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GRN is no stranger to changes in technology. When we started 70 years ago there were records that contained just a few short gospel messages. A few decades later, cassettes, which could play for an hour or more, opened up opportunities for much more varied and comprehensive content.
In the 1990s, digital recording and playback technology enabled the production of higher quality material in new formats. At the turn of the century the availability of broadband connection to the internet offered faster and cheaper ways of getting the recordings out to a growing audience.
Now, mobile devices are gaining widespread usage even among remote people groups and nomadic tribes - some of GRN's top priority people.
On the Field
Keith Williams, who has worked in the Arab World for 10 years as a church planter and team leader, describes the profound transformation that the "new media" has brought to some nomadic peoples.
"Nomads are no longer making decisions about where to set up camp on the basis of where they could find water. Rather, campsites are determined by where they can get mobile phone coverage."
Even after-dinner storytelling about hunting exploits are augmented by video of the actual event shown on a mobile phone.
Mary-Ann Ramos in GRN Philippines downloads recordings to a mobile phone to study how the recordings are made, and how the translator delivers the message.
"When I'm travelling I can listen to my mobile using the headset, while looking at the small Good News picture booklet. When we are planning to make the new translation, the translator uses my mobile to listen, so that they know how and what they will do."
Mary-Ann also uses the recordings in her church for children's ministry. "I remove the micro SD card from my mobile and insert it into the player."
What GRN is doing
More than 85% of our recordings have been digitized and are available for copying to Sabers, MP3 players, phones and other mobile devices. They can be downloaded from the GRN website or listened to online.
Work is underway to link pictures and scripts to more than 100,000 individual audio files in our library. This is a huge job, but will facilitate a variety of new playback formats such as slideshows and video.
A GOKit has been developed for use on mobile devices, with samples of many languages to aid in the initial contact with and identification of the language of a particular speaker. Partnerships are being developed. One such partner is producing Digital Evangelist Kiosks to share MP3s and videos, from GRN and other ministries, through bus and train terminals, airports, malls and other points of contact.
There have even been discussions with a university about development of a voice/language recognition system for mobile devices.
The Rise of the Mobile Device
There are billions of portable devices in the world which can play audio or video, and/or connect to the internet. The number and power of these devices continues to grow. It's been estimated by Intel there will be 15 billion internet-connected devices by 2015, and by Ericsson up to 50 billion by 2020. The once-separate markets for MP3 players, mobile phones and computers are now awash with smart phones, tablets and other multi function hand held devices.
There are five billion mobile phones in use on the planet. The majority of new phones can play MP3 files. There are two billion people connected to the internet. The Gartner research firm states that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide.
Mobile devices are not just for the developed world. Countries with poor telecommunications infrastructure have jumped straight to mobile phones and other devices to address their needs. The International Telecommunication Union says that, in 2009 in the developing world, mobile phone coverage was 57%, and users with some form of internet access rose to 18%. Both numbers are much higher in the developed world, but are continuing to grow rapidly in the developing world.
The Task Ahead
A lot more work needs to be done.
The website needs to be made more usable for mobile devices with small screens. We need to get our materials into online music libraries such as iTunes.
Applications need to be developed for iPhones and Android devices to enable language search and audio downloads.
GRN is now establishing a task force to coordinate these efforts, and develop a comprehensive strategy to facilitate the use of GRN gospel materials on mobile devices.