Top 10 Questions People Are Asking About the App
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Hello, Dwellers! Over the last few months, we've noticed a lot of the same questions coming in through social media and email. We thought it made sense to create a Top 10 list and share those questions and answers with you. Here they are! 

Can the background music be turned off?

Yes. We're excited that so many supporters are excited about the background music that’s being created exclusively for Dwell, but we're often asked if the music can be turned off. The answer is absolutely. The background music has always been meant to draw you into the text. If it does that for you, great. If it doesn’t, turn it off. Another fun fact: You’ll also be able to adjust the volume of the music and the voices separately.

 

Can you listen to the audio at faster or slower speeds?

Yes, listening speed can be adjusted on the fly. Here are the listening speeds we’re thinking about making available at launch: .75x, 1x, 1.25x, 1.5x, and 2x.

Variable speeds are great, and interestingly, they can do more than simply speed up or slow down the text. For example, speeding up Rosie’s voice to 1.25x has the effect of making her sound more casual and less meditative.

 

Will you be able to rewind or fast-forward when listening?

Yes. Our rewind and fast-forward buttons will move you back or forward one verse at a time. So, if you want to re-listen to a particular verse you just heard just tap the rewind button once and, voila, it's back.

 

Will the app include voice medleys like the previews you’ve been sending out?

Yes. You can hear all four voices in a medley when listening to many of our Playlists within the app. We won’t, however, have a voice-shuffling feature at launch available for other sorts of audio (like Plans, or a particular book of the Bible). Still, you can always change the voice you’re listening to during playback, even mid-chapter.

 

In regard to background music, how many tracks are available to choose from?

48 tracks. For launch, we’ve commissioned 4 albums worth of background music, each in a different genre. The album titles and genres are: 

Stillness : Intimate Piano
Linger : Expressive Ambient
Gathering : Peaceful Guitar
Moments : Gentle Cello & Piano

Also, we'll be releasing a brand new Dwell music album every quarter. That means you’ll always have fresh background music to enjoy. You’ll also be able to stream Dwell music through Spotify and Apple Music if you want to listen to it outside of the app (coming soon)!

 

Will there be a memorization or Scripture ‘repeat’ feature?

Not at launch, but we are really passionate about building a robust and comprehensive Scripture memorization feature for Dwell soon. Right now, we’re laser-focused on getting Dwell’s core product — Scripture listening — built in the most thoughtful and engaging way possible. After launch, memorization will be a strong focus for us.

 

Will there be a Free version of Dwell available at launch?

Yes. Right now, the plan is to offer one voice (Mark only) for free use. Our heart is (and has always been) to help people build a habit of listening to Scripture regularly, so we want to make sure that everybody can do so, even if they can’t afford to pay. The Free version will also include audio commercials for Dwell Unlimited every 7 to 15 minutes. Why not make the entire app free? Right now, Dwell employs 10 people in either a full or part-time capacity. These people are not only incredibly skilled, but they have a heart to see Bible engagement increase and are willing to direct their efforts toward that end. We echo what Paul said in his letter to Timothy, that workers are worthy of their wages. Plus, our team will continually be working on new translations, features, and even languages to add to the app.

 

Will offline listening be available at launch?

Unfortunately, no. Offline playback is more challenging than it might appear. To support offline playback we need to consider a lot of new functionality including pausing/resuming file downloads, managing device storage properly, storing playback positions and other settings locally and then properly syncing them when you come back online, and more. It’s a challenge, but it’s one we’re excited to tackle in the future.

 

Will the actual words of Scripture be on the screen as I listen?

No. It’s our contention that there are many, many pockets of “listening time” that can be redeemed for the Lord. Dwell’s top priority has always been to create a world-class listening experience for the Bible. We want people to be able to easily tune in on their commute, while exercising, doing chores, and during other activities that do not lend themselves to reading. Our hope is that Dwell won’t diminish your reading time, but instead will increase your overall engagement with the Bible.

With that said, many of our supporters have expressed interest in having a ‘read-along’ feature. This is something we’re actively exploring, although it may not look exactly like what you’re used to on a normal reading app.

