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Your smartphone is a scanner

Submitted by Ryan P.C. McQuen on October 2, 2011 – 10:42 pm2 Comments
What is optical character recognition and why does it matter to you?  

Optical character recognition is not quite as new as you may think. A Popular Science article from 1949 reported on a machine built by two RCA engineers, L.E. Flory and W.S. Pike, that analyzed typed text and spoke it through a speaker.

Today you can use optical character recognition on your smartphone to take a picture of a document and transcribe it into text. If you have an Android smartphone, download the free Google Docs app and use it to take a picture of a document which will then be uploaded and converted to Google Docs. I have successfully transcribed a typed document that had both French and English text, with nearly 100 percent accuracy.

Lighting can be an issue. Using flash or taking the picture under fluorescent lights yields better results than dark pictures in my own test.

If you are on iOS you can still upload to images to Google Docs for optical character recognition scanning, but the process is slightly more involved. There are free apps that will transcribe text, like Image to Text – OCR by Ricoh Innovations. The reviews on the App Store are positive and the price is right.

Even without a smartphone, take a picture with any digital camera and upload it to your Google Docs account and check the box that says “Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents.” Voilá! Your images become words.

Next time you need a document transcribed, let OCR do the work for you instead of typing, you will be glad you did.