It’s hard to recall an app I’ve found as frustrating as Tipirneni Software’s Scan To PDF. I’ve used and reviewed worse apps, and I’ve used and reviewed more complex apps. But none have come with as many preconditions for proper use—preconditions that seem to be, unfortunately, completely warranted.
The promise baked into the name Scan To PDF is tantalizing and simple—by combining the app’s functionality with the camera on your iPhone, iPad 2, or fourth-generation iPod touch, you can aim your device at any document and instantly create a PDF. From within the app, you can crop the new PDF image, change it from color to grayscale or black-and-white, rotate it, combine it with other images to create a multi-page PDF, and then email or export your PDF to any other iOS app that can open PDFs.
But when you prepare to create your first PDF with the app, a “Hint” pops up that accurately describes Scan To PDF’s limitations. The description in the app store omits mention of the hint’s contents, so it seems worth quoting directly:
CAMERA HINTS: 1) Make sure the document is PERFECTLY FLAT. 2) Turn FLASH OFF. 3) Lighting must be BRIGHT and uniform across the entire document with MINIMAL SHADOWS. 4) Make sure device is PARALLEL to the document.
To this the app’s developers could have added, “Good luck,” as I discovered, while testing the app with an iPhone, and iPod touch, and an iPad 2, that few documents I wanted to scan—magazine articles and book pages, for example—are perfectly flat. It was also extremely difficult to find, even in the middle of a sunny day in a very well-lit area, lighting that was “uniform across the entire document.” The app has a clever built-in level that helps you hold the device parallel to the document, but if you want to get far enough away to be able to include a full 8.5-by-11 page in the shot, while making sure it remains parallel by keeping an eye on the level, you either need very long arms, or you need to stand.
After many attempts with a variety of documents, including completely flat, white, laser-printed pages, I was able to produce a few PDFs of decent quality. All were relatively easy to manipulate using the app’s built-in tools and simple to compile into multipage documents and either email, open in other apps such as GoodReader, and upload to Dropbox. But none were of high enough quality, even when changed to black-and-white, to be readable by OCR software that could either export the document to plain or rich text or make the PDF text searchable.
All that said, Scan To PDF has potential, and it’s possible that it’s simply an app in need of repair. It has many features that are both useful and easy to use, but some kind of capability to handle documents that are not flat and not bathed in perfect bright light seems an absolute must—and may be impossible to achieve without a camera that can produce higher-quality images. It is also useful, even in its current iteration, for allowing users to create and export PDFs, which can be opened by or exported into many apps and programs.
[Jeff Merron is a freelance writer and editor living in North Carolina.]