 

What about accessibility for the blind?

As we build out Dwell we’re committed to ensuring that everyone who can use a smartphone can listen to God’s word from Day one. Apple provides two main technologies to help the visually impaired: Dynamic Type and Voiceover. We will be leveraging both throughout the app. Doing so will help the millions who struggle with visual impairment engage with Scripture more easily. This is important to us, and something we’re excited about offering at launch.

 

So that's the answers to the Top 10 questions people are asking about Dwell. We hope it was helpful! Are there other questions we missed? Just email carol@dwellapp.io and I'd be happy to do my best to answer them! We can't wait to get the app into your hands. 

Warm wishes,
Carol

Carol Michael
Hybrid: The Turbo Button of Development
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Building a mobile-app based service like Dwell is a lot of work. We need two native apps (iOS and Android), a mobile-web version, a desktop-web version, and an API to power all of that1 (and I’m sure we’ll think of even more platforms in the future). That’s a lot for any team, but our team is tiny compared to a lot of modern app teams. A lot of major apps have dozens or even hundreds of app developers working on their apps2. We have 2, and we’re trying to release Dwell in only a few months’ time.

How can we pull this off? What’s our secret? Hybrid Development. By leveraging a mix of native and web-based content we are able to share work across all of our major platforms without sacrificing the user experience.

Since I know you didn’t click that link above, here’s the tl;dr on Hybrid Development: Native Controls use code that will only run on that platform (iOS-only or Android-only, for example). We have to write that code from the ground up for each platform we want to run on. For some features in the app this is our only option, or clearly the best option for our listeners. Web Based Controls, on the other hand, are like little mini websites within the app. They run on code we can (mostly) write once and share across all our platforms.

In practice, this means that some of our content is loaded and displayed directly from the web (and shared among platforms), while other features are implemented directly in programming languages like Swift, Objective-C, Kotlin, etc.

With this development approach we can build Dwell in the timeframe we need (i.e. quickly), with the features we need, on the platforms we need, without needing a development team of hundreds. And, we’re doing it all without 100-hour-week death marches. It’s kind of like riding on afterburners. 🚀

For example, we can design our home screen once to provide a consistent UI across all of Dwell, including delivering custom content for each user (if necessary), and we can update that content as often as we need, all without having to spend months inventing our own custom UI for each and every platform3.

And, at the same time, we can develop a custom native audio player for iOS that’s tailored to fit the iPhone and takes advantage of all the native functionality iOS can offer us. (And of course, we’ll build another one for Android)

The best part, of course, is that our listeners don’t have to worry about any of this. For you, it’s just a seamless, simple, beautiful interface for listening to the most important book in history: the Bible.


1: Desktop Web and Mobile Web versions don’t have a release date at this time.

2: And tens of millions of dollars of venture capital.

3: Stay tuned for more examples in the future.

 Shhhh! Enjoy this sneak peek of the audio player as we continue to refine the design.

Shhhh! Enjoy this sneak peek of the audio player as we continue to refine the design.

Jeff McFadden
Audio Master: Nathan De La Cruz
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As the Director of Audio Engineers Nate keeps us organized by setting deadlines, keeps us going by fixing sound issues, ordering gear, creating recording schedules, and juggling many moving parts, all fueled by sushi and dried mango. We sat down with Nate and picked his brain so you could get to know him and get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to record the entire Bible four times (once for each of our voices, and more to come)!

 

1. Take us behind the scenes of your process of organizing/recording/mastering.

We do all of our recording in Logic Pro X. We have a recording booth in one of our offices that is totally soundproof, and we have 2 recording techs/producers that are doing all the recording. Their primary job is to make sure that the voices are delivering the best performance possible, as well as making sure everything is read correctly.

Once a book is recorded, it goes to the editing phase.  We want to eliminate any distractions that get in the way of people receiving The Word, so we try and edit out any mouth clicks, smacking lips, big breaths, and any other noises that would start to wear on the listener after a while.  We are also checking for mistakes-making sure the text and the reading match word for word.  If there are any mistakes, the parts are re-recorded, and then the tracks are mastered.

