Olive Tree Bible Study

Versions Evaluated:

  • Bible+ for Windows Desktop
  • Bible+ for Windows 8 (no version info available)
  • Bible+ for IOS

Bible Study Software Assessment

The Olive Tree Bible+ app has been available as a desktop Bible study platform for only a few years, but it began its life back in the late 1990s as a Palm OS Bible reading app, and has been available on various mobile platforms ever since. That legacy in the mobile computing world is fairly evident when evaluating the product. I run this software on IOS for both iPhone and iPad, as well as on a Windows desktop. The mobile versions are clean, simple, pretty well thought-out single or double pane readers, with some minimal capabilities for bookmarking, annotating, and such – which sync across devices. A “Resource Guide”, which can occupy the secondary pane, serves as a handy integrating tool providing easy access to relevant related resources. With mobile platforms essentially being designed for browsing, reading, and following links, this rather minimalist app is a good fit for that role.

I don’t think the app translates quite as well to the desktop environment. Most of the Bible study apps out there began as desktop apps, and then migrated with more or less difficulty to mobile platforms. Going the other direction, Olive Tree has certainly developed a perfectly usable desktop app, but it remains rather minimalist – the desktop version is hardly more than a bigger version of the mobile app, although it does support some additional functionality, such as snapping off whatever is displayed in the secondary panes into stand-alone windows, and facilitating window syncing options among the panes. Nonetheless, it lacks the functional robustness of the other desktop Bible Study platforms I’ve used.

Still, this may not be a concern for all users. Someone who employs a Bible study application to do research, write papers, prepare lessons or homilies, etc., is likely to find the simplicity of Olive Tree a limiting factor. But someone looking for simple electronic tools to facilitate personal Bible reading and study may find the platform perfectly adequate, and could find compelling the availability of a consistently clean interface across both desktop and mobile devices. These are cloud-enabled apps, so all your devices can remain synced to each other, meaning that if you highlight a passage on your mobile device, that passage will be highlighted on your PC when you get home.

The application engine is available to download free, for IOS, Android, Mac, and Windows platforms. Olive Tree also offers a number of free Bibles and other resources, so it is easy to evaluate the program at full functionality before investing any money in particular resources.

A caveat to the multi-platform versatility of the app is its “Windows Store” version, which is called Bible+ for Windows 8. As a rule, I find Windows “tile” apps to be sophomoric and barely usable. Olive Tree’s contribution is no exception. It is maddeningly difficult to figure out how to do anything with it. Given how bad every other Windows tile app I’ve ever used has been, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised this was as bad as I found it. So apparently, even a company that’s been building mobile apps for decades can’t make a decent one for that platform! There is no version number I could find for the tile app, but a copyright date references 2013, so it’s not even clear Olive Tree is trying to maintain it. Bottom line: the Windows desktop version runs great on both Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, so run that version, and stay away from the tile app. If you have a Windows-based device that doesn’t run desktop apps, you have my condolences.

One of the more attractive elements of the Olive Tree platform is that they regularly offer some terrific books and sets at discounted prices significantly lower than what I’d expect to pay for them through other electronic publishers. Some of these are decidedly academic-level resources, which seem an odd fit in a program geared more toward the casual, everyday use characteristic of a mobile platform, but if they fit the bill for people, so be it– even the regular pricing on this platform is often terrific. I’ve also managed to pick up cheap licenses for a couple of interesting but not widely-available Bible translations (REB, MEV). There’s good value available for most people.

Regarding the availability of Catholic resources for my co-religionists, however, this platform offers little. The Douay-Rheims Bible is available for free, and the NABRE is available for purchase, as is the RSV and the NRSV (neither in their “Catholic editions”, but that is a trivial distinction). Otherwise, it offers a pretty typical collection of works largely grounded in American Protestantism. As mentioned above, there are a number of good academic resources available – both advanced and intermediate – but one should not expect to find works grounded in the Catholic tradition.

Overall, I find this a very pleasant application for casual Bible reading and light study, with the exception of the dreadful Windows “tile”version. While I’m not about to jump ship from Logos to start using Olive Tree as my primary Bible study platform, I do often prefer to use Bible+ when I’m reading on my iPad. This is a minimalist but very professional product offering that could be a good solution for anyone looking for a modest Bible Study tool, who needs neither advanced functionality nor resources beyond the limited scope of American Protestantism.