Into the brave and glorious future of ubiquitous mobile networking!

Religion / Web/Tech

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad (which I’m going to pre-order as soon as I can) he mentioned in an almost off-hand way that, counting laptops in total, Apple has become the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile device computers.

Many noticed that he said that. Many wondered why. I was one of them. But seeing this quote from one of the directors of Google today, I think I get it:

“Google believes that in three or so years desktops will give way to mobile as the primary screen from which most people will consume information and entertainment. That’s according to Google Europe boss John Herlihy who said that smart phones enhance Google’s mission to make information universal.

[…]‘In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant. In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs,’ Herlihy told a baffled audience, echoing comments by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the recent GSM Association Mobile World Congress 2010 that everything the company will do going forward will be via a mobile lens, centring on the cloud, computing and connectivity.”

Read the full article here.

Do you remember how Wayne Gretzky once said that he was a great player because he didn’t skate to where the hockey puck was, he skated to where it was going to be?

Here you have two of the leading technology companies in the world betting on the future of mobile computing and saying that desktop computing and perhaps even laptop computers are going to be less important going forward. Desktops are already commodity devices in most cases – low profit margins and all – and used for specialized tasks like heavy gaming or content production. Laptops are heading down that path me thinks.

My daughter uses the laptop less and less in her studies and in her homework these days. I see her picking up her iPhone and using the encyclopedia app or the dictionary app. She’s allowed to use her phone in Physics class because the calculator is more than adequate for what she needs. She uses her phone in lab because it has a very nice stopwatch built in.

The killer app for her with the iPad is going to be the word processing software. For me it’s the application that will let me have access to the Logos theological library that I’ve purchased over the years. (In fact I just upgraded my license with Logos just so I could have that mobile access to my reference library.)

If you want to know where the puck is headed, look to the heavy technology consumers.

So, if this is the case, what should we in the Church be doing to live into this brave new future?

I’ve actually been part of a group that was planning for this transition. But decisions made by “leadership” sorts in the CoE and TEC pulled the funding for the project. I’m not optimistic that we’re going to restore that. But no matter. Look at what we’ve managed to accomplish at places like Episcopal Cafe on a shoe string budget.

There’s already a BCP app for the iPhone. There are multiple free and paid versions of the Bible for the iPhone and for the Android platform. Keynote on the iPad should allow folks who uses “slides” in worship or teaching full access.

What to do next?

Here’s a thought… there’s a free service out there that will let you build your own app for the iPhone and iPad that makes it dead simple to get your website content onto the mobile device. We have a pretty active website at the Cathedral I serve. We chose our web server software to make it easy to update the site daily with news. I’m thinking it’s time for us to have a Trinity Cathedral iPhone app. I think that’s going to be my after Easter project this year. (It would be a nice gift to the Cathedral if I am called away later this year to a new ministry too.)

I’ve thought too about spending a little money and creating a ubiquitous wireless network in the nave of the Cathedral. Someday I think we’ll get to the point where people will be able to arrive for an event and use their phone or their iPad like device to download the service information or concert program – thus saving the use of our copier.

Bible study, etc is an obvious application.

We moved our accounting and membership software to a cloud-based computing service and now I can get full access to membership information via my iPhone or off-site. (And so can key members of the Cathedral staff.)

Any suggestions about how to use mobile tech more effectively in Christian Education? With Youth ministry?

The coolest use I’ve heard of was using texting to send intercessionary prayers to the screens at large worship events. As people are praying, the special requests from the stadium crowd flash across the screen.

Just some first thoughts as we contemplate moving into the brave new world of ubiquitous networked ministry.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Fr craig says

    who is your membership data provider? These are fascinating ideas… not sure I can deal with that much tech – and I’m only 59… sigh.

  2. Catherine Penn Williams says

    I want to talk to you about cloud computing for member database!

