Turn your iPad into a portable scanner

One word that I’ve consistently used to describe the usefulness of the iPad in my ministry is “versatility.” And as developers continue to create new apps, the range of practical uses for the tablet only increases. I was happy with my iPad last week. I’m even happier with it today — now that it has also become a portable document scanner.

What might a pastor want a portable scanner for?

  • Scan the church guest register on your way out from worship Sunday morning so you can follow up on visitors during the week.
  • Scan documents from pastors’ conferences so you don’t have to carry extra paper around.
  • Keep track of your travel expenses and other receipts.
  • Capture your hand-written notes for reference or to share with others.
  • Take a snapshot of the whiteboard after a strategic planning session.
  • Scan an article from a magazine that you found in the waiting room — either to finish reading it later or to use as a sermon illustration.

Of course, as long as you had at least a second generation iPad you could always take pictures with it, including pictures of pieces of paper and other written words. But the iPad 2’s camera was weak (and even worse, my first generation iPad had no camera at all). Apple’s new tablet has a much improved lens, but what really changed the game was Readdle‘s brand new app (well, new to the iPad — apparently it’s been out for the iPhone since 2009) called Scanner Pro ($6.99 in the iTunes store).

With Scanner Pro, you take a picture of whatever it is that you want to file away for future use or handy reference — say, a document from a convention you are attending. But immediately you’re given the ability to carefully select just the element from the picture that interests you. The cropping interface is simple and quick on the touch screen. Then you’re presented with the choice of saving the scan in photo or document form, with sliders to increase/decrease the brightness and contrast. Once your scan is saved on your iPad, it can be sent to just about anyplace you might want. You can email or print, but you can also upload it to services such as Dropbox, Google Docs or Evernote. You can open it as a JPEG in any app that manipulates photos, or you can access it as a PDF document in apps like Pages, GoodReader, Kindle (and many more) for viewing and/or markup. If you scan in multiple pages of a document, Scanner Pro will let you organize them in a single file.

Scanner Pro doesn’t seem to have an OCR functionality, so pictures of words are just images and can’t be immediately edited as text. But one work around is to send your scans to Evernote which even offers (somewhat limited) hand-writing recognition of notes you upload. Of course, in that case I suppose you could also just use the Evernote app and skip the middle man.

The difference between this app and Evernote (or just taking pictures of documents and storing them in Photos) is that Scanner Pro adds a handy cropping tool, manual adjustments for lighting, automatic conversion to a PDF, and an impressive number of output options. The app is universal iOS, which means that the same purchase will also work on your iPhone if you have one.

Some point out the many things that you can do on your laptop or desktop that you can’t do on an iPad. But they often overlook the growing list of functions and features that only tablet computers offer. Now you can add portable scanning to that list.

PastoralCare devotional app

The one tool a pastor always has with him as he makes visits is a Bible. These days, you might even consider leaving the Good Book at home and simply using one of the many Bible apps that are available for your smart phone or tablet. Now another very useful resource has been prepared for use on your iPhone or iPad: The Lutheran Service Book: Pastoral Care Companion.

The app is iPhone-only for now, but of course it also works on an iPod Touch, and the publishers say that the app will soon be upgraded to work natively on the iPad as well.

The PastoralCare app includes resources to use in many different ministerial tasks. Bible readings, hymn verses and prayers are given for the many different situations a pastor might normally find himself in: ministering to prisoners, the sick, the elderly, the lonely, and the dying; but also rejoicing with those who are celebrating a new birth, an anniversary, or other blessed events.  There are rites for conducting weddings, funerals, and more. You’ll also find prayers for your devotional time, and even a dynamic calendar of propers (designated readings for each Sunday in the liturgical church year).

This is an excellent resource that I’m glad to have with me no matter where I go (well, as long as I have my iPhone or iPad, which means everywhere but at the gym). You can purchase the book ($32.40 at cph.org), or the Kindle version ($28.80 at amazon.com), but this iOS app is a real bargain ($19.99 in iTunes).

The publishers of PastoralCare are the same that brought us the excellent PrayNow app. Both of them serve well as devotional apps for pastors and laity alike.


My favorite iOS universal apps

Someone asked me once, “Why would I need an iPad when I already have an iPhone? Don’t they run all of the same apps?” Precisely! That’s the advantage of owning both Apple devices — virtually all the applications that you purchase for one will work on the other. The best developers offer what are called “universal apps.” That is, a single download (and payment, if not free) gets you an app which will look custom made on both your iPhone (or iPod Touch) and your iPad. This clearly gives you the best bang for your buck, so I’m always on the lookout for universal apps.

