The good folks at ABBYY let me have a copy of their FineScanner app for iOS to review. I was hesitant since it seemed to have nothing to do with Chinese, but there’s at least one way that it might fit into your Chinese learning workflow.
FineScanner, as you might guess, turns your iOS device into a “scanner.” The app lets you take a picture with your device’s camera and then print it via AirPrint or export it (as either a jpg or PDF) to a number of different services, such as e-mail (FineScanner can even remember your own e-mail address for 1-click sending to yourself), Facebook, Evernote, and Box. You can also open the file in other apps that you have accessible through the “Open with …” command. For example, you can create a pdf with FineScanner and open it with an app like GoodReader for annotation.
FineScanner has built-in tools to crop images, convert your scans to greyscale or black-and-white, and adjust the brightness (see first image); this helps get the clearest possible text.
You can take several pictures in a row to make a multipage document. When exporting, you can choose to send the whole document or a single page from it. The second image shows a multipage scan where each page has been cropped separately.
File management within FineScanner is very nice. The app stores all the photos that you take so you can share them again later. You can rename files and add tags. Pages of multipage documents can be copied or moved.
While all this is great and works very well, you’re probably still wondering how this can help specifically with Chinese. The key is FineScanner’s ability to send files to Evernote.
Evernote is a very popular note-taking service with free clients for various platforms (including iOS and Mac), as well as a web interface. I won’t go into too much detail, but one of Evernote’s nice features is the fact that it can search the text of image files that you save in it. So you could use FineScanner to snap pictures of Chinese texts and export them from FineScanner to Evernote. Later you can search your Evernote account for a particular character and it will show all your notes with that character (it will not, however, show you exactly where a Chinese character appears in the image). Nevertheless, this could be good for checking out the context in which vocabulary is used.
You will first need to tell Evernote that you want text recognition enabled for Chinese. Both traditional and simplified character recognition are supported, but you must choose one or the other. Evernote can, however, support both English and Chinese recognition simultaneously. Log into the web interface, go to Settings > Personal Settings, and set the Recognition language(s) that you want.
This indexing of text within image files (and note that this is just indexing, not full OCR) is available to users of Evernote’s free service. Users who upgrade to a premium (paid) account will be able to have PDFs indexed as well. The image shows the result of searching for a Chinese character in Evernote. The two notes have the same name because one is a pdf and one a jpg of the same scan, both sent from FineScanner, and I just didn’t bother to rename either from the default. Unfortunately, Evernote’s recognition of Chinese hasn’t been great in my experience, but I hope that it will get better, especially since Evernote now has a separate service for users in China.
The Evernote iOS app does have the ability to create a new note from a photo, but does not allow for cropping and color/brightness adjustments in the way that FineScanner does.
ABBYY FineScanner is a cool tool for anyone who needs to capture text and/or make pdfs on the go. The numerous export options make sure that your scans are not locked into the app, but there could be some improvements. It would be great if the tags applied in FineScanner could appear as tags in Evernote. And I’d like to see even more cloud services available, most notably iCloud and SugarSync (and the return of Google Drive and Dropbox, which were available in an earlier version, but temporarily dropped because of technical problems). Given ABBYY’s experience with OCR (see how ABBYY Textgrabber fared in the iOS Chinese OCR showdown), I look forward to the future development of FineScanner.