There are a number of reasons why you might want to extract the text from an image. Perhaps you have a business card and you want to enter the details into your Contacts, maybe you just don't fancy typing out paragraphs of text that are on the page in front of you, alternatively you could have been sent a form to fill in that you would prefer to do on your computer
Apple is clearly aware that this is something that people want to be able to do. The company is adding a new Live Text feature later this year that will be able to recognise text in images and let you cut and paste it, or, in the case of an email address or phone number, click on it to place a call or send an email. This is likely to be a handy feature, but you don't have to wait until Monterey, iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 launch later this year - you can do this now, and in fact some of the apps that offer OCR features offer even more functionality than Apple's new feature.
In this article we'll run thought some of the options for OCR (Optical Character Recognition) you have now, and how Apple's Live Text feature will work once that launches.
Best OCR apps
First up, here are some of the best OCR apps you can use now.
Adobe Scan - turns screenshots, saved images, photos, business cards and even white board notes into a digital file and unlocks the text using OCR. The app is for iPad and iPhone. You can download it for free here.
LiveScan - this app can also grab text from images. It's available for Mac, iPhone and iPad. There's a free version that is limited to 50 characters per detection, but you can use it for as long as you like. Otherwise it's 99p a month or a one off payment of £8.99. It even has language detection options, so you could use English, French, German or Chinese. Because the free version is limited to 50 characters you'll probably find it best for copying email addresses and phone numbers. You can download it from the App Store here.
TextSniper - This Mac app can extract text from your images, scanned paper documents, PDFs, and even videos. It costs £8.99/$9.99 from the Mac App Store here.
SnipCopy - this iPad and iPhone app will extract text from pictures, PDFs and anything on the screen. The app is designed for iPad but will also work on M1 Macs. Get it from the App Store here.
Scanner Pro, Readdle - this is another scanner app designed for iPad and iPhone, it also works within iMessage. It will scan a paper document and allow you to save a digital version. There is a free seven day trial followed by a £3.49 a month subscription, unfortunately you need to sign up for the subscription before you can use any of the features though. You can, of course cancel the subscription at any time. Get it from the App Store here.
How to extract text from an image with Adobe Scan
We tried out Adobe Scan. Here you have options to scan Whiteboard, Form, Document, or Business Card. Alternatively you can select a photo from the Photos app.
If you choose to 'scan' a document in front of you, you will then have the option to Select Text and then Copy Text. The text will then be copied to your clipboard. If the text includes a phone number you will see an option to call in, and of there is an email address you will see the option to call it.
What is Live Text?
At WWDC 2021 Apple unveiled a range of new features that will appear in iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey. One of the most impressive was Live Text, which takes writing in images and converts them into text you can then paste into documents, emails or whatever you like. It also allows you to see a phone number in a photo and then directly dial it without having to type anything.
Here's how to use Live Text on iPhone, iPad and Mac.
How to use Live Text on iPhone and iPad
To use the Live Text feature, your iPhone will need to be running iOS 15 or iPadOS 15. This means you can either wait until it launches later this year (around September when the iPhone 13 is expected to arrive) or sign up to the Apple Beta Software program. The latter is the quickest, as you can use it today, but be warned that beta software can be buggy and problematic. So, unless you really can't hold out until Autumn, we'd recommend waiting for the full version of iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 to arrive. Otherwise, read our guide on how to install the iOS 15 beta on iPhone.
Live Text in the Camera app
Once you have iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 up and running, accessing the Live Text feature is easy as it's built directly into the camera app. So, here's what to do:
- Open the Camera app
- Get the image you want to capture in the frame
- Tap the Live Text button that appears in the bottom right of the image
- Tap the text in the image and select as you would with any document.
- Select Copy from the menu that appears.
- Open the destination document, then tap Paste to see the converted text.
Live Text with photos in your library
It's also possible to convert text in existing photographs. Here's how:
- Open the Photos app.
- Open the photo you want to use.
- Slide your finger across the text area in the image.
- Select Copy.
- Finally, paste it into your destination document.
Use a phone number directly from a photo
If the image in question has a phone number, say on the side of a building, you can use it straight from the picture with the help of Live Text.
- Open the image
- Zoom in on the number
- Tap the Live Text button in the bottom right corner of the frame
- The number should now become a link, so tap it to open the contextual menu
- Select which option you want to use – Call, Send Message, Copy, etc.
How to use Live Text on a Mac
Once you've updated your Mac to macOS Monterey (or signed up for the beta software program mentioned above), you will be able to take advantage of the new Live Text feature. Initially it looked like Live Text would only be available to M1 Macs, but Apple has since opened up the feature to Intel Macs too, although it's likely to be limited to more recent models. Read: Apple to bring OCR-like Live Text to Intel Macs after all.
You can't use the Mac camera in the same way as on the iPhone or iPad, but you can still interact with text in images you find in the Photos app.
It's quite simple, as you just open the image, click on the text or number then interact with it via the menu that appears.
There are plenty of other great features coming in macOS Monterey, including massive updates to Safari, the introduction of Quick Notes and Shortcuts, plus many others. To see what lies in store, take a look at our guide to macOS Monterey.