(Finally) Some Good Use for the Camera Phone


I've been reading some mentions/reviews of Evernote on various sites so I decided to try it out for myself. Right now, the latest beta version is by-invitation only. I tried my luck at their invitation-only beta registration and was lucky enough to get an invite the next day. Since then I have sent out 5 (of the 10 invites) to my friends.

The coolest feature of Evernote is its ability to recognize text within images (see this demo video). The ability to recognize text in images is not something new but this is the first time I have seen it offered in a consumer application. Because of this, I finally found a good use for the built-in camera of my iPhone.

Text recognition is not built-in to the application itself. Instead anything that you store in Evernote is synchronized with the Evernote's servers (this allows you access your notes from the web). The text detection/processing is done at the servers and the metadata is sent back to your application. That means that unless you sync with the servers, you can't actually get text recognition. I think this is a good idea since it lets Evernote change its recognition algorithm without bothering the user with some software update.

So how good is the text recognition? I decided to do some experiments and come up with the following observations. These are merely observations so they are not rigorously tested. Also, expect the recognition capabilities to increase over time.

Old Intel Logo
It recognizes some non-standard letters like Intel's old logo on this mouse pad.

Vertical Intel Logo
It does not recognize vertical text well.

Is there an 'i' there?
In fact, for vertical text, its recognition seems to be pretty off; recognizing things that are not there.

DTrace Event Poster in Evernote
It probably only recognizes words in the English dictionary since it can't recognize "DTrace".

DTrace Event Poster in Evernote
It recognizes most words but might have some trouble pinpointing their exact location.

Symbol recognition in Evernote
I don't think it recognizes symbols well; it's probably optimized for numbers and letters.

Multicolored Word in Evernote
It seems to have trouble with multi-colored words like the Google logo.

So for better results, the text should be horizontally written, unicolored and contain only alphabets and numbers. But it works pretty well for most cases. It certainly beats having to enter information by hand.

So, will I continue using Evernote after its beta period? I am expecting that it will require a paid subscription for the ability to sync and recognize text within images but if the price is reasonable, I might continue using it. Moreover, if they decide to create a native iPhone app (an offer it for free for paid subscribers), the likelihood of using it is even higher for me. After all, there isn't a convenient way to sync notes between my iPhone and my computer. I'll definitely keep Yojimbo around though since it handles PDF and has some nice predefined containers for storing image, serial numbers, etc.

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