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Gospel Library for Feature Phones Project -- Interview with Hal Rushton Twitter Facebook Print E-mail
Written by Tom Johnson   
Thursday, 01 September 2011

In this interview at the Last LDSTech Service Day, Hal Rushton talks about the Gospel Library for Feature Phones project.

Here's a general transcript of the video.

Tom: Hi, this is Tom Johnson. I’m with Hal Rushton at the LDSTech Service Day. Hal is a new project manager for the Gospel Library for Feature Phones project. Hal, tell us a little bit about the project. What started this project? What's the need that it addresses?

Hal: I noticed that when I started here, we were doing a lot of apps on high-end smart phones. There are a lot of good apps you can do on smart phones. But only 40 percent of the Church in the United States has access to smart phones. 97 percent have access to regular feature phones. So we're missing a lot of people who are not getting coverage by our products. I thought it would be great if we could put the Book of Mormon on every phone, down to the lowest-end phone so that it will cover that lower-end demographic. I know a lot of people in my ward only have regular phones.

Another great thing about putting it on cell phones is that over 5 billion people in the world have access to cell phones. This is the vast majority of the world's population. We can get the Book of Mormon in every language, in every tongue, and in every place in the world via cell phones. There's no publishing cost, and there's no difficulty in doing that.

Tom: How does it work to put an app on a feature phone? Feature phones don’t have access to an app catalog, do they? How does that work technically?

Hal: You'd be surprised. Most of your featured phones in the United States are through a company like Verizon. Although it's a simple phone, there's an app store on Verizon where you can download things. So we would need to go through Verizon to get apps on people's phones here.

Yet around the world most people have Java-enabled phones. For example, in the Philippines, people would be able to get a Tagalog version of Book of Mormon on their feature phone, as we call it, by just accessing a site and pulling it down. If we have it available on our website or local websites there, the majority of people will be able to pull off whatever language they want.

Tom: We should probably define "feature phone," because that's kind of a different term. Do you want to explain what a feature phone is versus a smart phone?

Hal: We've heard a lot of different terms for them. Some of the guys on the other teams jokingly call feature phones "dumb phones" because they aren't smart phones, but they're basically any phone that's not a smart phone. Many early versions of phones that first came out don't have any operating system at all. For example, the old Nokia 1100 has no operating system. It's just a phone, just SMS. That's still a very popular phone in remote regions of the world. But pretty much anything past there has at least Java on there and the ability to have apps. So if someone has a feature phone, most likely it will be Java-enabled.

Tom: What are some challenges you face with this project?

Hal: The biggest challenge will be getting the app on everybody's phone. Like you say, most people don't know how to put an app on their phone. We'll need to have some education there. We'll also need to have a large matrix showing languages versus phone types versus carriers. If we have an app that will work only on the most basic Verizon phones, we might be limited to the bare bones Book of Mormon in one language. So we'll need to have multiple versions on there.

Tom: So you're trying to put this in lots of different languages and devices. That effort seems huge in scope.

Hal: Yes, it does seem huge in scope. That app itself is quite tiny. It's just a reader. Users will be able to read the Book of Mormon and click through the different chapters and different verses -- the app itself is small. We're hoping to get a lot of help from the community, especially on the language side, so that's where we need support. If you're interested in getting the app in an obscure language, like Papiamento, we'll need some help there.

Tom: Where do they speak Papiamento? Is that New Guinea?

Hal: Curacao, it's an island in the Caribbean, and they've only been able to translate a small portion of the Book of Mormon into that language. Yet I still want that translation put onto a phone, because many people can't find access to those translated pages elsewhere. That's the only language that they have, and they have cell phones.

Tom: What kind of skill sets are you specifically looking for from the community?

Hal: The biggest skill I'm looking for is people to help us in translating our user interface (UI) into all the different languages. That's a huge amount of work. As far as engineers go, we could use help with people who know how to use Maven, and who can design a good build process to do this. If our build process is set up properly, the project will go well. If the build process is set up poorly, the project will be pretty painful.

Tom: How does your team work? How do you guys communicate? Do you meet regularly? Do you use JIRA? What's it like?

Hal: Our team right now consists of a small handful of people who have done cell phone games before. I used to be involved in the game business, and we'd distribute games around the world like this. So we do have experience in doing similar things. For example, putting out a soccer game that you want to go around the whole world is the same kind of process. I've been involved with that, and the people working with me have been also. So we have a core group who have experience in doing this.

Tom: Do you also need translators at all?

Hal: Yes, translating the UI is a big deal, and engineering help as well. If you've worked with making readers that do right-to-left languages, or double-byte languages like Russian or Chinese, and would like to give us some advice on that, that would be helpful also.

Tom: When do you hope to have this project completed?

Hal: Well, “completed” is a question of scope. How many little carriers will we have to get on to, how many different languages will we find. I would like to get the first version of the easily translated languages out. We already have the top ten languages translated already. We want to have those languages put onto the Java phone, with initial releases in September. The other things will take many months beyond that, such getting on to more platforms. Somebody who is going to download a standard Java phone in Europe should be able to get their language this fall. It might actually be more difficult getting it to Verizon or AT&T or Telefonica down in South America and Europe.

Tom: It's so easy to forget what most of the world uses for phones. Here you see iPads everywhere, and instead of bringing traditional scriptures to Church, many people now bring their iPad, which a $600 device with a nice leather case. Have you had any experiences traveling where you've seen a different kind of technological usage and environment?

Hal: I've been to Church in other countries, but they were European countries – so it's not too different from here. Some places it's a little more advanced. But most places are very similar to your standard ward here in the United States.

Tom: But the vast majority of people, if you go outside of more advanced countries, have feature phones, right?

Hal: Yes, many new smart phones that are being built in China are lower-functioning smart phones -- they're more like feature phones. They may be considered substandard in other places, but our app will work well on these phones. There are many hundreds of millions of Chinese speakers in the world. We think that through a Java app, most of those people would be able to access the app, should they choose to.

Tom: That's cool. Is there anything else you want to tell the LDSTech Community about this project?

Hal: I'm just really excited. We really want to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon. That's our goal. We think that we can do it this way. There's not a publishing cost with it. And not only do we want to give all our members access to the scriptures; we want them to be able to tell their friends, hey, if you'd like to look at the Book of Mormon, I can Bluetooth it to you over your phone, or you can pull it off this site locally. People do that all the time throughout the world. You might be in a remote village in Africa, but they're going to have feature phones. You think that they don't have any technology, but they do. You'll wonder how they get it charged, that's why they have don't have a smart phone, they'll have a much lower power use phone. But they will have that technology.

Tom: It sounds like an exciting project, you know, one with a lot of impact and significance.

Hal: Yes, we're very excited about doing it, and we'd love to get the help. When it starts releasing, we're going to be asking for a lot of people to help test the project also. That might not seem like a big deal, but if you have 200 people who could spend 20 minutes pulling it down and testing it, that's just immensely valuable to have more eyes on that. And that's where the community has been very valuable to us, on BlackBerry and other projects.

Tom: All right, thanks Hal.

Hal: Thank you.


If you would like to join the Gospel Library for Feature Phones project, log in to the site, then click Projects on the top menu. Click Projects on the submenu, and then scroll down and click Gospel Library for Feature Phones. Then click Join.



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