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.

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Best iPad apps for Pastors

The modern tablet computer is the perfect tool in the hands of a pastor. Gadgets like Apple’s iPad offer great flexibility in carrying out the wide range of responsibilities that come along with the ministry. Here are 10 apps that a pastor should consider installing as soon as he gets an iPad.

Dropbox. There’s a good chance you already have this installed on your computer at home and/or in the office. Dropbox allows you to seamlessly share files across platforms. Once installed on your iPad, you have access to all your sermons, Bible studies, administrative resources and more. No need to remember to sync files before you leave the office. (iTunes store)

Evernote. Similar to Dropbox in that it also synchronizes files across devices and between computers, but Evernote is much more convenient for taking quick notes and sorting them into useful categories. See my review here. (iTunes store) (my review)

Accordance. This is currently my “go to” Bible app when I’m away from my desk. Other programs may have a more extensive library of books available, but I like Accordance’s agility and speed when it comes to things like Greek or Hebrew word searches. (iTunes store)

Pastoral Care. A wonderfully handy collection of devotions, prayers and Bible readings for a multitude of ministry situations. With this app on your iPad or iPhone, you’ll never be caught unprepared to share words of comfort, no matter what the circumstance. (iTunes store)

QuickOffice Pro. Although the glass screen of a tablet is not optimized for touch typing, there are times you simply need to work with documents while away from your main computer. QuickOffice helps you get the job done whether you’re working with Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files. (But do consider purchasing a wireless keyboard for the best experience!) (iTunes store)

GoodReader. I do a lot of reading on my iPad. Not just books (for which I prefer Amazon’s Kindle app), but especially PDFs from a variety of sources. Although there are a number of PDF readers (including Dropbox, Evernote, and QuickOffice listed above), GoodReader offers many more options for managing, reading and highlighting those files. (iTunes store)

Keynote. Apple’s Keynote application is seen by many as superior to Microsoft’s PowerPoint in ease of use, flexibility and beautiful templates. This iOS version is only slightly pared down from the full computer app, but just as breath taking in design. You’ll have an impressive presentation put together and ready to show in no time, importing photos directly from your iPad or the internet. All you need to do is plug in to a projector — or hand the tablet around the room. (iTunes store)

PrayNow. Pastors know how vital it is to feed their own souls with God’s Word even as they are called to nourish the faith of others. This app will dole out just enough Scripture each day to give a busy pastor plenty to chew on for his daily devotion time. Daily prayers and Bible readings from both Testaments are linked with selections from Christian writers of the past. (iTunes store)

OmniFocus. Speaking of busy schedules, how do you keep everything organized? My tool of choice is OmniFocus which is probably the most feature-packed task manager available for the iPad but also among the most elegant. The premium price is worth it, in my opinion, for the Forecast view and built in Review function. (iTunes store)

OmniOutliner. My new favorite application, I use OmniOutliner for everything from sermon preparation to five-year ministry plans. Just be warned that there’s a bit of a learning curve before you start to realize the app’s full potential. (iTunes store)

To be sure, there are many other apps available on the iTunes store, but I have found these to be among the most useful in my ministry.

PastoralCare app updated for iPad

I’ve written before about the excellent and highly practical PastoralCare iOS app. It offers a wealth of resources for the busy pastor on the go: rites for every official act a minister may be called to perform, and devotional materials such as Scripture readings, prayers and hymns to be used in a wide variety of settings.

When the app was released late last year, it was formatted only for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I’ve enjoyed having the app on my iPhone for those times when there arose an unplanned opportunity for ministry and I didn’t have any printed resources with me. And the backlit screen works even better than a book when in a dimly-lit room.

Now, as promised, PastoralCare has been updated as a universal iOS app — which means native resolution for the iPad and perfect for use in front of the congregation or in a hospital room. This app should be one of the first that a pastor downloads if he is serious about using his iPad for ministry purposes.

PastoralCare is available for $19.99 in the iTunes app store.

