Testing Two iPhone Scanning Apps

In the course of researching a book, I’ve been using my iPhone as sort of a “record keeping” device for a while now, uploading items to Evernote and, more frequently, storing images of text for later perusal. What I would love, though, is a real OCR app. I’ve tried a few of the simpler OCR apps available on the iTunes store but I was recently introduced to SayWhat and Scanner Pro, two apps that perform two very different functions. SayWhat is a (purported) OCR and translation system while Scanner Pro is a fully-formed (but not OCR-capable) page scanning solution.

SayWhat allows you to take a picture, “process it,” and then see the results in a little pop-up window. Scanning results in English were heartening as I was able to scan a little bit of magazine text and receive an acceptable response but once I tried something in another language, the app choked. Spanish was right out and even when I printed something in large print I was unable to get it to recognize anything. The first two shots are from an English magazine and the last shot is from one of many attempts I performed using a Spanish language song.

Scanner Pro, on the other hand, is almost perfect at scanning but does not allow for OCR interaction except on the desktop. In this app, you take a photo of a page, select the corners of the page using an intuitive interface, and then allow the app to perform its tricks. The result is an almost perfect black on white image of a page suitable for printing, OCR, or storage.

Together, these apps should have worked amazingly well. You could feasibly scan a page in Scanner Pro and then use it in SayWhat but, sadly, this did not work. In very rare cases did SayWhat work as advertised and I was, in the end, unable to translate anything. As a result, I’m loathe to recommend it in its current state.

However, if you’re looking for a fairly easy way to grab shots of printed text for use in research and homework, Scanner Pro may be the app for you. I looked at a number of OCR and scanning apps and this one was the one that seemed to get the job done with the most accuracy. Obviously you’re dealing with a few more steps with this app and you could be better served by simply taking pictures of the things in question with the default camera app, but Scanner Pro adds a bit of value but reducing the pages to pure black and white text.

In an ideal world, Scanner Pro would follow SayWhat’s lead and add OCR and translation. However, as it stands, SayWhat is hobbled by poor programming and Scanner Pro is hobbled by the inability to read what it’s scanned. Put them together and you’ll have a juggernaut. Has anyone found an app that can perform consistently in different environments?