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Sometimes it's a big help to be able to record lectures or seminars, for either absent friends, or because you know you may want to review it later, to go over tricky points, or just slow down the lecturer. Dictaphones still have their place, but in these smartphone days, recording audio is almost what a phone is designed to do. And, for iPhone or iPad owners, there's no better options than Voice Record Pro, which despite the 'Pro' label, has recently become free. What sets it apart from Apple's own voice memo app for the iPhone, is that you can do anything you need with the audio after it's captured. You can trim it, convert it into an MP3 (from its native M4A/MP4), or share it by email, or via cloud services including Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft SkyDrive. It also looks rather cool. You can also take notes directly into the app, and add a photo, both of which will be embedded into the exported file.

Available on the iTunes store.

 Screenshot, showing some of the many actions you can do with the recorded material

Screenshot, showing some of the many actions you can do with the recorded material

Posted
AuthorJonathan Clark
CategoriesTech
Tagsapps
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Libraries. Not places I ever went to before becoming a student again. Strange places, with people apologetically whispering, or wandering around bored but trying not to show it. Places where you can't eat or drink, or (quite often) actually take out the books you want to read. Those biggest and most expensive reference works, that often provide the way in to a subject or essay, mostly have "FOR REFERENCE ONLY" stamped on the spine. Or you just can't work well in the place because some of your friends are in there, and it's too tempting to chat with them. Or you just plain work better in a place with no other people that distract you just by walking around, or sitting there on their laptop checking Facebook, which just reminds you how little you're enjoying the current page you're reading and re-reading.

So, take a photocopy, right? Well, yes, in theory. But in practice, most Cambridge Uni libraries have their own unique photocopying card, which come in £5 increments, and can't be used in any other library. So you don't want to get a card unless you know you're going to use it a lot. Or some libraries don't have a photocopier, or it's too near a librarian and you worry you might be incur their wrath by copying too many pages from a single book. But even if you do manage to photocopy some pages, you've then got no way of getting those important words from the paper into your essay, or into a searchable form. It's like they're still locked into the book.

If only you could bring in your laptop and a flatbed scanner, and afford £200 for good enough OCR software. And even if you could carry all that around and find sockets to power it all, it's a very slow process, taking 3 to 5 minutes per page to get some useful text.

Well, this is now possible on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device, and for just a measly £4.99. You take a picture with the phone's camera, select the part you want to 'read', and you get the recognised text in only 20-30 seconds. (And for those Biblical scholars amongst you, more remarkably still, it gets words and passages of koine Greek done too.) This amazing app is called TextGrabber, and is written by ABBYY, the same people that made the expensive OCR software I bought a decade ago, where you needed to train on every letter in the alphabet. Thankfully computing power, and their algorithms, has improved significantly since then. As long as the photo is a good quality one to start with, it will normally cope with full reference footnotes too, despite the funny mixtures of abbreviations, numbers and proper names.

Each 'page' of text gets saved in the app, and can be edited in place. (It currently adds more line breaks than it needs to, which I tend to edit out at this stage.) And then with two taps it can be share out to email, Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, or the clipboard so that other apps can pick it up. I mainly later copy to the clipboard and then beam it (using the previously mentioned BeamApp) to my laptop when I'm back in my study working on the notes or essay.

It really seems like magic the first time you use it --and doesn't even need an internet connection, unlike some other OCR services out there. Available from the iTunes Store.

 TextGrabber reading some text

TextGrabber reading some text

Posted
AuthorJonathan Clark
CategoriesTech
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It's time I wrote up some recommendations of new apps I've been enjoying or getting good value from. Some are improvements on existing apps, and others, like the first two I'm going to mention, are really new concepts.

It is truly a first-world problem when you find you have an iPhone or an iPad, and you want to read or look at something on it from your Mac laptop or desktop, or vice versa. Or even if you want to send something between iPhone and iPad. For example, looking up map directions on the laptop, and then wanting to send the map or start the turn-by-turn directions to the phone to actually get you from A to B. Or you're reading something on one and you want to finish it when out and about (move it to the device) or on a larger screen when you get home (move to the laptop). Or you've looked up a phone number in an email on the desktop, and you want to just start calling the number from your, err, phone. (That thing I just occasionally do youth my phone.)

These are exactly the problems that BeamApp solves. Running as an app on your iOS device, and a always-running application on the Mac, simply copy the web page URL, or address, or piece of text, select Beam, and the name of the other device you want to send it to, and hey presto! a or two second later its opening the same web page, or starting the map directions, dialling the number, or has dropped text into the clipboard ready to use.

It's still pretty much a first version, and I've made some suggestions and bug reports to the developers, but I still use it most days. The iOS app is free, and the Mac app is £1.99 or so. For more details, including a video demo, see the BeamApp website.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Clark
CategoriesTech

It's official: this is what I want for Christmas. (As if ...)From Brett's post Impressions of the 4S: "If the only change Apple made to the [iPhone] 4S were the camera enhancements, that would be enough to make me want the 4S. The conventional poi...

Posted
AuthorJonathan Clark