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App Review: Business Card Reader from Shape Services

Mon, 12/07/2009 - 8:55am
Andrew Berg

It seems like printed materials of all kinds are approaching obsolescence, and business cards are no exception. Try Business Card Reader, an app for the iPhone from Shape Services, and you'll know what I mean.

I approached this app with a fair bit of skepticism. Any camera-based app that comes with a caveat (i.e. good lighting is a key factor) usually ends up disappointing (i.e. certain barcode scanners). Nevertheless, I gave it a shot.

I have an ever-growing stack of business cards on my desk. Shuffling through them for a contact is a pain, and entering them all into Outlook sounds like about as much fun as watching paint dry. Business Card Reader, which sells for a hefty $5.99 at Apple's App Store, emerged as the hero of my day.

Business Card Reader Mobile AppThe idea is simple: Take a picture of a business card with your iPhone and the program automatically populates a new contact form with the correct information from the business card. I tried this app under gleaming fluorescents, as well as in a conference room with dubious lighting conditions, and experienced no problems. Given the wildly differing formats of business cards, it's actually quite impressive that nine out of 10 times the correct information ended up in the correct fields.

I had to do a minimal amount of tweaking to the contacts once they'd been scanned and entered into a form. In certain cases, fax numbers got confused with other numbers and occasionally, extensions were lumped in with a contact's main number. But overall, the technology worked better than expected and has all but eliminated the pile of cards sitting on my desk.

Another nice feature of Business Card Reader is that the actual pictures of the cards are saved in memory and can be browsed as needed. There's also a built-in browser that allows users to conduct a LinkedIn search of a scanned contact and read LinkedIn profiles without leaving the program.

Business Card Reader isn't exactly a new concept. The Samsung Omnia launched with a similar native application and there may be other handsets that also offer the feature. While I like the app, it's probably best suited for after the convention or trade show, when you've got a fist full of cards and have a half hour to sit down and scan them. If you're looking for on-the-go contact trades, you might want to try Bump (available for the iPhone and Android), which allows users to "bump" their phones together and immediately trade electronic business cards over Wi-Fi. 

Perhaps I was a little hasty in pronouncing the death of the business card. In the case of Business Card Reader, you still need the card to scan. And in the case of Bump, you pretty much have to run into someone who's as much a geek as you are and has the application downloaded to their phone.

Business Card Reader is compatible with the iPhone and iPod Touch and requires iPhone OS version 3.1.

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