Longtime readers of my newsletter will remember the update that I wrote while sitting on a mall floor, waiting in line for an iPhone 4. I didn’t actually get an iPhone that day (missed the cutoff by 4 people, not that I am bitter), but I did eventually pick one up.
Prior to having an iPhone, I was pretty skeptical of document scanning apps on mobile devices. Did they really work? I personally didn’t believe it.
Now that I have my baby phone, I have been giving some of the apps a whirl.
First up is Genius Scan from The Grizzly Labs. Why did I start with Genius Scan? The basic version, which does most of what I’d need is free (my favorite price!).
How These Apps Work
Document scanning apps work pretty much the same. You use the iPhone’s camera to take pictures of the pages of your document, and then they do some cleanup and processing and in most cases export as PDF somehow.
Taking A Picture
When you first start the app up, you have a choice whether to import a document from the camera or your library, you’ll also be presented with a list of your recently-taken documents, of which I don’t have any here.
In our case we’ll take a picture so I’ll hit Camera.
You’ll be tempted to put the iPhone over top of the document and take a picture straight down. In most cases this won’t be ideal because you’ll create a shadow on the image. Try to take it at a slight angle. Don’t worry, the software is going to correct that.
When you are happy with your image, hit Use.
Once you’ve taken the picture, Genius Scan will try to guess at what part of the image contains the actual document. Usually it is pretty good, though in this example it only picked out a bit of it.
Not a problem, just use your finger to drag the orange part over the whole document, and it will look like this.
Once you’re done, hit Select.
It has now cropped out the rest of the image and brought the information forward. You can click the Enhancement button and switch between Color and Black and White. Since this document is B&W, I am going to change that.
At this point if you need to rotate it, go for it.
If you are ready to send it to someone (or yourself), you can hit the Share button on the bottom right, but I am going to save it as a new document by tapping the icon on the bottom-left.
Once you do that, you can rename it and then at that point you can either export it to Email or iBooks, or add a new page.
Taking Multiple Pages
To create a multiple-page document, the easiest way is to hit the plus sign icon in the bottom left after saving the first page. After you take the image, tap the folder icon at the bottom left (like you did with the first page), but this time choose “Save To Current Document”.
Notice that in this screenshot I had forgotten to set the second page to Black & White like I had the first page. Whoops. If I hit the Edit menu, you can see that I can delete or move around the page. In this case I will delete and re-take the page.
Taking a bunch of pictures of documents doesn’t do you much good if you can’t get them off your phone. There are a number of ways to share.
Share By Email
You can email the PDF from your device. When you are looking at the document, hit the share button in the bottom-right corner. Tap “Email” to share by email. The document will be sent as a PDF attachment.
Share By Wifi
When you are at the main Document menu of Genius Scan, tap on the little Gear icon up in the top-left. From there, you can set Wifi Sharing to On.
If you have a computer on the same wifi network, you can use a web browser to go to the listed address. Unfortunately I am writing this at Starbucks and I think they must be blocking the port so I can’t get to it to show you a screenshot.
Upgrade to Genius Scan+
If you want more sharing options, you can upgrade to Genius Scan+. Aside from getting rid of the ads, it allows you to save the document to Dropbox, Evernote, or Google Docs.
Note: If you are going to upgrade, make sure you do it by clicking the link inside the app. If you buy Genius Scan+ through the app store in addition to plain old Genius Scan, you will have two apps and your documents will still be in the free one.
Now that I have upgraded, you can see I have a number of new sharing options.
Let’s try Dropbox. Once I authenticate and choose the folder, it uploads it to Dropbox.
Hey look, there it is!
There are a few drawbacks of these iPhone apps in general and Genius Scan in particular.
In general, these apps are really dependent on the light that you have around. In the magazine article above, there was a lot of sunlight coming through the window and shining on the page, which is why it looks a bit washed out.
With respect to Genius Scan, it does (in my opinion) a really good job at taking a skewed image and making it straight. Using that magazine article again, it wasn’t at all flat when I took the image.
Another drawback is a lack of OCR. Any documents that I take with Genius Scan that I want made searchable will have to be done later. Not a biggie, but just something to be aware of.
All in all, I like Genius Scan a lot. If you want to see a cool video that the company made to show the software’s capabilities, check this out:
Do you use a mobile scanning app? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.