Here are some of my favorite apps that work well on both the iPhone and the iPad. They may work differently on each of the devices, but they are well adapted for the different screen sizes and potential uses. It’s no coincidence that these are among some of my most used apps.

  1. Instapaper. After installing a bookmarklet in your browser, you can send any news article or blog post with a single click to your “read later” queue. Instapaper removes all the ads and unnecessary graphics, leaving just a simple page of text that you can read on the go. I use the iPhone app when I’m waiting in the doctor’s office, and the iPad app when I finally get to relax on the family room couch at night.
  2. Bible +. This is the app from Logos (formerly Libronix) which brings the Bible and hundreds of other religious texts to your fingertips. The Logos desktop program is excellent for text analysis and in-depth word studies. But it’s hard to read at length from the computer screen. When I come across a reference to a lengthier quote from Luther, I prefer to open it up in my iPad app and take it over to my favorite easy chair.
  3. Dropbox. DropBox has rescued me more than a couple times when I’ve forgotten to bring a hard copy of a certain document (say, my Sunday morning sermon or Bible class notes). Since I save almost all my working documents on my DropBox folder on my harddrive, they are automatically synced online and accessible over the internet on any iOS device with the app installed.
  4. Evernote. I put my larger documents in DropBox, but smaller notes go in Evernote. It’s perfect for the dozens of little notes that you write to yourself or lists that you keep.
  5. Netflix. Clearly this app isn’t essential for ministry purposes, but even pastors need to relax sometime. With a Netflix subscription I can watch instantly any of hundreds of movies or TV shows. I enjoy watching some of the television series that I missed during my 14+ years in Brazil. Because it’s a universal app, I can pause a movie on my iPhone and then pick it up at the same place later on my iPad.
  6. Kindle. Similarly, books that I’m reading in Amazon’s Kindle app are automatically synced so that I can pick up reading at home where I left off when the mechanic said my car was finally ready. All the books I purchase digitally from Amazon are available on every device (including Android, etc) that I own.
  7. PrayNow. I’ve mentioned this devotional app before. Because it’s a universal app, I’m much more likely to get my daily Bible reading in, even on the busiest of days.
  8. Facebook. This is another non-essential app, although some have used Facebook to great effect in their ministry. It took Facebook a year and a half to come out with a universal version (the iPad app only was made available recently), but both versions are well done.
  9. 1Password Pro. With all the many passwords we need to keep in this digital age, I’m glad to have a program that stores them all for me and seamlessly keeps them organized on all the devices that I’m likely to need them.

These universal apps rise to the top for me because they scale well or take advantage of the strengths of each iOS device.

I’ve briefly considered trading in my iPhone for an Android, but then I realized I would have to invest in a new library of apps (many of them the same ones I mentioned above). An excellent marketing move by Apple to maintain my consumer loyalty. Oh, Steve, you had me at “App Store.”

The pastor’s library on an iPad

After preaching, teaching, and visiting, the activity that most occupies my time as a pastor during the week is reading. King Solomon wrote long ago: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Eccl 12:12). Fortunately, today we have tablet computers like the iPad which not only store more books than you can fit in a library, they make it easier to read anywhere you go. A perfect combination for the busy pastor.

Here are some items that a pastor might use his iPad for reading during the week:

