Whilst there are a plethora of iPhone and iPad Bible applications, there are only a few worth consideration. Making this choice depends upon your personal needs and if you already own any existing Bible software packages (e.g., on your mac/pc or other mobile devices). With the release of Accordance for iOS, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to review the options currently available. However, to limit these, I have generally focused on applications that have desktop counterparts. I also haven't included apps that require a live connection to the Internet to access resources (except for the first time the resource is downloaded).
Summary of Features
Whatever your specific needs, there are a few important features to consider. Whilst the various features are implemented differently by each application (refer to the detailed analysis that follows the table), a general comparison is tabled below.
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As evident, BibleXPress differs notably from the other three apps. Where Accordance, Logos, and OliveTree provide access to paid resources (or resources already owned), BibleXPress has access to only a particular set of translations. This means that this app is not really a contender for consideration - especially due to the lack of a good Greek NT. That said, the analysis below includes discussion of this app for those who only want a limited resource set.
It should be noted that all of these are universal apps, so one purchase enables use on both the iPad and iPhone.
In order to review the available options, discussion is separated into four main categories: Readability, Search, Notetaking, and Available Resources.
a) Readability (Winner: Olive Tree, although Logos is also very good)
The ease at which resources can be read is an obvious, but critical, factor when evaluating iOS Bible applications (I've discussed readability in regards to eBooks here). Olive Tree and Logos are strong within this category - providing elegant solutions that are mindful of font, layout, line spacing, and colours. Olive Tree really excels (so long as you switch off the 'book background' which is a clumsy attempt to copy Apple's iBooks) with a page layout that is highly customisable (but by default uses good colours for reading). BibleXPress is quite awkward (due to the use of a side margin) and Accordance needs some work with fonts (the line spacing and colours make it particularly hard visually - although this could be easily resolved with some further refinement beyond the first version). Accordance also uses a continuous page paradigm (i.e., you scroll vertically to read) which I think would be improved by a more conventional approach that involves a swipe to access the next page horizontally (i.e., akin to page turning). Accordance also need to add a paragraph view of text, instead of displaying each verse on a new line (although, as noted in their forums, this is on the 'to-do' list).
In navigating around a single resource, BibleXPress and Accordance share similar mechanisms (i.e., the use of the wheel device) that are very efficient. Olive Tree is quite simple (and thankfully has reinstated a design layout from a previous version). The scroll device in Logos is quite good, and the verse mechanism (which is very similar to Olive Tree's method prior to version 5) enables quick movement throughout the resource.
Access to text notes (not user notes) and cross-references is very simple in Olive Tree and Logos. These applications utilise a pop-up dialogue accessed by clicking on the text reference. Logos seems a little slow in accessing cross references.
Only three applications allow split-pane views (i.e., Accordance, Olive Tree, and Logos) - which really is essential for using resources together. Olive Tree has the most elegant solution (Logos is also nice, albeit difficult to find).
Only one application - Olive Tree - has highlighting (and it has been implemented elegantly). I personally find this feature very useful. Accordance has the significant benefit of instant parsing of the greek.
b) Search (Winners: All except BibleXPress)
Both Accordance and Olive Tree implement search in a similar way that enables very advanced features (both of which are very easy to use). Logos is also powerful, but slightly different in its approach (i.e., via word study tools etc.). If you are familiar with Logos on the desktop, then you will love the iPad version (I suspect). If you want more direct control, then Accordance and Olive Tree will probably be more appropriate. BibleXPress has the simplest search.
c) Notes (Winner: Olive Tree)
Whilst all apps allow notes in some form, Olive Tree is the only one that really gets it right. To make a note you simply click the verse, select 'note', and then enter the text on the little notepad page that appears (floating above the Bible text). Once made, a small note icon is shown 'in text' so that it is completely obvious to discover in the future (nb. you can access the note by clicking on the small icon). The key feature is that notes synchronise with Evernote (if anyone is going to invest time making notes, it essential that they are exportable in a standardised way - Olive Tree has made the right decision).
d) Resources (Winners: Accordance and Logos, followed by Olive Tree closely)
All applications (except for BibleXPress) allow access to an extensive range of resources. Olive Tree achieves this quite elegantly, although the Accordance "easy install" is very good. Generally, you will be able to get most resources from these three, and share licenses across devices (Accordance and Logos will share resources to their desktop applications as well). Olive Tree is only slightly limited in that they focus upon mobile devices and have no way of displaying licensed material on the mac (but, it is available on numerous devices out of the Apple ecosystem, including Windows).
Whether or not you own existing resources (e.g., via Logos or Accordance) will be an important determining factor when choosing the best iPad Bible application for you. That said, right now, I think that Olive Tree is the most elegant solution that enables me to use it as an alternative to a physical book. This choice is at a premium (i.e., I have had to purchase additional licenses for resources I already own through Accordance), but it really is the leader of the pack (at the moment). This said, Accordance have a plan in place, are communicating with their users, and I think will keep refining their product quickly (they have stated publicly that this version was more focused on iPhone/iPod Touch, and an UI overhaul will come specifically for the iPad). So the bottom line is: if you already own licenses for Logos, Accordance, or Olive Tree - then go with that application (it's free after all). However, one caveat: if readability is important to you, then you might consider purchasing licenses for essential resources and use Olive Tree as well.