On June 23rd, TextGrabber by ABBYY was updated with some new features as well as bug fixes. As an app promotion, it was free for a limited time, but is now available for $0.99, which almost makes you want to download it just to give it a shot. The price is certainly reasonable, but is it worth the more valuable investment - your time?
About the App
Textgrabber is an OCR app often used by blind or visually impaired individuals. To take a picture, one must simply activate the camera button (the volume buttons can not be used to capture an image like they can in the native iPhone camera app or in KNFB Reader).
It should also be noted that pictures can be loaded into TextGrabber from the Photos App as well, which is pretty convenient. Interestingly, photos that have text superimposed over pictures can also be extracted. This is a significant improvement over previous versions. In fact, this is one capacity where TextGrabber actually outperforms KNFB Reader. It is by no means perfect, but it is certainly is an improvement over previous versions.
After the initial picture is taken/uploaded, the user is given the opportunity to crop the image. Though the corners of the image can be moved to crop the image using VoiceOver, it really isn’t practical to do so since if one is using VoiceOver then he or she probably can’t see the screen well enough to crop the image in any meaningful way. It is, however, a useful feature for some low vision users.
When the image is ready to be processed, the user can double tap the “done” button located in the top right corner of the screen. The app will then extract the text and insert it into its “notes” section. The user then has the option of saving the text as a note within the app or exporting it to other apps such as Mail, Notes, iMessage, ect.
If the user chooses to read text within the app, the/she should use the VoiceOver Rotor to select the desired navigation element to read the text (by character, word line, etc) and then flick up and down within the note to navigate the text.
As a side note, it is worth mentioning that TextGrabber was developed as a way of translating text from one language to another. It was not initially developed for blind or VI users so it initially was not VoiceOver accessible. However, the developers noted the niche in the market and made the necessary updates. It has since continued to evolve, as all apps do, and become increasingly accessible to blind and VI users. But from what I can tell from the developer website, the target market continues to be those who would use it to translate text from one language to another. But this post will focus on the OCR capabilities and not the translation.
New and Updated Features in TextGrabber
I’ll be honest….I have not always gotten very good results from my scans and the OCR could be spotty at best. Using other OCR apps such as KNFB Reader or even Office Lense worked much more reliably.
This update seems to have addressed those issues. The OCR is significantly more accurate, which is mainly what our population uses it for. Aside from the occasional nonsensical symbols, which tend to show up in any OCR app, the text comes out pretty clear with few errors.
Real Time Camera Feature
One of the newest features introduced by the developer is ability to recognize text in real time. I have to admit to being skeptical...after all, what good is using VoiceOver if the text is going to constantly change? And low vision users may have difficulty focusing in on the text if it isn’t stationary enough for them to focus in on it. Surprisingly, it is more useful than one might imagine.
By pressing/activating the camera button once while in “Real Time” mode, the app begins recognizing whatever text is in the camera view. When the button is activated again, the app stops recognizing in real time and the text remains stationary. The useful part of this feature is that any email addresses, phone numbers, or postal addresses become clickable links. This means that you simply need to tap (or double-tap if using VoiceOver) to activate the link to call a number, open a webpage, or send an email. This can significantly increase productivity if you are scanning in buisness cards or needing to enter an address into Maps.
As useful as this tool is, there are a few drawbacks, particularly for VoiceOver users.
Firstly, the viewfinder window is about one-third of the size of what it is when using the standard camera. This means that the totally blind user will need to be better than average at scanning using the iPhone and getting the image in the capture area may take multiple attempts.
Secondly, in order to navigate to the real time capture of the text, he or she must “finger drag” rather than flick. If the user attempts to use the flick gesture, the camera type changes from Real Time to Camera or QR Code Scanner. This is a minor inconvenience for those who tend to default to flick gestures when using VoiceOver, but over time, it wouldn't be too difficult to retain yourself to remember to finger drag.
Thoughts for VoiceOver Users
Individuals who use VoiceOver can certainly utilize this app effectively. Though it really doesn’t have the options other apps do, it’s good for simple recognition and for a fraction of the cost of some of the other options. In addition, scanned text can be exported to other apps that might be easier to use for longer articles or that may have more pleasant sounding voices. So for individuals on a budget, it’s certainly worth exploring. And if it isn't what you were hoping for, you’re only out a few bucks.
Thoughts for Low Vision Users
Individuals with low vision don’t have as many in-app options for changing size and contrast of scanned text as they do in, say, KNFB Reader. But they are certainly not without a few options. In the TextGrabber settings, one can choose normal, medium, or large for the scanned text size and that’s really the extent of options. For those who need just a bit more magnification and like the option of having clickable email addresses, phone numbers, and web addresses to minimize the need to switch apps as frequently, it might be worth purchasing the app.
As previously stated in the section for VoiceOver users, scanned documents can be exported to other apps such as VoiceDream Reader, which has many more color, contrast, and size options for low vision users. If you are on the lookout for a free option, Capti is another app that has a few more low vision accommodations than TextGrabber, but not as many as VoiceDream Reader has. For those willing to take that extra step of exporting the scanned text, TextGrabber is certainly a viable option.
The developers at ABBYY should be commended for their continued support of VoiceOver accessibility in their app. The improvements made do not affect VoiceOver accessibility at all as far as I can determine. All buttons are clearly labeled and easy to find and use. The ability to export content to other apps that might make accessing the material easier only adds to the appeal of this update.
***As previously mentioned, this app is available for $0.99 at the time of this writing. Previously it sold for $4.99. It is uncertain whether the current price will remain the same or go up in the future.