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

   

Sermon preparation with an iPad

The challenge this week: To see how much of my weekly sermon I can prepare using only my iPad.

Step One: Research.

Because I’ve already done my advance planning (see Step Zero below), the text that I’m going to preach on has already been selected. In this case it’s the Gospel lesson, Mark 9:2-9, the account of the Transfiguration. Now it’s time to spend quality time with God’s word, asking the Holy Spirit to direct my thoughts so that what I end up preaching on Sunday comes from what he inspired the evangelist to write all those centuries ago.

Accordance Bible Software

Accordance Bible Software

There are a number of Bible apps for the iPad, and almost any of them will do the job if all you want to do is sit in a quiet place and read a section of Scripture. If you want to add notes, the selection narrows a bit. If you also want to read the Greek or Hebrew, the list is even smaller.  But none of them allows me to do the kind of in-depth exegetical study that I was taught in the seminary. Or so I thought until I finally tried Accordance Bible Software.

I hadn’t looked at Accordance very closely before because over the years I had already invested heavily into the Libronix/Logos system and I didn’t want to duplicate my digital resources. Fellow Mac-toting pastors had told me that Accordance was superior to Logos in working with the original languages, but again, I was committed (financially) to Logos. The problem is that Logos’ iPad app is limited when it comes to things like morphological searches and in-depth vocable and grammatical studies. To my surprise, the Accordance iPad app handles those tasks surprisingly well. So using up the last of my Christmas money, I hopped over to the Accordance store to take advantage of the sale they currently offer (until the end of Feb 2012) on their tagged resources.

After combing through the Greek text and mining whatever nuggets I could find myself, I turned to the wisdom of the ages. As I said, I’ve built up my Logos library over the years, so I had lots of commentaries to read using their Bible+ app.

The one thing about doing sermon research on an iPad is that there is no multitasking and the screen size is limited. I was forced to take most of my notes by hand — which is fine, except that I like to keep digital copies of my sermon studies for quick and easy reference in the future. If I had been more industrious and less pressed for time, I might have scanned them and imported the notes into Evernote, which offers excellent handwriting recognition. (Instead, the notes were just stuffed into a manilla folder, slid into a filing cabinet, and probably will go unremembered next time I return to this text.)

Step Two: Outlining.

iThoughts HD

iThoughts HD

With notes in hand I was ready to put some order to my random thoughts. I’ve recently started reading (on my Kindle app) a book called “Preaching without Notes.” The author not only argues that sermons are more personable when preached without the use of a manuscript, but he also explains that in order to do so the preacher has to do his outlining with that purpose in mind. If the main points of the sermon are logically connected and flow naturally from one to the next, the pastor should have little difficulty in preaching without having to constantly consult his notes.

I’m a big fan of brainstorming (i.e., mind mapping), and the iPad has some well-designed tools in that area. I’ve worked with Mind Node, Mindjet, and iThoughts HD, with no clear winner in my mind between the three. It comes down to a matter of taste and what you want to sync your files with. Mind mapping is great way to get your thoughts out of your head and these apps facilitate the process of grouping those insights in ways which will eventually form your sermon.

The hands-down winner for an outlining app is OmniOutliner (from the same team that designed my favorite to-do app, OmniFocus). OmniOutliner is a great tool for all sorts of hierarchical lists, and once you learn to navigate the app, it’s ridiculously easy to arrange your bits into a cohesive whole. And I just learned an awesome tip this week: you can export a mindmap made in iThoughts HD to OPML format and open it immediately in OmniOutliner! Here’s an article with more info on using the OPML format in different writing apps.

Step Three: Writing.

Once I was satisfied with my expanded outline, I exported the work I did in OmniOutliner directly into Apple’s Pages app, but I could have sent it just as easily to another word editing app such as QuickOffice Pro (which is quickly growing on me).