  • Bible. Although this is most obvious kind of app that a pastor might read, I’m going to hold off and talk more in detail about Bible apps in a separate post. Suffice it to say, there are a number of options and they each have their own strengths. I most often use the Bible app from Logos and the YouVersion app, but the Glo Bible has a lot of neat features.
  • Devotional books. You may not find many dedicated apps for devotional reading, but one that I absolutely love is PrayNow. PrayNow is actually a digital version of the Treasury of Daily Prayer which I highly recommend. Both versions offer daily readings from the Old and New Testaments, another from the Church Fathers or some other theologian, and a daily prayer. In addition, you’ll find orders of service which will kick your devotional routine up a notch, so to speak. The advantage of the iPad app over the printed copy is that it automatically opens to the correct readings each day. The app also works perfectly on the iPhone for when you’re on the run.
  • Other books. There are many ways for reading all kinds of books on your iPad, whether for your ministry or for leisure. Apple’s iBooks app looks the prettiest, but the iBookstore selection isn’t as large as others. Amazon has a free Kindle app, and Barnes & Noble has one for their Nook. You don’t need to own either of those e-readers in order to download books from their stores. Classic literature by the thousands are available for free on all of these apps. The rest is usually substantially cheaper than the printed version.
  • Newspapers and magazines. Whether combing the news for a sermon illustration or reading the highlights of the game you missed due to an emergency call to the hospital, you can find it all on your iPad. Not only can you visit the same websites you would check out on your PC, many media outlets also offer dedicated apps. The New York Times app has limited content but a nice interface. I like the layout of the USA Today app, although I’m frequently distracted by their in-app crossword puzzle. Zinio is an excellent app for subscribing to a wide range of popular magazines which look exactly like the printed version, but with the added feature of being able to touch a picture and automatically have a webpage open up with more information.
  • PDFs. A lot of what I read on my iPad did not come from a publisher or a major media outlet. Most of it is content generated by regular people: essays presented at conferences, Bible studies, and more. Either it is sent to me in PDF form, or it is a hard copy which I scan into my computer for later reading. As soon as I get home from a church convention or pastors conference, I scan all the documents quickly and easily with my Fujitsu ScanSnap. Although you can sync PDF files with iBooks, I prefer reading them in GoodReader which allows me to annotate and highlight much more easily.
  • Instapaper.  This app is actually an online service, which installs a bookmarklet on your web browser. Whenever you come across an article or post on the internet that you don’t have time to read now but you don’t want to forget, click on the “Read Later” bookmark and the article is instantly saved to your Instapaper queue to be read at your leisure on any device. The other feature is that Instapaper scrapes out the ads and pictures and reduces the whole page to a simple text file. There are times when I put an article into Instapaper just because I can’t stand the formatting of the website it appears on.

I spent a good chunk of change in the seminary years building up a workable pastor’s library. Some of it succumbed to the mold during my years serving in Brazil and had to be thrown out. Some of it I just got tired of hauling around and now lies forgotten in a basement. The volumes I cherish the most are on a shelf in my office near at hand. Wherever the books are physically, I try to keep track of them on GoodReads.com. But as time goes on, more and more of my library is digital. You can’t see it looking impressive behind me on a bookshelf, but on the other hand, I carry the majority of my library with me wherever I go.

As a Lutheran pastor serious about the study of God’s Word and interested in how Christians across the centuries have understood it, I love that I can pull up any of the Church Fathers, the works of Martin Luther, or the writings of modern theologians anywhere at any time on my iPad. For heavy research and note taking, I prefer reading them on my desk computer or a laptop. But how awesome is having the option of working my way through Luther’s Bondage of the Will or the Augsburg Confession while reclining in a comfy chair in my backyard while the sun sets over the vineyard? If it looks like my eyes are closed, remember that Qoheleth warned us that “much study wearies the body.”

Would I be content with a (cheap) TouchPad for my ministry?

Perhaps you heard this week the news that HP has suddenly and without warning gotten themselves out of the tablet market. Earlier this year, the HP TouchPad had been touted by some as an “iPad killer” – that is, that HP’s device would be so good and so popular that no one would want an iPad anymore. Less than two months after the TouchPad’s launch, however, HP announced that they would not be selling them anymore and were scratching their work on the WebOS operating system that the TouchPad runs on. But what does this have to do with a blog that’s about pastors who use iPads?

First, I want to go on record as saying that I’m disappointed. I love my iPad, but I’m convinced that competition to Apple from other tablet makers will only be good for consumers in the long run.

But the real point of this post has to do with reports that the HP TouchPad has been found at drastically reduced prices online and at retail stores like Walmart and Staples. Apparently $499 (32 GB) or $399 (16 GB) for the HP slate was not attractive to many buyers. But $149 or $99 for the same devices has them selling like hotcakes. Retailers have seen them flying off the shelves (along with the dust that had accumulated over the last six weeks).

So, if I’m a pastor on a tight budget and I’ve been drooling over an iPad for a year but haven’t been able to justify the price (even with the help of this blog), should I jump on the opportunity to pick up one of these firesale tablets? Will it do for me what an iPad would do if I could afford one?

I had a chance to play with a TouchPad this weekend. My first impression is that the interface and performance were much better than I was expecting. (Maybe that reveals that I’m more of an Apple snob than I think.)  The apps were perhaps a tad slow to open at times, and the look and feel isn’t as slick as what I’m used to with the iPad, but overall I thought, “This is a nice gadget for $149.” Think of it this way: Amazon’s Kindle sells for just a bit less than that. The TouchPad not only has a Kindle app for books, it does quite a bit more besides, with a nice color screen. Read more of this post

Evernote for pastors

In my post on data collection apps that might appeal to pastors, I neglected to mention one of the best note-taking apps out there. Evernote existed as a desktop program when the iPad was still just a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye. It was created to compete with Microsoft’s under-appreciated OneNote on Windows, but eventually morphed into an even more powerful cross-platform note-taking software program. When I first bought a Mac in 2006, Evernote was a lifesaver in the way it seamlessly synced my notes between the family PC and the MacBook that I used for work. Individual notes are organized in notebooks and by tags and are fully searchable, making it quite easy to locate anything that you’ve previously stored.

