Bible for techies

20 January 2017

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THE age at which people begin using mobile phones and electronic devices such as tablets continues to fall. Research in 2013 showed that, on average, children had been given a mobile phone by the age of 11; and that ten per cent on average by the age of five.

It is hard to know whether such statistics are surprising: mobile gadgets are now everywhere.

There are even Bible-based apps for children, including the Bible App for Kids, published by Life.Church. Just as print-based children’s Bibles are not, generally, full Bibles, this app is a storybook — albeit digital — that is “designed to explore the big stories of the Bible”.

The structure has a similar feel to games such as Candy Crush — a journey through different episodes — and it remains interactive. The stories are broken down into bite-sized chunks, about a sentence long, and the user has to click through to read the next sentence.

This interaction is a useful way of keeping a child engaged: he or she is in control of the speed of the story, and it does not simply sit in the background as a constant audio source. At the end of each story there is a simple question; and, once the story has been read, there is a range of activities or games.

It is cleverly produced and professionally constructed, and will engage children in Bible stories in a way that printed books never could.

A free app, OFCOM Mobile Research, has been developed to answer the question, how good is your mobile-phone signal?

It is one of the ironies of modern communications that visitors to the UK receive better coverage on their mobile phones than we do. That is because a visitor from, say, France will be roaming on the UK networks, and their phone will switch between O2, Vodafone, EE, and so on, depending on which provider has the strongest signal.

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But the phone companies have resisted pressure to allow domestic users to roam. If you are an O2 customer in an area without an O2 signal, your phone will not be able to use spare capacity on the Vodafone network, and vice versa. The phone companies say that if they were forced to adopt this approach there would be no incentive for them to develop their own networks.

And they say that there is enough network capacity to make such a move unnecessary. OFCOM, the UK’s communications regulator, appears to be unconvinced: it is receiving thousands of complaints from consumers who cannot make use of their phones.

OFCOM Mobile Research works in the background on users’ mobile phones to monitor and report back on mobile signal strength. In addition to sending anonymous data to OFCOM’s research partner, the app also provides users with a snapshot of information.

The usefulness of this snapshot to users is questionable, however. What use is it to me to know that in the 27 days that I have been using the app, I’ve had 98-per-cent data network availability?

What the snapshot does do is remind users that the app is there, beavering away and gathering data that can be used by OFCOM to paint a real cross-network picture of the strength of the UK’s mobile coverage. And, for consumers as a whole, that has to be a good thing.

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