When it comes to OCR technology for the iDevices, there are many solutions/apps out there. But, where does one start? Which app is the easiest to use? What is OCR? Why is Martin flinging around acronyms? Why so many questions? Let's get started.
What is OCR?
OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. It's the process where a computer receives a photo and scans it in order to extract any text found therein. My first encounter with such a device was in 1988 at the University of Manitoba. They had the stand alone Kurzweil Reader. It certainly did stand alone, since it was the size of a photo copier. It was almost magical when I put in a textbook, pushed a button and a few seconds later the text was read to me. Six years later, I acquired an Arkenstone EasyScan; an OCR reading machine powered by a desktop PC. The process was faster and getting more accurate. I believed in the technology so much that I actually landed at job at Arkenstone as a technical support specialist for a few years, but I digress.
Although I never tinkered with it, there was the KNFB Reader for Nokia cell phones which has helped many users read materials on the fly; such as menus, bus schedules and the like.
Finally, we get to the iDevices sporting cameras. Many apps have been developed in order to accomplish OCR on these devices. I have had varying success with each app. But none have impressed me as much as Text Detective.
Found in the App Store under the name TextDetective (no spaces), it's currently priced at $1.99. Here is the description, pulled from the iTunes store:
Text Detective finds and reads text in printed documents within seconds using your iPhone's camera. The detected text can easily be read, edited, copied and pasted into documents, emails or other apps. It even stores all the scanned text in a history, which allows you to refer to it later. Every step is accessible.
Text Detective works best with the clean and crisp text you find in documents, and at a distance of about the length of a forearm. You can use it wherever you go, and you don't need to worry about network coverage – it even works on the plane.
The app is optimized for iPhone 4S, but can be used with iPhone 4 and iPod touch. If you want to use Text Detective on an iPad, please be aware that the camera position is different to the one on the iPhone/iPod, which might require additional training and practice to align the camera lens and align the text.
End of Description.
The big selling point for this app, in my opinion, is the one step process for acquiring an image and recognizing the text. In all other apps of this nature, this process can take up to 4 steps. Very disappointing if you find out that the page you scanned is blank.
How Does it work?
Launch the app,
Listen to the simple instructions and then one fingered swipe to the right,
Double tap on the start button while holding the iPhone above the printed text. Recommended level is about forearms length. I've had best results at around 12 inches high. Yes, my arms are much longer than that; thanks for asking.
Wait a few seconds and the results, if any, will show up in a reading pane. Otherwise, the app will report no text found and will automatically try to scan again.
And that's really all there is to it. There are four tabs at the bottom of the screen:
The scan tab, which is the default.
History tab, where you can look at your previous scans.
The tips tab, where you can get a bit of assistance at using the app.
And finally the Feedback tab, where you can send your suggestions/comments to the app developers.
Camera quality will of course improve OCR results, so an iPhone 4S is recommended. I have however seen people use older iDevices with acceptable reading output.
Please note, this is not the sort of app that you would scan a book with. It's more of a tool which gives you a quick scanned result. I use it for mail, for example. I can quickly figure out if it's a bill, or yet another ad for high speed internet at a low, low price.
All in all, it's another tool which enables me to be that much more independent.
Check it out. At $1.99, it's worth a try.
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