It’s a digital age but after Autodesk University, and other conferences, I invariably end up with a stack of business cards. I keep the originals but it’s not much fun copying contact details into Outlook (which is synced with my phone). When I saw Shape Services Business Card Reader on an iPhone blog it looked like a possible solution. Take a photo of the card with the phone, let the software scan the image and OCR it into into a digital contact.
The reality can be a little trickier as I got about about 1 in 10 cards that weren’t read correctly and several that required reshooting – good lighting and a steady hand help! However even on the “misses” correcting a few mistakes is quicker than entering everything from scratch. The scanning can be foiled by lack of contrast (but why have a grey card with silver ink?) or very “artistic” cards with unusual layouts.
In the example below the “Cap” in “Capital” had to be added, lost in the logo behind it, but other details were captured into the correct fields. The 0800 number was not seen as a phone number, probably due to no prefix and formatting, but was captured. If needed a “text only” screen showing all the captured details makes manual corrections painless or you can edit the “New Contact” fields before saving. I have tried reverse colour cards (white text on blue) and some with incredibly small text which were read correctly.
The application leads you through the process but I have found a couple of tips to improve results:
- Photograph Readable Text Up: The shooting screen has an orientation guide with “This Side Up” but it’s best interpreted as “Top of readable text”. On “portrait” cards, where the text runs across the short side, shooting them with “readable text side up” can give better results even though the card image will be smaller
- Snap then Scan: You can save the images and reload them from the library for scanning but I don’t recommend this. My experiments found that scanning the image immediately gave much better results than the same saved image. I don’t know why but wonder if image compression on save reduces the quality of the retrieved image?
Some nice refinements include a LinkedIn look up and ability to merge the capture details with an existing contact. Although not perfect Business Card Reader is a slick application and I think it’s faster, & much more fun, than copying cards by hand.