Habemus Appam: The Pope’s Own App

I may have to take back all the bad things I’ve been saying about Vatican communications. (Okay, some of them.) First, the Pope starts Tweeting, and now they roll out an app.

And … it’s actually a pretty good one! Given how crummy the Vatican’s own website is, this is nothing short of amazing.

The Pope App (free, iOS, and Android forthcoming) could have been all kinds of wrong, from the function, to the name, to the icon. (Icons matter on mobile.)  Instead, The Pope App hits most of the bases in style. The name is light, direct, and almost saucy. Just imagine the ponderous Latin names that were probably kicked around. The icon has a bold yellow silhouette of Papa Bene. The only strike I can really level against the rollout is that it’s iPhone-native only, with no native iPad support, and no simultaneous Android.

Why am I starting with these incidentals rather than the content? Because content is (or should be) obvious, but the incidentals show an awareness of how to work with the mobile–and particularly the iPhone–ecosystem. Style matters, and although I adore our tendency to the baroque in visual matters, in the this particular marketplace of ideas, you need a certain kind of approach. If you want to see how to do it wrong, look at the Vatican Radio app. The Pope App does it right.

The app opens onto a home screen featuring rotating images of the Pope with a headline and a few lines of his most recent address. This can be opened to the full address in-app, formatted for mobile reading.

A menu system has live events (empty now); a calendar of papal events; a list of recent  speeches  homilies, and audiences, with full-text; news stories fed by Vatican Radio; a gallery of images; video of recent addresses (dubbed or narrated in English); links to other Vatican resources (including his Twitter and account and various web pages); and the only really unexpected part of the package: webcams! Feeds from St. Peter’s Square, the dome of St. Peter’s, a full shot of the basilica (currently on the fritz), the Governorate, and the garden at Castel Gandolfo.

This is a nice piece of work. It’s simple, light, but full of useful stuff. It needs push notifications to alert people to new content or live events, and some more text and video, including historical material like his inaugural homily and important addresses and encyclicals. There’s room for growth, but there always is with apps. The important thing is that they seem to have the fundamentals right.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • victor

    That’s very encouraging. The Vatican website has been outdated since it launched (I keep expecting to see a little animated mailbox or flickering flame .gif to go with that background), so I wouldn’t have expected much more from their app. I’m definitely going to try this out.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    I think we’re seeing the very slow getting of a clue by the Vatican media offices.

    (By the way, I was inordinately pleased with myself for the headline.)

  • ModDad

    What are the chances Apple will eventually ban the app due to “offensive material”?

  • Ellen

    Ok! I just downloaded it on your recommendation. Thanks!

  • victor

    The headline definitely deserves an A+ for pun-itive whimsy and general drollery!

  • Maggie Goff

    Ha! You’re funny.

    Can’t wait for the Android version.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    I’m sure people will complain, but Apple knows better than to pick a fight with the Pope.

  • http://imperfectfollower.blogspot.com NickD

    One thing I noticed: they must have not realized that the silhouette has Blessed John Paul II’s ferula, which the Holy Father hasn’t used for sometime, I believe

  • Loud

    hmmm could be an app for popes in general, Nick, not for Bene. It is his office, not particularly the man that this is designed for. Id like to see what kinda app itll be when his sucessor comes along….. technology evolve sin strange ways.

  • Victor

    (((I’m sure people will complain, but Apple knows better than to pick a fight with the Pope.)))

    Ya and there are people who don’t like water.


    Hey folks we’re talking about holy water hear. Right? :)


  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    Habemus Appam – very nice headline!

  • Steve

    Sorry but this is poorly written app. It fills up your memory with every image you view with the popes app. I did not request to download any of the pictures. I just flipped though the pictures, only to find out later that every single one was copied to my iPad. waste of my time to have to go and deleted pictures 1 at a time. I’ve deleted this app since it violates my privacy by copying content to my device with out my consent or my request. Wish I didn’t have to delete this app but Im not have any app that copies without my knowlede, or control of what gets copied.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    It does ask for permission to access photos in order to save them. I just did a clean install and tried it again. It’s not possible to save photos to the camera roll without permission in iOS 6.