During the mastering phase, we are checking one more time for mistakes, and making sure that the volume/tone of the recording is consistent from voice to voice and book to book.  Once this is done, we export everything and upload it to the app so that verse markers can be placed.

 

2. Has this process changed over time?

Our workflow looks a lot different now than it did when we first started.  Every time we reached a new step, our process adapted to be more efficient.  We have had to redo work a few times, but I feel like our end product has benefited from it, and if we had to do it all again (and when we record new translation or add a new voice), we will be able to hit the ground running and move through it really quickly since we have learned so much from trial and error this first time around.

Dwell will make listening to the Bible as easy as turning on the radio or opening Spotify, and that really excites me.

3. What’s the biggest challenge of tackling such a big project from an audio standpoint?

The biggest challenge for me is keeping everything organized and leaving clear notes so that we know exactly where we are in each book.  Between our editing and mastering engineers and our recording techs, the audio changes hands a few times before the book is finished, so clear communication is key.  Setting goals in the project is also really helpful!  Since this is such a massive project, I like to set milestones that are easy to accomplish (for example, the current project is to finish The Gospel of Mark and 1 & 2 Corinthians).  This helps us see the finish line, keeps everyone motivated, and helps push us on to the next goal.

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4. What did you do before joining the Dwell team?

Before I started at Dwell, I worked at a private Christian school as the department head of worship and media arts, and I taught guitar and piano lessons on the side.  

 

5. How does it feel to work within a team to make this project come to life?

It’s been great!  I’m really blessed to work with an awesome audio team of really knowledgeable people.  The voices make things really easy as well, and are great to work with.  There is no way one person could get something like this done, and I’m just grateful everyone works incredibly hard to meet the goals that we have set so that we can get the app out as soon as possible.  

Nate at Work

Nate's Favorites

Snack: Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans

Band: John Mayer

Book of the Bible: I just finished up the book of Acts, I love the stories in that one.

Marvel movie: Doctor Strange

 Hobby: Playing and Writing Music

 

6. How has working on this project changed your outlook of the Bible?

I tell people this a lot, but it’s always really interesting the things that you learn if you sit down to listen.  I grew up in a Christian family and so was exposed to the Bible early and often, and I had read all of the Bible stories plenty of times, but it is crazy how different it is to experience them in an audible way.  During editing, I’ve gotten a chance to listen to the Bible every day for the last 9 months, and I’m excited for people to get the same experience that I have had as the stories and the teachings really start to come alive.  

 

7. What excites you most about the app?

 I really love how accessible Dwell makes the Bible.  So many of us live on the move, and it is difficult for people to have extended time to sit down and read the Bible.  Dwell will make listening to the Bible as easy as turning on the radio or opening Spotify, and that really excites me.  

Carol Michael
Accessibility First

Our mission in building Dwell is to help others cultivate a habit of listening to the most important book in history: the Bible.

For most of us, the idea of listening to scripture is a new one. Christianity is a reading-centric culture, and for good reason. The ability to read and study the word of God for yourself is a priceless gift. We’re working to augment the experience of seeing God’s word, not replace it.

But, what if you can’t see God’s word?

All across the globe tens of millions of people struggle with visual impairment. If the US alone 8,000,000 people fight with limited or no vision, including nearly 700,000 children. For these brothers and sisters, listening to God’s word is not a preference, it’s all there is.

For these brothers and sisters, listening to God’s word is not a preference, it’s all there is.

As we build Dwell, we’re committed to ensuring that everyone who can use a smartphone can listen to God’s word from Day one.

That’s nice, you might think, but if you’re blind how can you use a smartphone at all?

Well, thanks to the engineers at Apple, it’s not only possible to use an iPhone while blind, it’s possible to thrive on an iPhone.

Apple provides two main technologies to help the visually impaired: Dynamic Type and Voiceover.

