CamCard rocks on Lumia 920

Business cards

Right you lot, time to get organised

For years I’ve searched for a better way to scan and store business card information. Apart from one minor niggle CamCard running on the Lumia 920 delivers the goods.

Getting card information into the phone is a snap, literally. Simply take a photo of the card, the app reads the information and makes smart guesses about which fields to send the data to in the phone’s address book.

Before you tell me there is nothing special about that, three things mean this works better on the Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8 than I have previously seen:

  • The camera takes extraordinary sharp pictures of business cards even in poor light conditions. I’ve tried similar apps on my iPad 2, an iPhone 4 and an HTC One X Android smartphone. None of them managed to take such clear images of cards. This alone, is why the app rocks on the Lumia 920. 
  • There’s plenty of grunt in the Lumia 920 to handle optical character recognition. Results take seconds, not minutes. Earlier card reader apps I tried on iPhone 4 and the HTC One X would time out before delivering results. If necessary, you can edit fields and add notes manually.
  • CamCard integrates beautifully with Microsoft’s People app – that comes standard on Windows Phone 8. I’ve seen nice integration on Apple devices, but frankly that process isn’t so smooth on Android.

I’ve used the CamCard trial version for around a month before paying for the app. The purchase told me it was $6, I can’t tell you if that’s US or NZ yet because the transaction hasn’t gone through my bank account yet. I noticed a few days delay with earlier purchases from the Windows Phone App Store.  

One problem I noticed with CamCard, the app crashes occasionally. It’s not a disruptive crash, but it undermines confidence.

Replaces earlier business card scanner
CamCard replaces a desktop card scanner I used until four or five years ago. It had to go when I moved to Windows 7 and the old, old software would no longer run on my PC.

For a while I used a standard desktop scanner, but the card reading software was so clumsy manual data entry was easier. LinkedIn’s CardMunch does a decent job on iOS and Android devices, but doesn’t integrate as well and you have to wait while scans are sent to real humans for interpretation.

I also tried the $4 ScanBizCards which worked fine, but not as smoothly as CamCard. I was also put off by the $10 a year charge to back-up cards in the cloud – even though I don’t need that feature. 

Printer ink cartridges: now even more of a rip-off

Printer and publisher William Caxton showing a sample of a printed book to King Edward IV

Printer and publisher William Caxton showing a sample of a printed book to King Edward IV

Need more reasons to go paperless? Take a look at what printer makers do with ink.

Printer ink has always been expensive, but as The Guardian reveals the price per millilitre  rocketed recently with printer makers serving ever smaller portions of ink in their cartridges.

The Guardian says decade ago Epson printer ink cartridges contained 16ml. Today’s have just 3.5ml. HP sold a 42ml cartridge in the UK for £20. Now a 5ml cartridge costs  £13. For details see Printer ink cartridges: why you’re paying more but getting a lot less.

Printer makers sell inkjets and lasers at cost or a small loss aiming to make money from ink sales. Most printers come with small amounts of ink, so it doesn’t take customers long to get to their first cartridge purchase. From then on, the printer makers are in profit.

Customers fight back against rip-off branded cartridges by buying third-party ink. There are replacement cartridges and kits that allow you to top-up the ink in a cartridge.

Printer makers used to argue third-party ink would damage printers. That’s perverse: it takes five or six refills to damage a print head. Given the low cost of printer hardware and the huge savings from third-party ink, customers come out ahead if they regularly upgrade printers – and there’s the bonus of newer technology.

Printer makers are on firmer ground when they say third-party ink gives low quality results. We get through a lot of ink in our business – paperless publishing works up to a point, but we still need to print frequent proofs. In my experience third-party ink is fine for documents, but lousy for printing photos.

Kindle Paperwhite pushes ads, still best e-ink Kindle to own

Bill Bennett:

Amazon’s “Ad-supported” approach would quickly wear thin with me. Mind you paying US$20 to remove advertising seems reasonable – a 15% premium over the free version.

It brings up an interesting point. If the lifetime value of ads on a reading device is worth just US$20 to Amazon, which is in the business of flogging stuff online, it says a lot about the what’s going on in the world of advertising supported online newspapers and magazines.

Originally posted on Martinborough Musings:

When I got my new Kindle Paperwhite a couple of days ago, I couldn’t understand why Amazon had made it so that every time, after I switched the unit on, I had to ‘activate’ it by swiping up the screen with my fingertip. Why not have it start up immediately I pressed the on/off switch like other Kindles, and appliances generally?

I saw the point (at least Amazon’s point) last night when I went online to look for a protective case. At eBay, most cases had automatic magnetic start/stop switches that operated when you opened/closed the case. This system has been around for a year or two in Apple and Google tablets, and now Amazon has added it to its new top of the line Paperwhite e-ink reader.

