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Tarot Apps — good or bad?

September 24, 2014

I recently had a discussion about Tarot apps with someone who was emphatic about how bad they are. He wasn’t talking about their technical merits or flaws; he was criticizing their existence. His points were these:

Tarot apps replace the hard work of face-to-face Tarot counselors. They not only compete with real people, they dehumanize tarot in general.

My opposing point of view is this:

Most (or all?) Tarot apps merely replace a deck of cards with a device that shuffles and deals electronic versions of them. For example, the Tarot eCards app, which features my Tarot of the Masters and my RWS2.0 deck (among many others), is basically an electronic Tarot collection of decks from which you can deal cards from any of the decks on your “shelf.” This enables you to do readings anywhere you are without carrying around several decks with you.

As for an app’s ability to do readings, if the Universe can operate through paper-based cards, it can do so through electronic ones as well. Now, one might wonder if Tarot apps have replaced my physical Tarot decks. Do I use them instead of “real” cards? No, certainly not. Tarot apps are a supplement, not a replacement for physical decks.

I do realize the possible problem of a novice thinking that the card meanings given in electronic readings are the be-all and end-all in interpreting a reading, but my observation is that this is not what most people do with e-readings. I will say, however, for the sake of Tarot novices, it might be a good idea for Tarot apps (and automated reading sites on the Web as well) to mention this fact, as I have for my Pithy Tarot app on its instruction site and in its instruction book.

As for the claim that Tarot apps compete with real Tarot readers, I don’t see that happening. The general populace is not out there deciding against going to a human Tarot reader simply because they have a Tarot app on their iPhone. Again, it’s a supplement, not a replacement. In fact, instead of apps stealing a piece of the Tarot pie, they are, by nature of their mass marketing, expanding the Tarot pie, which benefits all of us in the Tarot business. This perspective comes from an abundance-conscious “us and them” point of view (as in the Ten of Pentacles, for example) instead of a fear-based “us versus them” position (as in the Five of Pentacles).

Five and Ten of Pentacles RWS2.0

PS: Several years ago, prior to the proliferation of apps, the topic at hand was, instead, automated readings on the Web, and I posted an article about that back in 2010.

Addendum: Bonnie Cehovet recently posted a nice article on this topic which gives a supporting POV.

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9 Comments
  1. Aine permalink

    Totally agree with you – using a tarot app would never stop me from going to a real reader.

  2. Ted permalink

    James, would you consider doing a survey, or a critique, of some apps from a readers point of view?

    I like the idea of having an electronic deck on my iPad, and I have 3 (from the same designer; presumably architecture and code from the same developer), but I find there is some quirkiness about how it has you lay out cards on the “reading cloth”. This discourages me from using the apps, which is unfortunate because I like the decks.

    This has me hesitant to purchase other tarot apps.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Ted,
      I’m considering something like that. However, the task seems a bit daunting until I get more free time. For now, I’ll just say that if you want a simple Tarot app that easily deals one card, you should consider my FREE Pithy Tarot app: https://jamesricklef.wordpress.com/pithy-tarot-app/
      James
      PS: I do plan to do a short article about Tarot apps for the Tarot News section of my newsletter sometime in the near future. Sign up for my weekly Tarot Newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/3NF99 and keep an eye out for it.

  3. We at Tarot eCards agree with James that Tarot Apps can be a valuable complement to printed cards. It need not be an either/or decision, but a decision to use Tarot Apps as a way to supplement your collection of printed decks for their convenience, portability and easy accessibility. Check it out yourself and download the Free Tarot eCards App that includes the RWS2.0 Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot at http://www.appstore.com/TaroteCards (Android version available in October) James has done an outstanding job in reworking the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck to optimize the imagery and coloration for digital displays.

  4. As Ron has noted, Tarot apps are a wonderful compliment to printed cards. And you can take them with you! I also like the fact that I can view OOP decks, new decks, independently published decks … the list is endless. It helps indies to have an app out there so people can see their deck, see if they click with it, and perhaps want to purchase it.

    I do not believe that it is a question of apps replacing people at all. App designers set the apps up, deck creators decide how they want their decks presented, and end users decide what functionality they ant in their apps. Apps expand the Tarot world, they don’t shrink it. If you want to look at apps, check out Tarot eCards, The Fool’s Dog, and the Tarot Media Company, amongst
    others.

    • Yes, the aspect of a cheap way to check out a deck is another aspect of apps that can be important. Thank you, Bonnie.

  5. As a consideration of how Tarot Apps can expand the Tarot world, the Tarot eCards App has been downloaded and in use in over 50 countries. Not many printed Tarot decks have achieved that level of distribution reach and everyone of our titles can be accessed and enjoyed by this broad global market.

  6. I offer an App for my Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery designed by Fran Kostella. I have not used it myself but people that do say that they feel it is very well designed and user friendly. I do not think that Apps will replace doing readings with cards because cards have an aesthetic and tactile appeal that the APP cannot duplicate. Like James said, it is a compliment to having a deck.

    I also offered an App for my Alchemical Tarot, but it has been discontinued because it made so little money that it was not worth it to keep it going. We actually give away the Sevenfold Mystery App free and only charge for upgrades. By doing this we have earned more money than I did for the Alchemical App, even though there was a charge for that one. However the amount of money that it earns is not anything that anyone could live on.

    My concern is that four times as many people have the Sevenfold Mystery App as own the actual deck. I am wondering if it is actually hurting sales, because some people who would have bought the cards are satisifed with just getting the free App. I think there needs to be research to see how Apps are actually effecting the Tarot world. If most Tarot collectors switched to Apps, which are cheeper than decks, it would not be worth it for designers to design Tarot decks.

    • Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your perspectives on this.
      I understand your point about the potential that apps could undermine sales of “real” decks. (I’ve wondered the same thing about my Tarot of the Masters, since it is available on the Tarot eCards app.) However, from my own perspective, I would only be happy with an eDeck as a substitute for a real one if the deck was one that had little appeal for me. If I really like a deck, I want the “real” version. But maybe that’s just me?

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