Scan to Text with TextGrabber for iOS

January 15, 2015 by Gabe | [mmd] |

I know all the blogging outlets are currently enamored with Evernote's Scannable app. That's fine by me. Anything that gets rid of paper is super in my book.

But sometimes, I don't want a PDF or image, I just want text so I can put it somewhere useful. That's where TextGrabber comes in.

TextGrabber for iOS

After scanning, TextGrabber can immediately present a cropping window but there's not much button mashing to convert the photo to text.1

More importantly, it's two taps to put the text on the clipboard.

Here's the resulting text taken right out of TextGrabber:

BACTERIA AND BACTERIAL METABOUSM 
Single<ell microorganisms are ubiquitous in nature, including all 
brewing environments. The main reasons why beer has been brewed 
for so many centuries is that it is safe. Pathogenic bacteria,which are so 
dangerous in fermented foods, simply cannot survive in beer because of the low pH (3.8 to 4.5) and the alcohol content. In fact, a case can 
be made that the small number of bacteria that cause flavor problems 
in beer actually increase its nutritive value. For example, the version of 
brewers yeast sold at health food stores contains nontrivial levels of 
gram-negative rods and cocci. On the other hand, although low levels of bacteria in beer do not cause health problems, they can reduce 
Permentation 119

The line breaks are the biggest inconvenience but those are easily removed in an app like Editorial. The important part is that it did a pretty good job with relatively complex English words. It failed on the word "Matabolism" but come on, "rods and cocci"? That's some good OCR.

I'm finding this app more useful every week (I've owned it for years). While there are many excellent PDF and OCR apps for iOS, none of them are this direct and this accurate.

TextGrabber | Universal | $10

PDFPen Scan+

There are other options. I think TextGrabber is the fastest way to get text off of a physical object, but it may not be worth $10 if you own something else.

PDFPen Scan+ works well too, but takes longer. The interface is fine but each individual step feels more complicated.

Here's the text produced by PDFPen Scan+

Singlecell
BACIERIA AND BACTERIAL METABOUSM
microorganisms are ubiquitous in nature, including all
brewing environments. The main reasons why beer has been brewed
for so many centuries is that it issafe. Pathogenic bacteria,which are so
dangerous in fermented foods, simply cannot survive in beer because
of the low pH (3.8 to 4.5) and the alcohol content. ln fact,a case can
be made that the small number of bacteria that cause flavor problems
in beer actually increase its nutritive value. For example, the version of
brewers yeast
grain-negative
 sold at health food
rods and cocci. On
of bacteria in beer do not cause
 stores contains nontrivial levels ot
the other hand,although low levels
health
problems, they can
reduce

Notice how much worse the line breaks are with Scan+. Overall, the OCR is very high quality.

PDFPen Scan+ | Universal | $7

Scanbot

This is one of my favorite apps for mobile document scanning. It still feels a bit buggy on occasion but I love the simplicity that hides a powerful features for uploading documents to many of the services I care about.

Again, TextGrabber feels faster. Scanbot is great for quickly putting documents on my SFTP host. When I just want the text, there's no reason to save the scanned image. It feels like I'm forcing Scanbot into two different jobs.

Scanbot has the best looking interface and feature rich functionality of any scanning app I've used.2

Here's the raw text produced by Scanbot:

BACTERIA AND BACTERIAL METABOLISM
Singlecell microorganisms are ubiquitous in nature, including all
brewing environments. The main reasons why beer has been brewed
for so many centuries is that it is'safe. Pathogenic bacteria,which are so
dangerous in fermented foods, simply cannot survive in beer because
of the low pH (3.8 to 4.5) and the alcohol content. In fact, a case can
be made that the small number of bacteria that cause flavor problems
in beer actually increase its nutritive value. For example,the version of
brewer’s yeast sold at health food stores contains nontrivial levels of
gram-negative rods and cocci. On the other hand, although low levels
of bacteria in beer do not cause health problems, they can reduce

The OCR in Scanbot is also excellent.

Scanbot | Universal | Somewhere around $5 with one of many different in-app purchases

Use Cases

So why do this instead of just taking a photo? Because it makes an excellent transcription tool.

I prefer extracting the text from business cards with TextGrabber over scanning it into something like Evernote. Why take a photo of a business card when I just want to get the text so I can create a new contact or make a call.

If I want to call a printed number, I can grab the OCR text and paste it into the iOS dialer. No transcribing. This requires me to trust my OCR, though. Your sensibilities may differ.

This is super-awesome with Drafts. Only Scanbot supports a share sheet that includes Drafts. The others require copy and paste, like an animal.


  1. This is an excerpt from my well worn and much loved copy of George Fix's Principles of Brewing Science 

  2. I own about a dozen scanning apps. I do a lot of paper shredding each week. 

tags
iOS