Persistent critters, those little analog cardboard rectangles. Even with the option to scan QR Codes, email vCards or bump phones to swap contact information, the venerable business card keeps on trucking -- and keeps on making it challenging to leap from analog to digital information.
If your career or avocation takes you to meetings, trade shows or conferences, chances are you too have a pile of to-be-dealt-with business cards that could stand a good digital shakedown. Here's our five apps rundown of a few good choices for handling business card scanning on the go.
SHAPE's Business Card Reader: Last year, we noted that the US$4.99 Business Card Reader expanded its offerings with an iPad version of the app. BCR delivers capable scanning and OCR (using libraries licensed from high-end scanning developer ABBYY, which has its own app suite as well), with a good verification step to make sure that the recognition is matching the actual card data.
BCR can quickly export scanned data to your device address book, match LinkedIn connections, and in the latest version it hooks directly into the CRM tools of Salesforce.com for marketing and sales pros.
Evernote Hello: I wasn't all that taken with the first version of Evernote's free meet-and-manage contact app; it was buggy, and it seemed awkward to ask a new acquaintance "Mind if I take your picture so I remember you?" Things have definitely changed for the better with January's version 2 release. In addition to manual entry and Hello-to-Hello audio contact sharing (very cool, I recommend giving it a try), the beautifully designed app now supports business card scanning -- temporarily free for both regular and premium Evernote users, although at some point down the road the regular user scan allowance may be curtailed or changed to IAP.
Evernote's expertise with text recognition and knowledge of the iPhone's camera capabilities seems to have paid off, as Hello is now delivering some of the best and quickest scan results I've seen. My favorite feature is the heads-up display that automatically detects the card and gives you instant feedback on getting the best image ("use a shallower angle," "center the card," "hold the phone steady," etc.); as soon as Hello thinks it's got the shot, it captures the scan automatically. If it can't auto-detect, it falls back to manual mode, but most of the time with a light card on a dark background it nails it in one try. Within a few seconds, the data is detected, and if you're signed into LinkedIn via Hello, the card will be matched with that contact immediately. Hello also links a "meeting" note to give context to the encounter, rather than leaving a bare contact without metadata.
Some minor quibbles aside (you can't edit the Hello notes in either the desktop or iOS versions of the regular Evernote app, for one), Hello is a winner. Without a firm date or pricing for the end of the free scan trial for non-premium Evernote users, my recommendation is to use it while you can.
LinkedIn's CardMunch: With more than 2 million cards processed already, the free scanning app from your friendly neighborhood social network for professional use has simplicity and volume on its side. Assuming you already use LinkedIn's connection ecosystem, CardMunch's scanning speed and off-device processing make it great for dealing with a lot of cards in batch mode, and you can make notes on each scan before it's recognized on the back end.
Of course, the trade-off of the cloud processing step is that you can't easily OCR cards on the plane on the way home without forking over for some WiFi. Also, checking for errors is a two-step process since the scan and the data return are a few minutes apart -- but CardMunch tends to make fewer mistakes than other apps, so that's not a big drawback.
WorldCard Mobile: When I last checked out the $6.99 WCM app a year ago, it stood up well against competitors like CardMunch and BCR. Since then, the app has added QR Code scanning with support for both vCard and meCard formats, iOS 6 compatibility, support for double-sided cards, batch scanning, duplicate search and direct synchronization with Google contacts.
WCM's interface is still in need of some redesign TLC, but for rapid and accurate scanning, it's a good choice. Note that WCM also requires you to tap a small button on the screen to take a card photo, while other apps let you tap the whole screen or auto-detect the card (Evernote Hello).
NeatCloud and NeatMobile: If you're in the habit of keeping all your print-to-digital documents in the Neat ecosystem driven by one of the company's desktop scanners, you're already comfortable with the OCR and filing capabilities of the platform. What's new is that Neat is extending your scanned repository into the cloud and onto your iPhone, with the NeatMobile / NeatCloud combination app and service.
NeatCloud gives you on-the-road access to your scanned docs, and in turn the NeatMobile app allows you to scan back to that pile of data from wherever you happen to be. This sync isn't a free service, however; monthly plans start at $5.99 for individual users. As such, the mobile app doesn't worry much about handling address book sync or other standalone features; the workflow is that you'll do that processing back on your Mac or PC with the downloaded scans.
Neat's app does a solid job of scanning business cards in standalone mode, but for true accuracy with a human touch the optional NeatVerify pass submits your scan for a once-over by a person to make sure everything is in the right place. NeatVerify credits are linked to your NeatCloud account.