With a yellow icon and being featured in the "What's Hot" section in the AppStore, you have surely seen the Business Card Reader [iTunes Link] icon before. Developer SHAPE Services has experience with the iPhone with popular instant messaging app IM+.
As you could imagine from its name, Business Card Reader [iTunes Link] allows the iPhone user to scan the information from a business card. The app will take a picture of the physical card and will process the text written on it. Then, it will identify each individual word and assign it a field: Name, Surname, Company, Address, mobile number, landline number,… You get the idea. Now that the information is on the iPhone, Business Card Reader will be able to save the details as a contact in your iPhone's AddressBook. If you have set up a contact sync between your iPhone and desktop, now you can add new contacts to your records in a snap.
The process is quite straight forward. In a simple menu, the user can choose to take a picture of the business card or select a picture from the library. You can also access a "Card Holder" with your business cards. The look of the menu is not like your typical app. It resembles a shiny black leather jacket and all the buttons are shaped like cards sitting in a pocket of the wallet. The UI is much nicer than other similar apps, think of those that read barcodes. There is even a scanning animation to indicate the progress of the processing.
When it comes to using the app, there are some limitations: The current languages supported are English, German, Spanish, French and Italian. Any other language won't be recognized. SHAPE advises that owners of iPhone 2G or 3G will need additional equipment because the default quality of the camera app won't be enough. This app works, whoever, with the Auto-Focus capable 3GS. Business Card Reader also works with the iPod Touch range, but since they don't have camera, you can only scan what has been synched with the Photo library.
I have been testing this app with an iPhone 3GS with no camera gadget, just relying on the 3GS capability. I have tried different types of cards, different background colors, different fonts sizes and types, information laid out differently,… I have even tested it with addresses in some letters I had around my desk. When taking the pictures, I got as close as possible, making sure that the card covered the whole screen. This is quite difficult because you'll end up covering the card from the light. I used the focus to get a sharp finish. I also aligned the picture in the direction of the "This Side Up" sign. Then the app process the text and assigns it a field in the contact view. During my testing I have notices some mistakes in this process. While most of the time Name is identified correctly, for some reason a couple of times it used the city name as name. This was particularly annoying.
Another fault I see if that with small print or maybe with bad quality picture is that it fails to recognize some characters correctly. Surely the font used in one of the cards, the capital J was closer to a I and so BC Reader understood. This is a bit odd, specially because at times some letters will be recognized as numbers. This I think is the most disappointing part. If the app recognizes flawlessly the telephone number and a name, why does it try to fill in the gaps with a bad guess. Perhaps I'm asking for a lot, but I would expect a name to only contain letters and not numbers. The emails to have an structure "____@_____.com". Then it could be a sweet app.
Even considering the drawbacks, I think this app can be very useful for certain iPhone users. For people on the go, needing to collect data from clients on a regular basis, for example, this can be very useful. Even at the business professionals, other alternatives are much more expensive and require cables to your desktop. If you have to enter a fair amount of business cards' information in your AddressBook or any other system, this could save you some time from typing. If you have to record the information from more than four cards, you are going to be praying to make things faster. Business Card Reader can really be useful then. Be prepared to edit some of the mistakes that will appear from time to time and don't hesitate to try different takes to improve results.
The first time I tested it I was disappointed with some poor results, but as soon as I improved lighting conditions and was ready to change the occasional odd entry, I found it useful. The app will add the picture to the contact vCard so you can see how the hardcopy looked like. Doing this manually for 12 cards would have been a torture. One of the most surprising aspects from this app is that it scanned the text from the logo with various colors and then understands that's the company name. I like the integration with your AddressBook, since it gives you the chance to update your vCards merging data with existing ones, and even to retrieve from Linkedin. As the developer says, "no OCR software can guarantee yet 100% results". Again, be prepared to check the results looking for typos as you would do when entering the data manually. You can also export the text as simple text, that I found useful during the review to paste it in emails.
The app was useful although it doesn't guarantee perfect results. It is definitely a good addition to the iPhone that will help you, not only to update your contacts faster, but also more frequently. I recommend this app, because it will help you to have up to date contact records, making it fast and painless, and I think this is what it is all about.