Safari has a convenient "Find" feature to search for specific words and phrases in a webpage, and Apple Books has a similar feature for e-books and PDFs. But those do nothing for you when searching text in the real world. Hardcover and paperback books are still very much a thing, as well as paper-based documents, and finding what you need is as simple as pointing your iPhone's camera at the page.
Imagine you're scanning through a lengthy paper document for a specific word or trying to locate a specific reference on one of the pages in a huge textbook. Sometimes the index can help if one is available, but otherwise, you need to speed read to find what you're looking for. All that ends now though.
Thanks to developer Omer Faruk Ozturk, we have an iOS app that can instantly scan for any word or phrase on a page in the flesh-and-blood world. All you have to do is point your camera at the document and use the app's built-in Ctrl-F (or Command-F for Mac users) feature to spot exactly what's needed.
Step 1: Install SearchCam
Ozturk's app, SearchCam, is available for free in the iOS App Store. Either look for it in the App Store on your iPhone or jump right to it with the link below. In order to install it, you'll need to be running iOS 11 or later. And the app works with and without any data connections since there's no interaction to and from any server.
- App Store Link: SearchCam: Ctrl+F for life (free)
SearchCam's user interface isn't the prettiest since it's marred by an advertisement banner on the bottom and hasn't been updated to be optimized with newer screen ratios of the iPhone X and newer. But it's simple and intuitive for even the most novice smartphone users.
Step 2: Search Real-World Documents
Open the SearchCam app, grant it access to your camera, then type in the word or phrase you're looking for in the "Search" box. Next, all you have to do is point your iPhone's camera at the book, document, pamphlet, magazine, bill, or whatever else it is you want to scan for text.
Since the SearchCam app is basically a real-time OCR (optical character recognition) tool with an augmented reality inclination, where it's live-reading a moving image, it works right away.
Instantly, you'll notice a number of yellow boxes overlayed on the screen around the text you typed in, along with red indicator arrows underneath. These are your found items. If there are no matches to your query, nothing will appear on the screen.
Step 3: Improve the Search Results
The app has two buttons on the top right for a flash and image search. The flash (left screenshot below) uses the iPhone's rear True Tone flash to light up a document. This helps in dimly lit rooms, which is necessary because SearchCam requires sufficient light to commence its search.
With image search, you can go through any of the images in your Photos app that contain words, even PDFs (right screenshot below). So if you take a picture first using any camera app, you won't have to worry about the words moving around on the screen like in real-time scanning.
SearchCam works great with colored text, colored backgrounds, legible handwriting, and even tiny text, which I found to be the most useful. However, the text surface should be relatively flat in order for the tool to work at an optimal level.
One feature that's not mentioned on SearchCam's App Store page is that it works for other languages, including French, Spanish, and German (although I'm not quite sure how expansive it is). The app could use several more features to bolster its usability such as an export as PDF button, a searchable index of every word on the screen, and a built-in camera option for taking photos within the app.
Overall, students using books as references for essays and senior citizens or anybody unfortunate enough to have poor eyesight stand to benefit from SearchCam. Note that there used to be an Android app that performed a similar service, but it has since shut down for unknown reasons.
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