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Seeking God? There's an app for that

Published: Friday, May 30 2014 4:20 a.m. MDT

Tradition and electronic bibles at the Public Bible Reading at the Utah State Capitol with many community and religious leaders reading favorite passages from the Bible for National Bible Week.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Carrying leather-bound copies of scripture to church is so 20th century, a recent study indicates, and experts predict a continuing shift from print to palmtop device, such as a smartphone or tablet.

Where generations past would reach for a Bible, hymnal or prayer book in a religious service, it's just as likely that today's worshippers will click an onscreen "icon" to find spiritual sustenance, including perhaps pictures of original icons.

Now, members of various faith traditions are turning to hand-held devices to read scriptures, look up prayer times and even locate favorite hymns and make donations on-the-go.

In May, digital researchers at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, investigated the range of religious mobile applications available on Apple Inc.'s iTunes App Store. The study of more than 450 applications, or apps, found common programs ranging from sacred texts to ritual how-tos "regardless of … religious orientation," according to a statement from the school.

"Our study of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim apps offers a clear set of categories for those seeking to understand how designers expect users to practice religion with digital mobile apps," said Wendi Bellar, a project team member at the school's Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies.

There surely is reason to believe there's a growing market. At the end of last year, BI Intelligence, a market research firm, said that while 20 percent of the world's population own a personal computer, 22 percent own smartphones and 6 percent have tablet computing devices. That translates to 1.5 billion smartphones in use worldwide, a number that continues to grow this year, with new smartphones announced by Samsung and LG, along with hopes for yet another new Apple iPhone.

"The story of smartphone and tablet growth is truly amazing," a report in Business Insider, the online newspaper published by BI Intelligence, stated. The projections came on the heels of a November 2013 forecast by Swedish telecom network manufacturer Ericsson AB that the world will host 5.6 billion smartphones by 2019, as reported by the Associated Press.

Connecting believers

The move toward hand-held faith doesn't surprise Rob Enderle, a veteran technology industry observer who heads the Enderle Group consulting firm based in San Jose, California.

"Given prayer is something that was inherently mobile, it isn’t a surprise that it has taken the industry awhile to wrap their arms around this segment of the market," he said. "However, much like companies are increasingly using mobile technology to better serve their customers, religious organizations have similar needs to stay connected."

And Tim Bajarin, founder and analyst at Creative Strategies, also in San Jose, told the Deseret News, "This is an evolution of mobile apps in that people have a variety of interests and developers jump at the chance to meet these needs. Hand-held mobile devices are the one device that they have with them all of the time, and when they want to gain access to info about these interests, or in this case, religious practices, they use the screen or digital tool that is readily available to them."

According to the Texas A&M researchers, some of the more common types of spiritual applications fall into 11 categories, including:

• Religious utilities that offer information to help users perform specific religious practices.

• Sacred texts providing interaction with digitized versions of sacred texts.

• Prayer apps that allow mobile devices to become a conduit for prayer.

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