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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Get Stuff Done with an iPad

Apple has rounded up some of the top iPad apps for productivity and put them on a single page in the iTunes app store.

My favorites from this list include . . .

  • Evernote for everything from quick notes and snapshots to snippets of web pages to collections of sermons and Bible studies. Evernote collects all this and syncs them across devices and computers.
  • OmniFocus for iPad is the heaviest investment but also an app that I absolutely depend on to organize my tasks and get stuff done in a timely fashion.
  • MindNode is a great mindmapping tool which I use for brainstorming and collecting ideas. I’ll use a mindmap for organizing a Bible study series or planning meeting agendas.

Two other productivity apps that don’t appear on that iTunes list but that I count on are OmniOutliner and Bento.

What’s your favorite app for getting stuff done in your ministry?