  3. Craig and Catherine – We’re using ACS online. They not only converted our data, the cost for the hosting is actually just a skoosh more than we were paying for the support contract.
    Plus, if your financial people already know ACS, it’s a simple migration.
    We use their iPhone app to get access to the database on the go. And you can log in from any internet connected computer to get full access offsite. Great for volunteer treasurers.

  4. Paul Martin says

    I think this is great. As the quality and coverage of open source software continues to improve, it is getting cheaper and easier to experiment with new services online. Perhaps demonstration projects like yours will take the place of centrally funded projects from HQ.
    You wanted ideas? I have always wanted to implement a standards based church calendar on the web with syncing capabilities so that people could download vestry, altar guild, lay reader schedules, etc. It would be cool to fetch the times of special services with a smartphone. (Oops. It’s Ash Wednesday. When was that service again?)

  5. Paul – we actually have been doing that with Google Apps (and the CalDAV they use) for a couple of years. It’s been transformative in our ability to share information. And people do subscribe our public calendar feeds. Plus those of us with full access can easily add or modify events from home or even from our phones.
    The schedules are also posted using Google Docs – so that all the readers/servers etc always can see the latest version of the schedule. Can’t tell you how many times doing that has saved our bacon.

  6. Paul Martin says

    I haven’t actually looked at the calendar problem for several years, and that was before Google Apps got started. That’s great. I’ll have to give this a look.
    It would be great if every parish was as tech savvy as you are. (I don’t suppose they teach this stuff in seminary!) I do worry about how we take great examples like this and filter the information down to the parishes that are still struggling with technology. There ought to be efforts within each diocese to circulate examples of best practices and make consultants available to help.

  7. Nick, this is just amazing! I have been looking at ACS, and will need to check out the pricing and compare it to what we’ve been using. One of our Sunday School teachers is totally into Web 2.0 and is exploring the use of technology for the work that he’s doing.
    Any more specifics about your use of cloud – based database (is this ACS?)would be great. Thanks so much, I think you have struck a nerve – and a good one!

  8. Paul Martin says

    I like your quote from Wayne Gretzky. I just find myself wondering about how fast that puck is moving. It seems to be moving at a different speed for each of us. That is going to be a problem for the Church as it responds to technological change.
    I am in my 50’s. I am a technology enthusiast, but a late adopter when it comes to expensive gadgets. I just have other priorities right now. A complicating factor (in the case of the iPhone) is AT&T’s coverage, which does not include my new workplace. So, a lot has to change before I jump on this particular bandwagon.
    There is a young couple at our church. We met the at a newcomer’s dinner. They both have iPhones. The last time we talked, they were very excited about the apps they were finding for their phones. They may be typical of their age group.
    So the iPhone is a reality for our parish, even if it isn’t a reality for each of us personally. I know it is a reality on college campuses; those kids are crazy about the iPod touch in particular. And, according to John Gruber, having your own iPhone app may quickly become as important as having a web site.
    (I have to confess; I have no idea what a church iPhone app would look like or what it would do. I hope you post some screen shots when you are done. This is going to be a learning experience for a lot of us.)
    So how fast is that puck moving? I suspect it is moving faster than any of us realize, particularly if we care about attracting young people to the church. We probably have some time, time enough to try some things and iterate until we find out what works. This could get really interesting.

  9. Here’s a thought… there’s a free service out there that will let you build your own app for the iPhone and iPad that makes it dead simple to get your website content onto the mobile device.
    Where’s your hyperlink, man? I’ve had quite a number of requests to make an app version of my breviary and had no idea how to do it without an Apple and an iPhone…

  10. Hi Derek. I think the free app stuff (it’s actually not “free” – you just don’t have to pay for a developer) pretty much is limited to pulling RSS feeds off a site and showing them on the iPhone.
    If that’s something that would work with the Breviary you’re working on, then we should talk. I’m sure I can find someone interested to help with that sort of project… Drop me an email.

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