by Craik Pyke on 11/02/10 at 5:00 am
Craik Pyke is telecommunications architect and software developer specializing in mobile applications and an editor for iPhoneCTO.
A single, consolidated address book has been an alluring promise going back as far as the
original Palm Pilot. This rise of the smartphone in North America, triggered most recently by the iPhone has brought us a good deal closer to that dream. We can now easily synchronize contacts between the iPhone, the Mac Address Book and Exchange; or between the iPhone, the Mac Address Book, and Google’s services.
One problem has, at least for me, lingered…. I have a mountain of business cards. I have more than one binder like this:
There are 150 pages in this book with 10 cards per page. Now, perhaps it’s just because I’m a pack-rat for cards, but it’s been an issue that has kept my address book fragmented and disorganized; a problem that must plague others given that there are no less that a half dozen business card scanning applications in the Apple App Store.
There were three applications that caught my eye when I realized that there must be “an app for that”. The first was WorldCard Mobile , the second was CardSnap Business Card Scanner , and the third was Business Card Reader . I can only compare two of them because just from my perusal of the App Store detailed descriptions, I was put off of CardSnap. CardSnap is ‘not’ an OCR application. You take the picture and it sends it to a processing center where humans read the card and enter the details then send it back to you. That just doesn’t sit well with me for a number of reasons.
I purchased and tried both WorldCard Mobile and Business Card Reader. I gave an initial try to a business card that I suspected would give most OCR algorithms fits.
First up – Business Card Reader. The OCR on the the 11 of 12 cards I tried, was not very good. The screenshot from my iPhone should give you a notion of the sort of results I was getting.
Business Card Reader quite simply put, does not do a good job of character recognition. I tried cards with extremely straight forward typeface and did not have a single instance where I didn’t have to correct multiple fields. Additionally, not once would it correctly parse street address, city, state/province, and zip/postal code; every time it would smash together the results into one field.
What I did like about Business Card Reader was that it gave me an option to merge the card it creates with a contact already in my address book. Additionally, it automatically populates the contact picture with the photo of the card. And lastly, within the application it stores a “card holder” of all my scanned cards.
Unfortunately, poor OCR and constant fiddling with the address outweighed the nice user interface and the “card holder” feature.
Enter WorldCard Mobile. I purchased the simplest edition of WorldCard which doesn’t have Simplified Chinese, Japanese, or Korean support. Those versions are available in the App Store. Of the 12 cards I tested, WorldCard mobile required correction on 7. The OCR is just plain better in WorldCard Mobile.
The most annoying bits of of this app however, was its assumption that all addresses are in the United States of America despite the fact that my iPhone region setting is set to Canada. It also had what seems to be a difficult time handling standard 10 digit phone numbers, insisting that most required a leading zero. The other items that bothered me are exactly the items I liked about Business Card Reader, namely the ability to merge with existing contacts, the setting of the contact photo to the scanned business card and retaining the scanned cards in the application.
It’s interesting to me that the “pros” of Business Card Reader are exactly the “cons” of WorldCard Reader. In effect, it tells me that the application developer really understands the required user experience. But the “cons” of Business Card Reader (which is are the “pros” of WorldCard Mobile) are the most significant part – the raw functionality. It’s for this reason alone I’d recommend WorldCard Mobile over Business Card Reader. While the user experience is a significant point, functionality has to be complete. Of course, the best application would be mashing the
two together and only keeping the best parts of both.
All being said, the iPhone business card reader applications are finally giving me the ability to toss my binders of business cards… but there’s still work to do to make the experience seamless.A single, consolidated address book has been an alluring promise going back as far as the original Palm Pilot. This rise of the smartphone in North America, triggered most recently by the iPhone has brought us a good deal closer to that dream.