A May-December tech marriage: iPhone plus fax machine

New eFax app shows that the iPhone's camera makes a good replacement for a scanner or fax machine.

Rafe Needleman
Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
3 min read

J2, the company behind the crusty old eFax fax-to-e-mail gateway service, is still trying trying to keep faxing a modern business tool.

Personally, I wish faxing were dead. The analogness of the fax offends me. But people do still send faxes. There are well dug-in workflows based on faxes, some of which are based on printing, shuffling, and filing actual paper faxes. Isn't that adorable? But these flows can't be easily or quickly replaced. Faxes are "transactional," J2's Mike Pugh told me. They're also legal: they're easy to sign and easy to send. So faxes survive.

But it is inevitable that we will one day live in a post-fax world. Today, fortunately, at many companies that rely on faxes, the intake and filing of the fax is now electronic, and eFax is one of the biggest suppliers of conversion services. Many contemporary faxes never emerge from a "fax machine" and are never printed.

J2 is trying to prepare for the post-faxalypse in more ways, by building products that recognize that the act of sending a fax must soon change as well. Currently, when most people want to send a document via fax, they walk to a fax machine or multifunction printer, dial a phone number, and feed the paper through the scanner. Or they take the fax to a Kinkos, where a clerk does it for them. But the traditional fax machine is going to die on the sending side just as it is on the receiving end. In part, that's due to the new thing in faxing: The cameraphone.

The new eFax app for iPhone turns your smartphone into an outbound fax machine. J2

Who needs a fax machine and that bulky non-portable scanner when you have a good-enough quality 5-megapixel camera in your pocket? The new iPhone eFax app lets you send a fax after snapping a picture of it with your phone. The app cleans up and straightens the image as it sends it through J2's cloud-based faxing system.

If you're a hip, itinerant worker with a foot in the traditional world that requires faxing documents around, it's a nice solution, and it appears to compete favorably with other fax apps available for the iPhone.

On the other hand, one has to wonder when J2 itself will embrace the business models of the modern Web. The iPhone app is free, but only works on full eFax accounts that start at $16.95 a month (or $169 a year). That's robbery for a consumer who may only need to send faxes a few times a year. Furthermore, while a 30-day free trial is available, it's one of those horrible setups where you have to provide your credit card number to sign up, and then remember to cancel before they start billing you at the end of the trial. (A completely free eFax service is available, but you can't send from those accounts.)

To make mobile faxing truly modern and accessible to the average consumer that only rarely (but then, desperately) needs to fax, a reasonable a la carte pricing system would get a lot more uptake. If J2 wants to prolong the life of the faxing, which would be to its benefit, it might want to consider bringing its price structure up to date to match its technology.