Lengthy writing assignments are not where the iPad shines. Frankly, the touchscreen glass on tablet computers works just fine for small bursts of typing, like taking notes, but it’s a terrible tool if you have to put out as much as an entire paragraph. For this, I was glad I had an external keyboard. I use the keyboard-cum-dock accessory that I bought from Apple when I pre-ordered my first-gen iPad almost two years ago now. It works fine once set up, but it’s too awkward to pack easily. If I were buying one today, I’d probably go with this keyboard and stand combo from Logitech.

Again, it would have been nice to have more screen real estate for writing the sermon. I usually have my notes and a Bible program up on one monitor and the word processor open on the other when I work at my computer. On the other hand, I felt more focused and less prone to distractions when it was just my iPad, a keyboard, and me.

Sending my final draft to a printer on our wireless network was painless with Printopia installed on my Mac.

Step Four: Memorizing.

Every preacher is different. Every pastor has his own tricks for committing written sermon to memory. My personal routine involves a darkened room and lots of pacing. At this point, it may be helpful to underline those passages you are having difficulty with — or perhaps rearrange some sentences that don’t follow a logical progression. A breeze if you’re pacing with your iPad.

Step Five: Preaching.

I’ve written on the subject of preaching from your iPad before. If I recall correctly, I was mostly against it at the time simply for the reason that I didn’t want my listeners to be distracted by the shiny new gadget in Pastor’s hand. That may be changing more quickly than I imagined with the huge surge in tablet popularity. iPads and their Android cousins are everywhere these days, and we’ve mostly moved past the early days when I couldn’t take out my iPad anywhere in public without drawing an admiring crowd, oohing and saying, “Wow! Is that an iPad? Can I touch it?”

Since the time I wrote that post, I’ve had the opportunity to use an iPad to conduct a wedding, and I have to admit it worked very smoothly. I tend to not take any notes or manuscript with me into the pulpit (see the book I’m reading above), but I can totally see how easy it would be to use the iPad as a teleprompter. Of course, there’s an app for that.

Step Zero: Planning.

Bento

Bento

I am a lectionary preacher. Although I sometimes will preach a three or four week topical sermon series, by and large I stick to the appointed lessons for each particular Sunday of the church year. I’ve taken to doing my advance planning in Bento. I’ve set up a template that has one data sheet for each Sunday. It was easy to use the spreadsheet layout on my MacBook to import the assigned readings for the entire year. Then it was just a matter of adding in hymn choices, choir anthems, sermon themes, and any additional notes. After syncing with my iPad, I now have all my planning notes with me and can easily add or make changes on the go.

Conclusions

If nothing else, this exercise proved that it is possible to do the entire process of sermon prep — from desk to pulpit — using nothing but an iPad. I will continue to use the more sophisticated tools on my laptop for working with the original languages, but if I were a seminarian today I might consider investing in Bible software that has a fuller feature set on the iPad (like Accordance or Olive Tree). The iPad will still have a place in my sermon workflow, both for reading commentaries and especially for organizing my thoughts. I love the way I can tuck my tablet under an arm and find a calm corner in a coffee house to quietly contemplate the text. What a privilege to have a calling which allows (requires!) me to spend quality time with God’s Word and share it with others!

How have you used your iPad in sermon preparation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sending personal documents to Kindle

My wife just got a Kindle Touch for Christmas and she loves it. It’s lightweight, the screen is perfect for reading in daylight, and it came practically preloaded with a bunch of books. Well, Amazon doesn’t actually ship their Kindles with books, but because I had been using the Kindle app on my iPad for the last 20 months, all the books that I had collected or purchased during that time were ready to be downloaded into her Kindle registered under my Amazon account.

On my iPad, I prefer the Kindle app to Apple’s iBooks for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that whatever books or documents I have registered with my Amazon account are available to be read on any device that runs the Kindle app (read: just about anything your heart desires, including but not limited to PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices). That, of course, includes the line of Kindles themselves.

I read a lot on my iPad, both professionally and for leisure reading, and I was perfectly content with the Kindle app — except for one feature. I admit to having Kindle envy, not for the lighter weight or the e-ink display, but for the ability to email any document to be immediately available for reading. The Kindle app is great for books, but I wanted to be able to add my own custom content or documents in other file formats.

