Business Card Reader from Shape Services – instant business card recognition for your iPhone for $5.99

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Shape Services released an iPhone and iPod Touch application over the weekend that they claim will help convert the mountain of business cards you’ve collected into names in your iPhone address book. The description of the application says it will “import contact information right from business card to your iPhone contacts! Just take a photo of a business card and a New Contact is added!”. So how well does this $5.99 program work in real life?

Here’s my sample business card.

I tried the same test on about half a dozen business cards of varying styles with similar accuracy and results. Some were the same, others were worse, most had similar results. Your mileage may vary based on lighting conditions and whether there’s writing on the card, font style, etc.

Here’s the actual image from my iPhone 3GS. In order to take the photo I setup a small fluorescent desk lamp to prevent shadows. I did a test last night that did not use any special lighting setup and the accuracy did not seem to vary.

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For this test, other than some decent lighting, I did not prepare the card other than to try to fold out any creases.

The Business Card Reader application was remarkably accurate at pulling off phone numbers and even addresses. The total time from picture to transcribed address was about 20 seconds.

It scored a perfect match on transcribing my business card. There were however issues with this example as well as all my test cards concerning what fields the data was placed into the address book.

You’ll see from the image below that there’s a LinkedIn Lookup that allows you to cross reference any name to a LinkedIn profile.

When I viewed my LinkedIn profile I was able to save a link to the page of information only if there was not anything already in the iPhone address book home page URL field. If there was something in that field the LinkedIN URL would not save over the top of it.

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Here’s the address portion of what Business Card Reader transcribed. The total time from taking the image to obtaining this transcription was perhaps 20 seconds – and that included getting the lighting to an acceptable level.

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All of the data was correct. There were no apparent errors until I looked into the actual fields themselves.

One issue is the data is not perfectly placed into the correct fields.

For example the first and last name were not in the correct fields. Instead the whole name goes into the first name field on the iPhone address book.

Whether this is a big problem for you depends upon how you use your contact names. If you only need contacts for quick lookups on your iPhone and you will never synchronize to the desktop to create mail merges then this may be acceptable.

If however you are using something similar to Google Sync to take data off your iPhone and place it into your Google Contacts then this misplacement of field position could pose a problem unless you spend time on the iPhone correcting field positions.

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I noticed a similar problem with the separation of the address fields. The information itself was 100% correct. The placement was all into the first address field instead of also using the city, state and zip code fields.

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Business Card Reader from Shape Services is an extremely useful program that I have no doubt will only get better in future releases. As tested it worked remarkably well at transcribing the data on most of my business cards, including some in poor light.

The transcription was very good – but certainly not perfect on every single card tested. For the $5.99 that the company charges I think it would be very tough to beat the level of accuracy. Your results will vary, as did mine, depending on the type and quality of business card. Because no two business cards are alike it’s reasonable to expect some variations in transcription quality to occur.

Where the program needs improvement is in the positioning of fields. Instead of placing the whole address into the first address line, it should break out the street address, city, state, and zip code.

Technically Shape Services Business Card Reader works with either an iPod Touch or iPhone (OS 3.1+) however for ease of use you’ll likely want to use an iPhone 3GS with autofocus for best image quality. The company recommends a macro lense such as the Griffin Clarifi for older iPhone models that don’t have an autofocus camera. If you use the program with an iPod Touch you’ll have to load the image from another source since the Touch lacks a camera.

Link: Business Card Reader for iPhone – $ 5.99 (iTunes)

What I Liked:
– Accurate for most business cards
– Fast – under 20 seconds to transcribe
– Very convenient
– Can also provide LinkedIN URL provided there’s nothing in the contact’s home page URL

What Could Be Improved:
– Insert data to proper fields
– Improve integration to LinkedIN – store link no matter whether there’s a value in the home page URL field

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About the Author

Wayne Schulz
Wayne is a diehard Android user and consultant specializing in Sage 100 ERP Accounting Software. He lives in Glastonbury CT with his two children. When not helping them with their homework or pushing the latest school fundraiser off on his co-workers, he is active hiking and investigating all manner of technology.