Saturday, November 25, 2006

Faith Finds a Place in the Wireless World

New services bring religion to your cell phone.

Michelle Williams goes to church, writes a journal and reads about spirituality, but lately relief from life's tough moments has arrived through her cell phone. It's not wireless conversation that soothes her, but inspirational quotes from speaker and author Michelle McKinney Hammond, delivered daily as text messages through a service called FaithMobile.
"When I'm having a bad day and someone's getting on my nerves, I can just look at my cell phone and say 'Wow, I really needed that,' " said Williams, a state traffic safety consultant from DeKalb County outside Atlanta. The messages often concern encouraging women and "getting to know God," she said. "It's just something to uplift you throughout the day."
From Christian rock ring tones and messages announcing Jewish holidays to handsets that point to Mecca and remind Muslims when to pray, the world of wireless content is increasingly getting in touch with its spiritual side. Companies sensing growing demand have launched a variety of faith-based mobile services in recent months.
"Picking up that inspiration on the go whether you're in the car, you're at a traffic light, you're on a train, you're on the bus — a lot of it is just reminding yourself who you are, reminding yourself what you believe in," said Martha Cotton, co-founder of Good News Holdings, the California firm behind FaithMobile.
FaithMobile operated the first half of this year and then relaunched in September after a technology overhaul. It offers $1.99 downloads of Christian hymns as ring tones and screen backgrounds featuring Bibles, angels and crosses. For $5.99 a month, subscribers can receive daily messages from one of FaithMobile's partner ministries. Companies offering faith-based mobile content range from start-ups to telecommunication giants.
Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of BellSouth Corp. and AT&T Inc., offers more than 750 cell phone ring tones from Christian artists ranging from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to contemporary Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman, spokesman Clay Owen said. "Contemporary Christian is clearly one of our largest special segments," he said. "We have grown the number of ring tones available as demand has grown." Beliefnet Inc., a New York company that runs a Web community representing many faiths, launched a mobile service in August that delivers inspirational and humorous quotes from spiritual leaders and others, including the Dalai Lama and Maya Angelou. "New technologies provide a lot of really cool effective ways of providing reminders and of being conscious of the divine," said CEO Steve Waldman.
Catholic Mobile offers daily prayers in English and Spanish, the "saint of the day," ring tones such as "Amazing Grace" and screen "wallpaper" depicting the pope. Charges range from 49 cents for single message to $4.99 for a monthly subscription.
And the merging of faith and mobile technology is not limited to Christianity. Dubai-based Ilkone Mobile Telecommunications offers a handset that can alert Muslims of prayer times with a muezzin's voice and point them in the direction of Mecca from locations around the world. The phone also contains the full text of the Koran, with an English translation. London-based MyAdhan, which dubs itself "your intelligent call to Islam," offers prayer and fasting reminders and wireless charity donations. Future features will include a mobile mosque locator.
Jewish information Web site launched a mobile service in May that delivers free daily text messages with thoughts, questions and moments in Jewish history. It also can tell subscribers their local sunset time and when to light candles before the Sabbath. Rabbi Simcha Backman, director of the Los Angeles-based site, said the next step will be live wireless text chats with Judaism scholars. "We have a responsibility to harness the power of technology and use it for good things," Backman said. "It all boils down to helping people."

  • On the Web
  • FaithMobile:
  • Beliefnet:
  • Cingular:
  • Unity in Values:
  • Mfaith: