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Cell phone camera for productivity, not just picture taking

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

By Larry Magid

The camera in your phone can be used as a scanner (image: Apple, Inc.)

The camera in your phone can be used as a scanner (image: Apple, Inc.)

Like most people, I carry a digital camera with me everywhere I go. But of course, it’s not a stand-alone camera; it’s built into my smartphone. Even most not-so-smart “feature phones” now have built in cameras.

The obvious use for such cameras is to take pictures of friends or nearby attractions, but there are lots of other things I do with mine that fit more into the “productivity” category.

For example, if I’m on a business trip and incur a reimbursable or tax deductible expense, I immediately take a picture of the receipt and then email it to myself with a subject like “cab receipt.” Then, when I get home, all my receipts are on my computer, ready for processing. It sure beats having to carry around all those slips of paper and it reminds me to add it to my expense report.

When I park my car or check luggage, I take a picture of the claim check. I’ve even been known to email it to my wife — not as a romantic remembrance of the trip but in case I lose both the ticket and my cellphone. And, since I’m inclined to forget where I park, I’ll take a picture of the street signs at a nearby intersection or the sign in the lot that designates the section I’ve parked in.

I also use the camera to take pictures of my boarding pass when I get on a plane. If the airline fails to credit me for the flight in its frequent flier program, I have the evidence I need. If I see a poster about an event that I might want to attend, I snap a picture of it so the details are right at hand.

Lots of people use their phones to take pictures of their meals at restaurants. I only do that if it’s amazing looking, but I have been known to take a picture of the menu or the label on the wine bottle if it’s one that I might like to buy for home use. I sometimes use the RedLaser app to scan the bar code to find out how much the wine costs at retail.

When I was in Moscow last year I took a subway from my hotel to Red Square. As I looked up to make a mental note of the station name, I noticed it was in Cyrillic. Not only did I have no idea how to pronounce the name, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to decipher it when it was time to return. So, I took a picture of the sign with my phone and, when it was time to return, showed it to a station agent who pointed me in the right direction.

If you have young children, they are probably producing all sorts of artwork at home and at school. All of their drawings are, of course, precious but at some point the quantity becomes overwhelming. You have limited wall (or refrigerator door) space to display them and it’s even a bit of a task to file them away for later reference. That’s where you cellphone camera comes in. Snap a picture and you cannot only save them forever, but email them to friends or post them on Facebook for all to see. I often get a chuckle when my niece Jane shares her 12-year-old daughter’s creative cartoons and drawing on Facebook.

The cameras in many modern smartphones now have high enough resolution to create pictures that look good in print as well as on screens, and there are apps that can turn collections of smartphone images into picture books.

Artkive, which runs on iPhone and Android, bills itself as “the clutter-free way to save your children’s artwork. ”

The app, which is free, enables you to enter the names and ages or grades of each child. Each time you take a picture of a child’s artwork, you have the option to share it with people Facebook or send it to people via email. Artkive automatically stores the picture on its cloud-based servers and it can email you a copy so you can download it and store it on a PC or Mac. Users can also order bound picture books of your child’s creations. The books cost at $25 for 20 pages plus $1 for each additional page.

Artkive founder Jedd Gold said that parents are also using the app to archive writing samples, report cards and other milestones from their children’s lives.

So, that little camera in your phone is more than a camera. It’s scanner and a tool to help remember those little things we tend to forget.