Is Mobile Capture Only Hype?

By Joe Budelli posted 02-24-2011 16:23


Last week, Chris Riley discussed a topic very near and dear to my heart – mobile capture. I respect and agree with Chris’ opinion, however, I wanted to take a closer look at his post, “Mobile Capture: The hype, the truth, the future.” In some cases I will agree, in others I will bring up a counterpoint. My goal in either scenario is to continue the debate and show you why you should care.

As most of you have read, I am passionate about the potential of mobile capture. I have also addressed the mobile capture issue numerous times for the AIIM Capture community. (If you’ve missed any of these previous posts, feel free to check out commentary on CTIA, predictions for mobile capture in 2011, how mobile is enabling the cloud, and lastly, mobile capture as the next kiler app.) In this post, I will be addressing specific points made by Chris.

In the hype section of Chris’ post, he says that the human element of mobile capture is a stumbling block. I agree that the user plays a large part in enabling a quality scan. Whether it is by seeking appropriate lighting or having a steady hand when using the smartphones camera, all of these factors impact the result. However, I don’t think this is something we can’t work around.  Hardware is only getting better with higher resolution cameras, auto-focus, built in flash, etc. and where it doesn’t improve, software must. This could take the form of better identification of questionable characters, or better image pre-processing. These are areas where we as solution providers can deliver additional value.

I know what you’re thinking: “all of these steps combined won’t make mobile capture as accurate as a dedicated scanning environment.” Well, you are probably right, but the real question is: Does it need to be? The business and consumer use cases for mobile capture are, and should remain, very different than those of a dedicated scanning environment. Mobile capture is good for processing small bits of information and communicating it faster. It is not designed for OCRing full documents. That is still the domain of dedicated scanning environments. The two technologies should instead be complimentary, and work together to extend information flow to the furthest reaches of the business.

Later in his post, Chris makes a very interesting statement: “… the typical user will be using OCR, but have no idea what OCR is.” This is interesting for a couple reasons. If you ask traditional OCR users today, I bet that most do not know what technology makes their paper documents digital.  This is the sign that OCR has improved over the past decade, and people now see it as something that “ just works.”  There are some OCR providers that spend more money on R&D than others, and  with technology continuing to improve, capture providers can spend more time on collaborating with application developers on on how the overall solution can be enhanced.  

As I included in my previous post, “The Capture Bowl,” many of the leading analyst firms see smartphone growth accelerating even faster than the 96 percent increase we realized in 2010. They also predict that data capture’s future will be driven by mobility. This means we will be forced to use our technology in new ways to deliver innovative solutions to smartphone users. And, whether the user knows what OCR is or not, we have the opportunity to change the way people process the information around them.

What are your thoughts on mobile data capture? Do you think that the technology can overcome the limitations introduced by untrained end users? Is it important that end users understand or even know they are using OCR? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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