s take a close look at the app and see if there are any lessons we can learn for our own design skills or strategies.
The best place to start is at the Home screen, the first place the user will land. The layout is very simple and includes the major categories of the app: Bible, Plans, Notes and others. Each of the categories in represented by an icon which is helpful to non-readers or to learners who learn visually. Non-readers using a Bible app? Yes, more on that in a bit.
Using icons for cross-cultural apps can be risky, though. This app is being downloaded in so many cultures that there be many who have never used a bookmark, for instance, let alone know what know what one looks like and what it is used for. But with such a wide audience, the design team may need to choose an icon that is recognizable by a majority of the audience at the risk of confusing others.
The Home screen also includes a necessary search function which is available throughout the app. In the upper right you can see the Settings button where the user can navigate to an area to set up a user account, change the app into one of 20+ languages, enable social media features and more. As mentioned earlier, LifeChurch.tv is very active on the web and the Home screen includes a link to an upcoming live webcast event. The Recent Activity button is a nice touch, as well. Not to be confused with the Bookmarking function which keeps an archive of the user’s favorite verses, the Recent Activity button will return to the most current Home page interactions of the user.
Now let’s take a look at the most important area of the app, the Bible itself.
Surveying the scripture page screen shows a wealth of functionality. Across the top, a user can go back to the Home screen and, through the use of transitional menus, go to a different book of the Bible or change the translation. The current version of the YouVersion Bible app includes 187 versions in 61 languages! In the Versions area, you can scan the selection by language, and it also keeps track of your recent activity. This shows a good understanding of the audience as an avid Bible reader typically reads from one or two versions, so this function makes it easy to flip back and forth between often-used versions and not requiring the user to sift through the multiple versions every time.
Along the bottom of a page screen there is the Settings button, and an audio icon if the version includes narrative audio. Audio is used extensively throughout and enables users who struggle with reading or can’t read at all to hear the scriptures. It also allows users to listen to the text while driving. This function is once again a reflection of the design team knowing the audience needs or possible contextual usages of the app.
Finally, there are Back/Next buttons for linear navigation, a bookmarking function and a button to pop up the Search function. As mentioned earlier, a user can go to another book of the Bible by touching the button in the upper middle of the screen. This takes the user to a scrollable list of the books of the Bible and buttons for Chapter and Verse. One design shortfall of the app is that the screens for designating the Chapter and then the Verse look identical, so unless you are paying close attention, you don’t know what screen you are on. Perhaps if the Verse designation screen used a different color, it would visually alert the user that they have changed screens. Do you have an idea on how to differentiate these two screens in a better way?
There are two other functions on this screen worth mentioning. The app’s use of social media and collaboration is very prevalent. On any page, such as the one in the graphic, the user can touch on a verse and it will be highlighted in yellow. When that happens, a Share button appears and then the user can copy the verse into their notes, send it to a friend via email or SMS, copy it or bookmark it. The app has Facebook and Twitter integration as well. Thus far, YouVersion Bible users have shared more than 1.6 million verses on Facebook and Twitter. This is a reminder of how important collaboration is in mobile learning. Give your audience ways to interact with each other and the learning experience becomes much more powerful.
You will also notice in the screen capture that some of the words have next to them a lower case “t” in a small rectangle. If a user touches on one of these, a popup box appears with an alternate reading of that word. Another value-added benefit to an avid reader.
There are very many other functions and features in the YouVersion Bible app that model exemplary mobile app design and functionality. The team at Life Church.tv has taken on a formidable challenge and met it with an app that effectively reaches a very wide audience in demographics, cultures, and contexts. Their ultimate goal is to have the app residing on a majority of the more than 5 billion phones in the world.
If you want to try the app for yourself, you can get it in any of the platforms mentioned earlier and it is free. If you do download the app, share your thoughts on the design and development in the comments below. We’d like to hear what you think of this app of Biblical proportions.
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