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Why printed books will never die

bookshelf

The undead

Josh Catone is largely right when he writes Why Printed Books Will Never Die. Although the pedant in me has an issue with the word “never” given that one day the universe will degrade into a particle stew. For now I’ll give Catone poetic license.

He writes:

Ebooks are not simply a better format replacing an inferior one; they offer a wholly different experience.

A good point. I’d read an ebook on a plane. I read work documents on a tablet or ebook. When reading for pleasure I still want to see print and feel paper.

Whenever I hear people predicting the death of printed books I think back to the Roman, Greek and even earlier texts which can still be read today, then remember early electronic texts stored on 8-inch floppies or using now dead digital formats. Some of these are already lost forever.

The great ebook price swindle only scratches the surface

A year ago Dan Gilmor complained about greedy US publishers forcing ebook prices to climb by between 30 and 50%.

In the US electronic books are now priced at the same, sometimes higher, than the hardback version of the same book. As Gilmore points out, this is a terrible deal because unlike physical books, you can’t resell, trade or give away your finished ebook.

The same dumb thinking is at work in the music and movie industries where digital media costs as much as physical media.

I’ve made this argument before, I’ll make it again. Printers use raw materials and machines to make physical books, CDs or DVDs. They package and ship them to warehouses before shipping again to stores.

Factories, packaging companies, shipping firms, wholesalers and retailers all clip the ticket. These are input costs and they’re not cheap, they can account for over half the retail cost.

While we can understand publishers wanting to recoup some of the cost-cutting benefit from digital media, they can’t expect to have it all. Doing so has three direct consequences:

  • Consumers see high prices as a rip-off. This has the knock-on effect of undermining otherwise valid moral arguments against copyright piracy.
  • It slows migration from the old low margin physical model to the new higher margin model. Why would consumers choose what is still an inferior experience when the cost of hardware plus higher cost of media makes it more expensive?
  • Reduced sales mean set-up costs of a book, CD or DVD are spread over fewer purchases. Surely this is a time when publishers need to seed the market.

At the start of 2013 we’re at a point where the decline in printed book sales has stabilized while the hitherto triple-digit growth in ebook sales has fallen to a still impressive 34%. And sales of ebook readers plunged 36% in 2012.

So where do we go from here? Will publishers cut ebook prices sharing some of the extra margin with their customers or will they paint themselves into a corner?

Livescribe Sky passes real world test

Preiously I reviewed the Livescribe Sky SmartPen at home, how does it fare in action? To find out I took it to Telecom’s Windows Phone 8 press conference.

Livescribe Pulse SmartPen has been my main note taking device for the last two years. I use it at press events, seminars, summits and conferences over the years. The Pulse is an essential part of my toolkit.

My technique is to take limited, staccato notes, usually one per idea. I mark key passages and juicy quotes while recording audio.

Monday’s press conference presented a challenge. The event involved seven speakers along with two or three short videos in a presentation lasting about 40 minutes.

The room was about the size of a tennis court, with a low ceiling. It opened on to a noisy atrium - the doors to the atrium were opened for some of the time and, unusually given the size of the crowd, the speakers didn’t use microphones and amplification.

Not great conditions, an ideal testing laboratory

All of this meant the recording conditions were not great. The Pulse would have handled it, but what about the newer pen?

One surprise was you can’t use the new pen with the earlier pen’s headset. That’s a pity because the headset has microphones built into each earplug, which can do a better job of capturing sound in a noisy room. Luckily it wasn’t necessary.

It did well. The Sky pen captured everything. While there were a few missed or unclear words, I could easily hear all the important parts in my 39 minute recording. Just as before I could tap the written words on the notebook page and the audio would jump to that point.

The pen was comfortable to use the whole time. Note taking was straightforward. I left the event feeling confident, but the real proof would come later when it was time to play things back.

SmartPen Lessons

As my earlier review mentions, the new desktop software for using the audio is not as good as the earlier stand-alone application. Rather than struggle to make sense of the new software, I played the audio back directly from the pen.

The pen has a built-in speaker. It is not loud and anyway it would disturb others working here so I hunted out a headset that was compatible with the new pen. Everything was fine, it took a few minutes to write-up my notes. The new pen works just as well as the older model.

I already mentioned that I didn’t attempt using the software to get my work done. When I checked later the file was stored in Evernote, it’ll be there if I need it in future. That’s good. I also didn’t test the Wi-Fi because although the Telecom’s building is equipped, the set-up procedure is fiddly, I was too busy talking to people to worry about organising it any anyway, it wasn’t necessary. I’ll give it a proper work out when I next go to a seminar.

My earlier review gave the pen a tentative thumbs up. I’m much happier now to say the Sky a worthy successor to the Livescribe Pulse. This is one tool I want to keep.