business cards

You attend a conference, you meet lot of new people and you usually exchange business cards with them. Thus, over the years, you’ve collected hundreds of business cards – some are useless and can be safely thrown into the trash bin but the other cards do carry important phone numbers and other contact information that you would like to store digitally in your phone’s address book or even the cloud – like Google Contacts.

So how do you import all those business cards into your phone’s address book?

Few years ago, you would have probably considered buying a dedicated scanner for reading business cards but not anymore. Now we have access to some excellent mobile apps that can turn any phone into a business card reader. The apps are smart – they have OCR capability to extract the characters from the scanned photo and can also recognize the various fields in the business card like your contact’s email address, phone number, and other details.

What do you need to get started?

These business card scanner apps are available for all mobile platforms and some will even work with mobile phones that have a low-resolution camera or don’t have one at all.

Business Card Reader Apps for your Mobile

The first mobile app that you may want to try is Google Goggles. This is a free app for iPhone and Android based mobile phones that uses your phone’s built-in camera to scan a business card, perform OCR and then offers you to an option to add the scanned data as a new contact to your phone’s address book. Here’s a demo from Google Slam:

In my testing with about half a dozen different visiting cards, I found Google Goggles fast though the text recognition accuracy was only above average. It seemed to work very well with cards that used slightly larger fonts but almost always failed at extracting postal addresses from business cards.

Also, you would need to be in a 3G or Wi-Fi zone to scan business cards using Google Goggles as the OCR probably happens on Google servers.

The next app that I tested was CardMunch. This is from the LinkedIn family and unlike any other Business Card app that use bots, CardMunch employs real people who transcribe your scanned business cards into digital contacts.

CardMuch works something like this. You download the app on your iPhone (the BlackBerry version is coming soon), log in with your existing LinkedIn account and then snap a picture of any business card. The image is instantly uploaded to CardMunch servers where actual humans will convert the card into a digital contact and it is then pushed down to your phone.

The transcription is accurate and the service works just as advertised. There’s a brilliant fire mode where you can scan multiple business cards in quick succession and send them all to CardMunch for transcription in one go.

CardMunch is an iPhone app but works just fine with the iPad camera as well. The downside is obvious – it’s not instant but you won’t have to wait for more than a few hours to get your scans. Also,in some cases, the human transcribers ignored parts of the card that I would have really liked to include into the phone address book.

The next scanner app that I tried is Abbyy’s Business Card Reader available for both Android and iPhone.

There are several things to like about Abbyy’s app. First, the app performs OCR offline and thus you can scan business cards anywhere without requiring an active data connection on your phone. In my tests, I found the transcription results from Abbyy highly accurate and in some cases, it even recognized text written in very small fonts with relatively fewer errors.

If you have a mobile phone with a low-resolutions camera (like an old iPhone), you’ll particularly like the Abbyy app. That’s because you can capture pictures of the business card separately with a digital camera, transfer them to your mobile and then use the Business Card Reader app to transfer those picture into your phone’s address book as new contacts.

Related reading: Things to do with a Camera Phone

One more thing – whatever app you choose for scanning those business cards, do make sure that there’s enough lightning in the room and that there are no shadows on the card.