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Appy talk

Searching for 'Bible' in the digital Apple Store returns 5,185 results for tablet and smartphone apps. Top of the list, with more than 641,000 reviews, is YouVersion's Bible, funded by LifeChurch.tv of Edmond, Oklahoma. The app has been downloaded to more than 100 million devices and the figures are still growing - a new install occurs every 1.3 seconds. Some 66,000 people have the app open during any given second, but that number climbs much higher at certain times - Sunday morning in the US, for example, when preachers ask congregations to turn to a certain verse.

According to the app's creators, however, its success has more to do with how integrated it becomes with users' lives in the rest of the week. As well as reminding people of daily reading plans (themed specifically to work with certain life factors - stress, addiction, family changes), it also connects different users on the same plans, which leads to a series of engaged communities with the Bible at their core - a useful description of a church, perhaps. More provocatively, the software can use GPS satellite technology to send pointed reminders: one much commented-upon example is the trigger message sent when a user walks into a strip club.

The app's creator Bobby Gruenewald says that 'At first we were very worried about sending people notifications. We didn't want to bother them too much.' So he tried an experiment. 'For Christmas, we sent people a message from the app. Just a "Merry Christmas" in various languages.' The team was prepared to hear from disgruntled users annoyed by the message. 'But just the opposite happened. People took pictures of the notification on their phones and started sharing them on social media.'

The app uses the principle that by making an intended behaviour easier, people do it more often. For example, a user who prefers to not read at all can plays an audio version. Gruenewald also says that changing the order of the Bible, placing the more accessible sections up front, increased completion rates. For newcomers, daily reading plans are kept to one simple thought and a few short verses - the idea is to get into the ritual for a few minutes each day until the routine becomes a facet of everyday life.

'My yoke is easy,' said Jesus. And while we often talk about the difficulties of faith, it might just be that it was always stupid not to keep it simple.