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Dynamic Type allows a user to set the base font-size across the entire phone. By taking this setting into account, 3rd party apps like Dwell can adjust the font sizes in their apps to be larger (or smaller), easing the struggle for those with aging eyes, among other ailments. We’re designing Dwell’s UI to support Dynamic Type in as many areas as possible. It might seem like a small thing, but to someone who struggles to read small text it can be the difference between being able to use an app or having to set it down and move on.

Voiceover allows even those with no vision at all to navigate through apps.

If you’ve never seen voiceover in use, let me encourage you to watch this video demonstration. It really is amazing to see how proficient the visually impaired can be with an iPhone, and how life-changing the experience can be.

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By leveraging the tools that Apple has built we are able to provide descriptions and hints to the various controls across the Dwell app, enabling Voiceover users to hear the descriptions as they move through the app. It’s a limited amount of extra work for us, and it opens up the entirety of God’s word to our listeners.

With Dwell, accessibility isn’t “Coming Soon,” it’s here now. We’re building for Accessibility First.

Jeff McFadden
Slicing and Dicing

As we covered last time, the Bible is a big book. Once we’ve recorded all of our audio, we’ll still need to get those 177+ gigabytes of data onto a smart phone, and potentially all delivered over a slow 3G network. How on earth will we be able to do that?

The solution is to slice up the audio into the pieces we need, stitch them together, and send just that little chunk of data to the phone.

Let’s take a hypothetical listening plan as an example. We’ll call it Nuggets of Wisdom. Each day will include a few verses on a related topic, pulled from across scripture. Here’s what Day 1 looks like:

Day 1: “Faith”. Hebrews 11:1, Romans 1:17, Mark 9:24, Mark 5:36, 2 Timothy 4:7

(A listening plan that was actually this scattershot would probably be terrible, but it’s a helpful example, so let’s go with it.)

Looking at the verses for this day of the plan, we’ll need some of the audio from five chapters: Hebrews 1, Romans 1, Mark 9, Mark 5, and 2 Timothy 4. We have the recordings for each of those, but how will we extract only the verses we need? We’re going to need to know where each verse starts and ends within the audio of the full chapter. For that, we’re going to need another tool.

Enter the Verse Offset Marker Editor

Using this tool we are able to create a marker for each verse boundary in a chapter, and save that data to our growing database.

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This means we have to set these markers for every chapter in the Bible, read by every voice artist. It’s a lot of work, but it makes our entire platform possible.

Once we have that data saved for the chapters we need, we can then use our audio toolchain to extract just the portion that we need from each Master Recording, then stitch them all together into a single file. We use a tool called sox to do this.

So now we have just one big wav file with all of our audio slices spliced together. But it’s still too big. We need to make it smaller. This is where our old friend mp3 comes into play. We convert the audio file from wav to mp3, and store it on our servers.

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Now, when a listener is ready to hear the listening plan for Day 1, all they have to download is a small audio snippet for that morning, easily downloadable on even a slow 3G network.

Just like the old proverb, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Jeff McFadden
That's a lot of Audio

The Bible is a big book. With 1,189 chapters, it takes 4,200 minutes to read it aloud. At Dwell, we're recording each of these 4,200 minutes four times, once with each of our talented voice artists (with more to come)!

Once these raw recordings have been created our talented editors and producers clean up the audio, pulling together the best parts of each take, and mix it down into one single Master Recording.

Each Master Recording is one chapter of the Bible. With 1,189 chapters and four voice artists, we have 4,756 Master Recording files that we need to store and manipulate.

This isn't just a lot of files, it's a huge amount of data. Our Master Recordings are mixed down to 24bit stereo wav files (44.1 kHz sampling rate). An audio file in this format takes up about 950 megabytes of data per hour. All told, that ends up at about 44.5 gigabytes per artist, or 177.8 gigabytes total (with a lot more to come).

The problem that we are faced with is this: How do we upload, store, manage, and deliver 180 GB of audio data to listeners all over the world?

Like any large problem, the solution is to break it up into smaller problems, and solve each of those.

Each Master Recording represents a single chapter of the Bible, which means that the average file is about 75MB. While still large, these are files of a size we can handle.

