iOS scanning apps

I have a bunch of stuff in my head that I’ve been meaning to organize and turn into blog posts, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. So I’m going to take a little time today, on a Sunday morning, to try to get a few of them out. So I may post three or four items today. Or I may post just one, then the schedule the rest to go out over the next few days. Or I may get halfway through this one, and get distracted by something, and post nothing. So you’ve been warned.

Anyway, my first item is going to be on iOS scanning software. By this, I mean apps that make it easy to take a photo of a document, then clean it up a bit and store it somewhere. I think that the first app like this that I ever used was something called CamScanner. I first found out about it when a client at work sent me a printout that he’d “scanned” with a free version of CamScanner that put a watermark on the scan. (At the time, there was a free version that watermarked the scans and a paid version that didn’t. This was probably ten years ago.) I thought it was kind of a funny way of sending me the information I needed. The “right” way (in my mind) would of course be to have printed it to PDF and sent me the PDF. (Or to take a screenshot and send me a JPG or BMP or whatever.) Printing it on paper, then taking a photo of the paper with a cell phone struck me as a deeply weird workflow. (Printing it, then scanning it with a traditional desktop scanner would also have seemed weird, but a little less so.)

Anyway, using your phone as a scanner has become a much more accepted workflow over the years, and there are now a bunch of apps that you can use for that. And the ability to scan a document is built into a bunch of other apps. I’ve continued to use CamScanner myself on and off over the years, and paid for the “pro” version (or whatever they called it) quite a while ago. But, at some point, the design of the app changed and they started adding a bunch of ads and popups and cruft to it, and it started to seem a little scammy (for lack of a better word). I would still use it once in a while, and it still worked well enough. But, recently, the Android version of the app was found to have some malware in it. The malware was coming in from their advertising library, and was not built into the app itself. (And it only affected the Android version and not the iOS version.) Still, it’s not a good thing. So I decided to delete it from my phone and look at alternatives.

The Evernote app has had the ability to take and add photos to your notebooks for a long time, of course, and they can treat the photos as documents, and straighten them out and OCR them and all that stuff. So I’ve been using Evernote for that a lot anyway. Evernote also has a standalone scanning app called Scannable. I’m honestly not sure why you’d want to use that rather than just directly using the Evernote app, but maybe it’s worth looking into.

There are a number of other apps that have document scanning built into them, generally with the idea that you’d scan a document in, and store it in the service associated with the app.

  • The built-in iOS Notes app has a document scanner. It was added in 2017 and is apparently really good. I don’t use Notes though, so it’s not the best option for me. (I know I can get the scans out of Notes via the share sheet, but it’s still not a great workflow for me.)
  • Google Drive has a document scanner built-in on Android, but not on iOS. The iOS app does allow you to take photos and add them to Google Drive, but it doesn’t have any of the usual document scanning extra features.
  • Adobe has a scanner app that looks pretty good, but I honestly don’t even want to try it, since I don’t want to have to get into the whole Abode ecosystem if I can avoid it.
  • The Dropbox app has built-in document scanning, but I’ve been trying to move away from Dropbox.
  • The Microsoft OneDrive app can scan documents and store them in (of course) your OneDrive account. I use OneDrive, so I tried that, and it works OK, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the workflow. (And I often want to scan something to my camera roll, not to OneDrive.)
  • Microsoft also has a standalone app called Office Lens that does a pretty good job of document scanning and can easily save the scan to your camera roll (or OneDrive or OneNote or a few other places). That works well enough for me that I’ve decided to use that as my CamScanner replacement (for now).

There are a handful of dedicated scanning apps that might be worth looking into. I’ve bookmarked a few, but haven’t actually tried any of them out.

  • Genius Scan looks kind of interesting. There’s a free version, an $8 “plus” version and a subscription version that costs $3/month.
  • Scanner Pro is a scanning app from Readdle. I’ve never used any of their apps, but (last I checked) they have a good reputation. It seems to be oriented mostly towards scanning to PDF and doing OCR. It got a good review on MacStories a few years ago. It currently costs $4.
  • Scanbot is another app that’s been around a while and seems to have a good reputation. The Sweet Setup lists it as their best scanning app for iOS. The pricing is a little confusing. There’s a free Scanbot app in the app store, with an in-app purchase of $7 to unlock the “pro” version. But there’s also a separate “pro” version, priced at $70. So that’s weird. And when I dug into it a bit more, it looks like they’re going to a subscription model. If there’s any information about the subscription pricing on their blog, I couldn’t find it, but I found a blog post from a user that indicates that it’ll be $22.50/year. (I guess this was announced just recently.) So I guess I don’t want to get mixed up in that right now.

In a nutshell, I’ll likely be using a combination of Evernote and Office Lens for my scanning needs, for now. I’ll use Evernote for stuff I want to store in Evernote, and Office Lens for stuff I want to save to my camera roll or OneDrive. I might give Readdle’s Scanner Pro a try at some point, or maybe play around with the scanner in the iOS Notes app, but I guess I’m OK for now.

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