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The paperless office is a promise we’ve heard for decades: We’d have easy access to documents all the time. Our desks wouldn’t be cluttered. And we wouldn’t have to deal with file boxes.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way. Although we can increasingly get a lot of things digitally, such as bank and credit card statements, a lot of paper still comes our way. The latest version of Fujitsu’s ScanSnap line, announced today at CES, brings the paperless office a step closer to reality. Although I can’t eliminate getting the paper, I can eliminate storing and organizing it.
Scanning has been around for decades as well, but for the most part it has been cumbersome. Flatbed scanners require you to handle one sheet at a time. Most document scanners are persnickety about how you feed them. What makes Fujitsu’s ScanSnap ix500 different is that it just works.
I’ve been testing the ix500 for the past month. I’ve used it to scan receipts, pictures, Christmas cards, business cards, bank statements, checks, and car repair records. I found it as easy to use as Apple’s iPad mini, TiVo, and Sonos. You can put a stack of up to 50 different sized documents on the scanner (including double-sided pages) and press one button, and everything is converted into a PDF.
The best use is getting your physical documents into the cloud. I save all of my scans into a Google Drive folder. From there, everything is synced to Google and available on all of my devices. I was able to finance my car while on a business trip by pulling up a copy of the title in Google Drive. Even better: Google does optical character recognition on scanned documents, so you can search them just like you search email.
It’s great for places where space is at a premium. I visited the Bloomberg Foundation in early December and many of the desks had Fujitsu’s ScanSnap 1500M. Because there is limited space for filing paper, employees have the scanner. The scanner itself takes much less space than flatbed scanners.
The ix500 is an update to Fujitsu’s ScanSnap 1500 and 1500M. The new version increases scan speed to 25 pages per minute from 20 ppm. It also allows you to scan credit cards. (I’m not sure why you’d want to do that, but it does work.)
But the biggest improvement is the addition of Wi-Fi capability, allowing you to scan directly from the scanner to an iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Load the document feeder, launch the app, press the scan button (on the app or on the scanner), and the document appears on your mobile device. This is a great way to get digital copies of documents as you’re on the way out the door. Once the document appears in the ScanSnap app, you can email it or send it to a cloud service. Although I use it with Google Drive, it can also work with Dropbox, SugarSync, and Evernote.
Setting up the scanner to connect to my network was much simpler than most Wi-Fi setup procedures. My only nit is that the scanner has a physical Wi-Fi on/off switch that comes preset to off. Considering that Wi-Fi is a big selling point of this model, forcing the user to switch it on seems like an unnecessary step.
Although the ScanSnap can work with cloud services, the device itself is not cloud-centric. The implementation is close enough that it’s splitting hairs, but it would be nice if it would directly talk to cloud services. With the current implementation, if you scan it to your mobile phone, the document isn’t automatically on your laptop.
I would also like to see Fujitsu help bridge the physical and digital worlds. For example, if I scan a stack of business cards, I’d like to have that pull up the LinkedIn profiles of those people and let me quickly connect with them. The ScanSnap comes with business card management software, but that kind of software is just a relic of a different time. Most business card scanning software relies on OCR, which is awful when you apply it to the creative fonts and formatting that people use on cards. A partnership with LinkedIn would allow more accurate connection by doing image matching instead of OCR.
The ScanSnap is also a good solution for quickly scanning a stack of photos to get online. Although the quality isn’t as high as individually placing each photo on a flatbed scanner and optimizing them in Photoshop, that’s a task I’ve long put off because it was just too much effort. With ScanSnap, I was able to get all of my pictures online.
At nearly $500, the ScanSnap is not a cheap device. But this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for.
Fujitsu is one of several companies pushing paperless office technology this year as part of a new campaign, as VentureBeat covered last week.
Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org; and tweets at @rakeshlobster.
[Top image courtesy of Fujitsu.com]