We take each Master Recording, and upload it to our API server (we'll talk more about our API server in future articles). The API server handles marshalling the data to S3, Amazon's data hosting service, where our files are stored with 99.999999999% durability (this means we should expect to lose a file once every 10,000,000 years; hopefully that's good enough).

By breaking 44.5 GB per artist down into 1,189 individual recordings, and taking each of those and hosting them with a data service provider like Amazon, we start to have the pieces in place to deliver audio to our listeners using our app.

The next problem we need to solve is how to take a Master Recording that's 75MB per chapter and break it up into the smaller chunks (of smaller file size) so that we can deliver it to listeners with even the slowest internet connections.

How do we do that? Stay tuned, as that's what we'll cover next time.

Jeff McFaddenAudio, Development
This Listening Life

Israel grew up listening to Scripture. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”(Deuteronomy 6:4) Hear. Listen. Allow the words to enter your soul through your ears. Before any of Israel’s great stories of faith and formation were put on paper, they were spoken and heard in the form of narratives, parables, and sayings. Their’s was a listening life. We’ve lost that I think. Those moments where we hear God’s word read over us, where the words ring out in the sky or around the sanctuary or through the miniature speakers aimed at our eardrum. This listening life, a life committed to soaking in Scripture, is what we ought to recover. The spiritual practice of Scripture listening is not just significant because our Christian ancestors did it, it’s significant because Scripture listening forms us in ways that Scripture reading can’t. Listening should not make us diminish the practice of reading Scripture one bit – it’s crucial. It’s absolutely essential for us to understand what the Bible means. I like the way Martin Luther put it, “If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.” Gaining Biblical understanding through reading is foundational, but what I want to draw our attention to is the lost art of listening to Scripture.

The Uniqueness of Reading and Listening

So how do reading and listening shape us in different ways. Let’s take them one at a time. When we read, our default tendency is to study, we want to pull the text apart and piece it back together, we draw conclusions, make decisions, we put the text to work. We’re seeking comprehension. This means we’re searching to grasp with the mind, to sharpen our thinking, to gather, to learn, and above all, to understand. When we read, we want to get something out of it. When we listen, we have to leave all that behind. We lose our ability to be precise, there’s no underlining, cross-referencing, consulting commentaries, starring, or highlighting. Listening is more leisurely. When we listen, our default tendency is to marinate. Instead of reading the words, we steep in them. When we listen we’re gaining apprehension. That means we’re laying hold of something, or better said, something is laying hold of us. We’re seized, captured, engaged and engrossed. It’s similar to what happens to us when we listen to music. We get lost, we’re caught up in it. Scripture listening seeks to put our hearts in a position to simply soak in the Word. In essence, when we listen to Scripture, we’re not trying to get something out of it, we’re trying to get into it. To inhabit it, and ultimately to be inhabited by it.

Listening and Doing

One of the most important qualities of listening to Scripture is that we can listen while we’re doing something else, things like driving a car, lifting weights, folding laundry, or taking a walk. Our heart dwells on the Word while our body processes a routine. We’re hearing God and acting at the same time. There’s a wonderful phrase of Charles Spurgeon’s, he says, “Be walking Bibles.” I like that because it forms a kind of picture in my mind, a picture that represents what I want my life with Christ to be about. I want to live in a state of ongoing communion with God, while I’m getting on with the business of living. When I listen to Scripture, it’s as if I’m in two places at once, I’m with Him and with the world. I’m in it, but not of it. There are few activities that are more restorative than moving through our outside world, while at the same time nourishing our inner one. Listening to Scripture accomplishes that. It deepens and strengthens our experience in the present moment. Spurgeon again points the way forward, “Visit many good books,” he writes, “but live in the Bible.” Listening to Scripture, right in the middle of our ordinary life is a powerful way we can live in it.

To sum things up, Israel grew up in a culture devoted to hearing the Scriptures. They used their ears to hear God’s Word. And we should to. This doesn’t mean we read less, far from it, but what it does mean is that we work to recover and cultivate the listening life, a life that’s committed to listening to Scripture, a life that experiences fresh growth and grace as we keep God’s Word in our ears. May we all become the kinds of people who can say with the young Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”