A long time ago,1 I published part one of a two part post on going “less paper”. Not paperless, as very few people can actually completely achieve this goal, but certainly everyone can greatly reduce their use of paper with a little help from technology.
Part one was about cloud services for document transfer and storage. Part two, I promised at the time, would be about iOS scanner apps. I would happily point you to that post right now, except that until today, it didn’t exist. This article you’re reading now is part one of part two of using less paper, and because you waited so long for it, I’m going to cover three iOS scanner apps rather than just the two I previously intended to review. I’m going to spread them across two posts, this first article covering my favorite app, and an upcoming second one covering some close contenders with a caveat.2
The iOS scanning app scene has changed a lot in the past year. In January of 2014, Ronnie Lutes and I talked about seven scanning apps on a certain pocketable podcast we used to have, and of those seven apps, I wouldn’t recommend any of them now. I don’t use any of those apps anymore, they are no longer on my iPhone, and unless I fall into an alternate universe where my current favorites don’t exist, I won’t ever use them again. The reason is simple: since episode 140 of Pocket Sized Podcast was published, iOS scanning apps have made a leap forward in simplicity, speed of use, and UI quality. The previous winners have been snoozing, and quite honestly, losing.
My current favorite iOS scanning app is Scanbot. I’m a sucker for a pretty UI, and Scanbot has wonderful, beautiful, magnificent UI, especially compared to the competition. Most scanning apps seem to be designed as though they’re targeted at business users who just want specific functionality and don’t care at all about looks, but the folks at doo GmbH clearly remember who their target customers are: iPhone owners and iOS users, people who presumably care a little bit about user experience.
Even the best looking apps also have to bring it in terms of functionality.3 If it doesn’t get the job done, users will sadly wave goodbye to the beautiful design and find an app that does. But that’s not a problem here, in my opinion, as Scanbot easily meets this requirement.
First and foremost, scanner apps need to scan. The previous kings of iOS scanning apps required more effort on the part of the user: dragging the border markers to page edges, manually taking the picture, adjusting contrast and brightness. Still, they seemed magical at the time, until apps like Scanbot started hitting the scene and awakening us to how easy document scanning with a mobile device should be.
With Scanbot, you open the app, point the camera at the document, and watch as the app detects the edges of the page and snaps the document image for you. Your only role in the process is to launch the app and get the camera pointed at the document such that the page is in the camera frame. Fast and easy is an understated way of describing it, especially when comparing it to the apps I reviewed last year for Pocket Sized Podcast. It’s smooth, and it’s irresistibly frictionless.
As you might expect, with great simplicity comes fewer options. The scanning process is incredibly simple, and normally quite sufficient, but on rare occasions the lack of ability to tweak contrast or lighting might be frustrating. Fortunately this doesn’t happen very often. Scanbot gets it right the majority of the time.
Scanbot does provide three basic scan editing functions: cropping, rotating, and choosing the document filter type. The options for filter type are No Filter (as photographed), Color, Gray, and Black & White, which is probably how you’ll see your scanned documents the most if they are primarily sheets of printed text material.
Where you’ll really start to love Scanbot is in the post-scanning phase of your document’s life. Now that you’ve created a digital copy of a paper document, presumably you’d like to store it in a location based on a paperless filing and organization system you’ve either come up with or been assigned by someone who gives you money to do as they say. Scanbot offers plenty of options here.
An important part of a digital document filing system is setting standard naming conventions for your documents. Searching for things that are randomly named according to whatever pops into someone’s head at any given moment is a nightmare. Scanbot has always featured the ability to set a default document name. Now it adds to that with its new Smart File Naming feature.
Smart File Naming still allows a default file name. In my case, I have that set to “receipt Month-Day-Year”, where “Month-Day-Year” obviously get replaced with the date of the scan. I do this because I scan all my receipts with Scanbot and upload them to Evernote. When it’s checkbook balancing time, I go through them and delete them as I either enter them or confirm they’ve already been entered. I can also easily keep any that I need to for long-term reference.
In addition to the default name, Smart Naming allows you to quickly add words indicating category or topic, location and/or business information, document type, and calendar event association. This is how the app designers themselves describe Smart File Naming on the Scanbot website:
Teach Scanbot your individual file name scheme by using a combination of dynamic placeholders you created on your own as well as pre-defined (time, year, month etc.) or location-related (street, country etc.) placeholders.
And in actual fact, it really is that easy and useful.
Once you’ve scanned your source material and given it a memorable, searchable name, it needs to go somewhere. Scanbot can hold all your scans in its internal library, but unless you’re the only person who ever needs to see your documents and you have an iPhone with copious amounts of storage, this probably isn’t how you’ll choose to live your life.
In order to simplify document storage and sharing, Scanbot allows you to quickly and easily save your scanned documents to the following cloud services:
- iCloud Drive
- Google Drive
- WebDAV servers
In addition, if you log in to any of these services in Scanbot, you can configure the app to auto-upload to any of them. I have all my scans automatically upload to Evernote because the majority of the time, that’s where they are ultimately headed anyway.
There are other options, of course, thanks to the standard iOS share sheet. The options for sending your document are limited only by your app purchasing imagination.
For me, Scanbot is the one ring to rule them all, because its developers understand not only the essence of document scanning with mobile devices, but also the importance of wrapping it in a beautiful, professional looking, pleasant to use app that truly creates the best scanning experience on iOS.
Nevertheless, there are challengers to Scanbot for those who use the Evernote web service and are comfortable storing their scanned documents there, namely the Evernote iOS app and Evernote Scannable. Both of these apps are created by Evernote. I’ll talk about and demonstrate those in the next post, which I promise will take me something less than two months to complete.