If you’re like me, I have good news and better news. The good news is that last month Amazon added that “e-mail document to Kindle” feature also to users of the iPad app. Just make sure your iOS app is uploaded to the most recent version, open the Kindle app, and touch the little “i” icon on the bottom right of the screen. You’ll see your own personal “Send-to-Kindle E-mail Address” which will work for that particular device (but also be available in your other Kindle-app-ready devices). Each file is limited to 50 MB, but the list of formats supported is fairly generous:

  • Microsoft Word (.DOC, .DOCX)
  • HTML (.HTML, .HTM)
  • RTF (.RTF)
  • JPEG (.JPEG, .JPG)
  • Kindle Format (.MOBI, .AZW)
  • GIF (.GIF)
  • PNG (.PNG)
  • BMP (.BMP)
  • PDF (.PDF)

The even better news is limited (so far) to Windows users.  You can now download a free “Send to Kindle” application for your PC which will allow you to send any document (in the above-listed file formats) with a single click from Windows Explorer or through the print menu of your software. Again, this works for both the regular Kindles as well as any device with a Kindle app.

This is a wonderfully convenient way of making all sorts of documents available for reading on your iPad: sermons, devotional materials, Bible studies, study notes, and much more. I used to think that I would be asking to borrow my wife’s Kindle from time to time, but instead my iPad has increased its usefulness to me.

Customized church apps

An article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the use that a growing number of churches are making of mobile apps. Much of the same content that churches currently offer on their web sites (sermons, devotions, calendars, pictures, and social connections) can be squeezed into one single app that the members (or prospects) can take with them anywhere. Members can listen to audio from last week’s message or interact with others through built-in social media on their smart phones or tablets like the iPad.

No programmers in your congregation? You can use the services of ROAR or The Church App to set it up for you. Just be prepared to pay several hundred dollars for the initial set up and a few hundred more for an annual subscription. Maybe this idea is for mega-churches and entire church bodies more than for little neighborhood churches like the one that I serve. Fortunately, my denomination (the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) already offers a very attractive and useful app available for iOS and Android.

Although there’s no doubt that a mobile church app could add to opportunities for parishioners to be connected to the Word and to each other during the week, there’s also the possibility that it could distract from face-to-face ministry.

If you could design a mobile app for your church, what features would it include?

So you got an iPad for Christmas. Now what?

Congratulations, Pastor, on receiving an iPad for Christmas. Whether you bought it for yourself or received it as a present from members of your family or members of your congregation, you might be wondering today, “This is so cool! Now how do I use this thing? I’ve heard it might be useful for my ministry.”

Many of us have found the iPad to be a highly practical tool for our ministry in a wide range of situations. You’ll notice that there is much you can do just with the apps (short for “applications”) that come loaded with your new tablet, like Maps, the Calendar, Notes, and more. But soon you’ll want to visit the iTunes App Store where you’ll find thousands more to download. The apps range from free to considerably more than free, but the majority can be had for less than five dollars. Quite a bargain when you compare to computer software prices — especially when you may find yourself using the iPad apps even more frequently than you use your “real” computer. Some of my most used apps include Keynote (for presentations and slideshows), OmniFocus (manages my productivity), GoodReader (for reading PDFs), PrayNow (an excellent devotional resources), and Calvetica (a substitute for the built-in Calendar app).

On this blog you’ll find short articles on some of the practical uses for the iPad in your ministry, such as data collection, productivity, preaching, media-enhanced ministry, managing your library, and even conducting a wedding.

The best thing about the iPad is that there is no one right way to use it. Modern tablet computers (like the iPad and others) are just as versatile as desktop or laptop computers — and maybe even more so, due to their portability. So be creative! And share with us (in the comments below) the new uses you find for the iPad in your life and ministry. And congrats again on your new iPad! I’m sure you’ll love it.