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iPhone app turns business cards into contacts

At least, it tries to. Unless the lighting is perfect and the card is a non-glossy work of plain-text nonart, recognition accuracy suffers. But guess what: I'd still buy it.

We live in a digital age, so why do business cards refuse to die? They're a hassle to store and an environmental suck to produce. Plus, who among us has time to manually transcribe contact info into a phone, PDA, or PC?

Needless to say, I was geeked to try Business Card Reader, a $5.99 app that turns business cards into iPhone Address Book entries.

Specifically, BCR leverages your iPhone's camera to take a snapshot of a card, then uses built-in optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the image into text and populate the appropriate contact fields.

After snapping a photo, Business Card Reader scans the card and adds the data to a new contact.

That's the theory, anyway. In practice, BCR requires near-perfect lighting conditions and decidedly non-fancy cards to achieve reliable recognition.

Make no mistake: This is a terrific app, one I'd absolutely buy despite its limitations; it's just that handy. But let's not overlook those limitations.

For starters, it requires an iPhone 3GS. Older models lack the autofocus capabilities necessary for sharp close-ups (though you might be able to get by with one of those third-party macro lenses).

Next, while BCR does a decent job identifying names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers, in my tests it rarely got the company name right. Likewise, if a name included a middle initial, it placed that initial in the Last Name field and ignored the actual last name altogether.

It's also a challenge to get sufficient lighting while avoiding glare off the card itself--particularly if it's a glossy card. And what with all the fancy logos, layouts, and color schemes these days, it's no wonder BCR encounters its share of difficulties.

That said, when it works well, it's a thing of beauty, and it's a lot faster and easier to edit a few OCR mistakes than it is to manually enter the information.

I also like the app's option to look up a contact on LinkedIn and/or merge the scanned card data with an existing iPhone contact. Plus, it recognizes not only English, but also French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

Another perk: the Card Holder view, which stores the actual scans in a slick-looking mock-leather "holder."

Business Card Reader may not be perfect, but it's about $150 less than a dedicated bizcard scanner--and it works right on your iPhone.

Have you found another card-scanning app you like better? If so, hit the comments and tell me about it!