But Evernote is a perfect example of an app that only met its full potential with the advent of smartphones and tablets. As handy as Evernote continues to be on my laptop, I began to use it much more frequently after I installed the free universal app on my iPhone and, later, my iPad (iTunes link). Mobility is the key to making Evernote an excellent “ubiquitous capture” tool as highlighted in David Allen’s GTD productivity routine. Any note or web clipping you add to one device is automatically synced with the others the next time you open them. No matter where I am, I can easily and quickly jot down a note that I can retrieve later. Add to the mix a built in camera on the iPhone or iPad 2 along with Evernote’s image recognition feature (Premium version only) and it’s like having a photographic memory.

Here are some uses for Evernote that might especially apply to pastors:

  • Store sermon illustrations, quotes, and ideas. Quickly write (or voice record!) ideas that come to mind during the week.
  • Make prayer lists. Add names as you make your visits and pull them up when you sit down for daily prayer.
  • Keep track of receipts. Snap a picture or scan the receipt when you get home.
  • Contact details. Add a photo to help you match names with faces.
  • Collect articles to be read later. Evernote has a handy clipping tool available for most browsers which allows you to – with one click – make a copy of a blog post or news article to be read at your leisure.
  • Make a to-do list. Checkboxes can be added to any note to make quick lists of tasks or anything else.

The free version offers unlimited storage “in the cloud,” but you can only upload up to 60 MB/month. This is more than enough if you only use Evernote to capture simple text notes. The Premium version, just $5/month, increases your monthly upload allowance to 1GB and permits any type of file to be added to notes — rather than just images and PDFs.

In my opinion, Evernote is one of the first apps that a pastor should install on his new iPad.


Data collection with an iPad

Watching Star Trek in my youth, I came to think of the space-age technology used in the show as falling into two categories: 1) “that’ll never happen,” and 2) “ohhh, I hope so!” In the first category I put things like warp drives and matter transporters: “advancements” that were either impossible by the laws of physics or so complicated that they would never be developed in my lifetime. The second category was full of items that were less showy perhaps, but highly practical.  That magic combination is probably what inspired gifted men and women to develop real-world applications of gadgets like communicators, tricorders and handheld computers.

Modern tablets like the iPad have a lot of showy media features, but the reason why they are here to stay is because of the “boring” ability to get things done. That includes collecting, storing and displaying data of all sorts. Consider the following uses for the pastoral ministry:

Record keeping. A church is not a business, a pastor is not its CEO, and the “bottom line” isn’t what steers its ministry. Still, the Lord requires faithfulness and good stewardship, which demands a certain level of organization. A pastor can find help with the chore of record keeping with a number of iPad apps. Apple’s iOS spreadsheet app, Numbers, is not as easy to use as its desktop version, but it can open up Excel files and modify them as necessary. Numbers comes with built in templates which include: Checklist, Auto Log, Budget, and Weight Loss & Running Log.  Other, more targeted apps could prove more helpful. One example is Attendance. Although the main intended use is for classrooms, the app can easily track attendance at any type of event, recurring or otherwise. Read more of this post

Media enhanced ministry

The iPad was clearly designed with media in mind.


Let me qualify that: The tablet’s strength seems to lie in the area of media consumption rather than production.  The average user is much more likely to use it to watch, listen or display previously recorded media than to make his/her own audio-visual works of art. Public perception might be changing and more creative media uses are being seen, however, with the addition of cameras to the iPad 2 and with highly versatile apps like Apple’s own GarageBand and iMovie (only on iPad 2).

The screen resolution and the audio quality are comparable to what you might find in your average laptop, but what sets the iPad apart is its superior portability. Picking up an iPad for the first time can feel like you’re holding in your hand a portable window into a whole different world. There’s something about being able to simply pass a video or slide show around the room or across the table, to put a PowerPoint presentation right into somebody’s hand.

Here are some ways to use the media features of your iPad in ministry settings:

  1. Create a slideshow of pictures (or a video) of your church’s activities. You can take italong on visits to prospects and show them what your church is like. Show them faces of the people that they will meet, or maybe a video clip of your worship service, so it will feel more comfortable when they visit on Sunday morning. Read more of this post