Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Organize your contacts with CardScan


By Peter Watt

As Pocket PC owners, we have the ability to beam our contact details to other Pocket PCs and even to Palm devices. We can also synchronize these details with Microsoft Outlook on our PCs. However, there are still folks out there using plain, old-fashioned business cards.

If you don't remember that far back, business cards are primitive bits of cardboard with all sorts of interesting information written on them. I have a pile of them somewhere. Actually, there are a few on my desk, some in the top drawer in my bedroom, and some in my study. Wouldn't it be great if I had all that information right where I needed it, in my pocket? Ideally, I'd just suck the details off the cards into my Pocket PC and then throw the cards away.

Well, now I can do exactly that. CardScan Executive from Corex Technologies, which consists of a small scanner and some very smart software, can turn a business card into a Pocket PC contact in just a few seconds.


I tested the product by first installing the CardScan software onto my PC. You need 39MB of disk space to install the "Typical" set of components. When I selected the Typical installation, the setup program recognized that I had a partnership with a Pocket PC device and installed its own ActiveSync Module for Windows CE. It also connected without hassle to the Corex Web site to download the latest software updates. The Pocket PC portion of the software was installed automatically the next time I synchronized my Pocket PC.

The next step was to plug the small scanner into my USB port (a serial cable is also included). The device was automatically recognized and configured.

Using CardScan

That's all there is to it! You simply feed a blank calibration card into the scanner and start feeding in years of accumulated business cards, as shown in Figure A.


Feed your business cards into CardScan as shown. (click for larger image)

It takes just two or three seconds to scan a card, and then another two or three seconds for the software to work its magic.

The results were remarkably good. CardScan's excellent OCR (Optical Character Recognition) engine was able to handle a stream of cards with different font styles and sizes without errors. It was even able to extract company names out of some of the stylized logos on the cards. It automatically recognized cards that were printed in both landscape and portrait mode and handled them equally well. It was also able to ignore handwritten notes on the cards.

Intelligent technology

Probably the cleverest feature of CardScan is its ability to understand the context of the information on a card. Using textual cues, a knowledge of business card conventions, and just plain smarts, CardScan nearly always recognizes which piece of text is your contact's name, job title, phone number, mobile phone number, fax number, email address, postal address, and so on. It then puts each piece of data into the correct field in the Contacts listing, shown in Figure B.