App Review: Scanning and OCR on iPhone – Can We Ditch Our Flatbed Scanners?

Well let me start off by mentioning that I FINALLY got what I always wanted; my very own iPhone 4! I will name it George and hug it and pet it and squeeze it, and…  Sorry guys I guess I’ve gone a little looney tunes (click for reference) waiting to get my hand on this amazing piece of modern technology.

There are a number of features that I really love about iPhone 4 but for me the camera is a big improvement over my 3G.  The auto-focusing works well and the addition of the LED flash and HDR capability will allow me to leave my point and shoot camera at home when I travel.

For this week’s review I downloaded a couple of scanner and optical character recognition (OCR) apps that can take advantage of the new camera.  I tested WorldCard Mobile Lite and Perfect OCR Lite (both free in the App Store) to see whether or not I could retire my trusty old flatbed scanner.

WorldCard Mobile claims to be able to “take a picture and add a contact to your iPhone/iPod Touch contact list.  No manual entries and no typos.“  It is suggested that you place a business card in a well-lit region.  Open the app then focus your iPhone camera at the card and just click to let WorldCard Mobile’s recognition system get to work.

I was impressed with the first card that I scanned; it had correctly placed the information on the card into appropriate contacts fields within the app and was ready for export to my contacts list.  However, the second card didn’t scan so well; it misspelled words and placed things in wrong fields.  While the lighting was the same and my iPhone position had not changed, the difference was that the first card was a simple design with even colouration, while the second card had a complex coloured background with a non-standard layout.

This app works great with simple business card designs and could really save you time adding contacts to your address book.  But you’re better off adding contact information manually for more complex card designs.

The second app, Perfect OCR Lite extracts text from Letter sized documents, claiming 98% accuracy for iPhone 4.  This app offers a “SureScan” mode which captures an image only after the app detects no motion of your iPhone.  It also offers multi-language support.

I had some paper documents I wanted to scan and successfully used this app to get the data in electronic form.  The original documents were clean with minimal to no creases and the text size was about 12 point.  I tried scanning a multi-column newspaper article and, as the app description says, this app cannot recognize very large fonts or multiple columns correctly.  I think that this would be a useful function to have and hopefully we’ll see a future upgrade that covers this issue.

These apps hold a lot of promise and I look forward to seeing their capabilities improve in the future.  But I think I’ll be hanging on to my flatbed scanner for a little while longer.

Anyone out there try a scanning app with a 3G?  If so, can you comment on performance?  What scanning apps have you tried or do you prefer?  As always, thanks for commenting…