Scan-to-Google Drive: The scanner in your pocket

With Scan-to-Google Drive you can scan documents with your Android phone in just a few steps.

We tend to think that "going paperless" makes workflows faster. 70% of respondents to a February 2012 survey by AIIM indicated that the use of "scanning and capture improves the speed of response to customers, suppliers, citizens or staff by three-times or more". The study - Process Revolution: Moving your business from paper to PCs to tablets - is available free (registration required).

Scanning saves weight and makes information searchable. Businesspeople scan receipts, conference handouts, forms, meeting agendas, and minutes. Traveling without paper lightens the load on the road. Students and academics scan reports and articles for study and research. Finding facts is faster, thanks to character recognition in scanned documents.

Back in the good old days, say 2007, scanning took place on desktops. I've spent more time than I'd care to admit scanning in hundreds of articles, papers, and documents with a desktop scanner. Over the years, scanning has become faster and easier as image recognition technologies have improved.

Mobile scanning

In late May 2013, Google made scanning mobile when they added a scan-to-Google Drive feature to their Android Google Drive app. You can now scan documents with your Android phone in just a few steps. (Before we begin, install Google Drive to your Android device from the Google Play store, then start the app and login with your Google account.)

1. Add a new Scan

After you start the Google Drive app, tap the + symbol in the upper right corner. You'll then see a menu that lets you add a new Folder, Document, Spreadsheet, Scan or Upload. Choose Scan. (Figure A)

Figure A

Choose Scan to capture images in PDF format to Google Drive.

2. Photograph your document

Document image capture works best with plenty of light on the page. Try using your phone's built-in LED flash, if you have difficulty capturing an image in a low light environment.

3. If needed, adjust edges and color

After you capture the image of the page, review the result. The Google Drive app provides just two editing options.

You can adjust the identified document edges, to make sure the page is properly captured. The app corrects for angled images to improve character recognition and legibility. (Figure B)

Figure B

Adjust page edges, if needed.
You may also choose whether to preserve the image as a black and white or color page. Unless you need to preserve color information, I suggest you stick with the default black and white setting. (Figure C)

Figure C

Adjust page color setting, if needed.

4. If needed, scan more pages

Tap the + key to repeat the image capture process for additional pages. Be aware that Google Drive only looks "at the first 10 pages when searching for text to extract." If you want to be able to search the full text of your scans, limit your uploads to 10-page segments. When you've finished capturing images, tap the checkmark to upload your file. (Figure D)

Figure D

Limit scans to 10 pages to ensure full text search.

5. Review your upload

To check the results of your work, log in to your Google Drive account in a web browser ( Your scanned file appears as a PDF document in "My Drive" with a filename starting with "scanned_" followed by the date and time. See my sample document online, which is named "scanned_20130607-0758.pdf", indicating it was taken June 7, 2013 at 7:58 a.m. (Figure E)

Figure E

Scans are auto-named with the date and time, and saved in PDF format.

6. Search scanned text.

Thanks to character recognition, the text of your scanned documents is fully findable on your Google Drive using a search. For example, I entered "collaborative budgeting" into the search box on my Google Drive. The search results included my original Google Doc, in addition to the scanned PDF document I'd created from a printed page of the article. (Figure F)

Figure F

Use Google Drive search to find word within scanned documents.

Unfortunately, as of June 7, 2013, the Scan to Google Drive feature works only on Android devices. In the long term, I expect to see a Scan-to-Google Drive from Google Glass app. But I'd guess that a Scan-to-Google Drive app for iOS is likely to be released first.

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Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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