There are many ways to use an iPhone to scan a document. The simplest way is to just take a picture with the Camera app, but there are other apps that let you do more. For example, a few months ago I reviewed an app called Scanner Pro by Readdle that does a very nice job of creating a PDF file from something that you scan. However, the PDF file merely contains a picture of the document; Scanner Pro does not create a searchable PDF. ABBYY FineReader Touch is a new app that lets you scan a document using your iPhone and then OCR the image (read all of the words) and save the file in one of many formats such as Word or PDF. ABBYY sent me a free review copy of the app and I've been testing it out. The app works pretty well, although it did leave me wanting for even more.
To use the app, you start by taking a picture of one or more pages in a document. You can turn on the iPhone's flash to try to get a better picture.
Once you scan the document, you can tap the image to make simple modifications: rotate the image (if necessary) and crop to the document edges. When you tap on a corner, a zoom circle appears to help you to get the four corners just right.
Once you have the page or pages scanned, you tell the app to convert the image, which involves selecting a file format and a language. The app supports a number of file formats including Word, Excel, PDF, text and RTF. I only tested Word and PDF. Also, I only tested the app with the English language, but ABBYY is an international company and the app supports 42 languages (up to three different languages in a single document).
When you tell the app to start recognizing the document, the app will bring you back to the home page of the app, which lists all of your documents. Documents that are processed and downloaded have a green bar. Documents that are processed but not yet downloaded have a blue bar. (Or, you can flip a switch in settings to tell the app to automatically download every file once the processing is finished, which in my opinion should have been on by default.) Documents that are still being processed have a yellow bar. In my tests, it took only about a minute to process a one page document. Note that you need to have an internet connection for the app to recognize the document because all of the processing takes places on the ABBYY website. Indeed, this app is really just an iPhone interface to the FineReader Online OCR Service.
Once the document is downloaded you can view it in the app or (probably more useful) choose to open the file in another app. For example, I scanned a letter that I created last August when I was testing Scanner Pro by Readdle, converted the letter to Word format, and then sent the file to Apple's Pages app. As you can see from the below image, the OCR is almost 100% perfect. (The app thought that the "R" in "Reese" of my law firm name was instead a "K" but everything else looks good.) The formatting is not perfect and some fonts are confusing (such as in the date), but overall it is not a bad OCR. You can tap/click the below image to see it larger and read the words. (Indeed, you can tap most images on iPhone J.D. to see the images twice as large.)
I saw worse results with some other files. For example, I scanned a page from one of my son's books that had a picture at the top and two columns of text. FineReader did a great job of recognizing what was a picture and saw the two columns without any trouble, but the OCR had a few more mistakes than I saw with the simple letter although it still got almost all of the words correct. Here is what the document looked like in MS Word on a computer:
One great feature of this app is that it not only lets you scan to PDF, but lets you create a readable PDF file. Readable PDF files are so much more useful because you can search for words within the file. Back to that letter I mentioned above, click here to see a sample of a PDF file that was created with FineReader Touch. Once again, the OCR accuracy was almost perfect. (This time it had no trouble recognizing "Adams and Reese" and the only mistake I saw was that instead of seeing the word "attorney" in the body of the letter the app saw the non-word "attomey". But I never expect OCR to be 100% perfect, so this result is satisfactory. I do, however wish that this app would let you convert a document to black and white to make a better looking file. Compare that (searchable) PDF that I just referenced with this (non-searchable) PDF file that I created last August with Scanner Pro by Readdle; the Scanner Pro PDF file is black and white but looks much nicer.
Since I have both apps, I tried to get the best of both worlds. I scanned a letter using Scanner Pro by Readdle, then saved the cleaned up black and white scanned image to my Photos app, then I told ABBYY FineReader Touch to load the image from the Photos app and process it into a readable PDF. Unfortunately, the end result was a lower quality document that looked like a second-generation fax, although FineReader Touch did an almost perfect job with the OCR. I guess you lose something converting from a picture to a PDF then back to a picture and then back to a PDF again.
This app costs $4.99 and that includes the processing of scans of 100 pages. If you want to scan more than that, you need to pay more: $2.99 for 20 pages, $4.99 for 50 pages, $6.99 for 100 pages and $9.99 for 200 pages. Although I do scan documents on my iPhone from time to time, I don't do it that often, so 100 pages will likely last me for a very long time and this price strikes me as very reasonable. On the other hand, if you plan to use this app to do a lot of scanning, you will have to pay a little more.
I haven't yet tried all of the other iPhone apps that let you scan and create readable PDF files, and it looks like many of them are a little cheaper than ABBYY FineReader Touch. I will note, however, that ABBYY is a well-established company has been in the document scanning business for a very long time, so that makes me trust the quality of this app.
ABBYY FineReader Touch lives up to its name. It is a fine app. It does a nice job (although not a perfect job) of reading words in images. It does a very good job of turning a scanned document into a Word document (frankly, about as good as any product I've seen on a desktop computer). The readable PDFs that it creates are not nearly as good as what you would get using a flatbed scanner and a computer, but for the most part that is not ABBYY's fault — the iPhone 5's camera is no match for a large, dedicated scanner. I do, however, wish that ABBYY would let you convert the file to black and white or otherwise optimize the scan to make the most of the images that the iPhone can take. While I see some room for improvement in what is only version 1 of this app, there is a lot to like. If you need to use your iPhone to scan and OCR documents to create Word or PDF files, you'll definitely want to check out this app.
Click here for ABBYY FineReader Touch ($4.99):