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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sync Dystopia for Mac Users: Lotus Notes + CardScan + iPhone

A while ago, I moved from windows to mac, as I documented here. In general, when I wrote that article, there was a good amount of euphoria about the entire process, sprinkled with bravado and love for all things apple, as you might sense from the article. Fast forward a year and a half and I'm still very happy with the move, but have come to realize that you can't do without Windows, primarily because Mac Office (2011, 2012, whatever) mostly sucks. It may have been a big improvement from previous versions, but it still sucks. Its slow, not 100% compatible with Windows users in layout terms and kludgy. Eventually, after trying many many options, many virtual machines, trying hard to stick to Mac Office etc., I finally settled with Parallels Desktop 7 with MS Office and setting all office documents to open with the Windows office version running inside Parallels. Its great, fast and just what I need.

Anyway, this article is not about office. Its about the H*LL that you need to face for a simple task: How do you keep your business cards, email and your iPhone synced always. In other words, this basic requirement is a complete dystopia for Mac. Why do we need to sync all three? Let me explain from a business user perspective:

a) I travel very frequently to conferences, shows, meetings. We exchange cards. When I come back home, I need to scan the cards and keep the images as well. Why? Because when you scan, you don't really check everything for correctness - there is a 20-30% chance something did not scan right and you need the original card to re-verify some non-critical information (say fax, which you never checked till you needed it). Further these images need to be stored on my desktop not my iPhone. Why? No point taking up images in my limited phone space. Makes sense?

b) Each time I scan cards, obviously, I'd like _at_least_ the name and email to be imported into my email client so that when I send them emails, my email client knows their emails without me having to do a copy paste from where my cards are stored. Make sense?

c) And obviously, I'd like the card details (sans image) to come to my iPhone so I can make phone calls, send emails to the business contacts. Makes sense?

Simple requirements. The product choice, however makes it hell for mac users. Our company uses Lotus Notes for email. We use Card Scan for scanning cards. And I have an iphone.

The ideal sync scenario: I scan a card via CardSyc, it syncs with Lotus Notes address book. IBM has a nice product called "Lotus Notes Traveller" that keeps your phone and the notes client in sync. Perfect. Now I can enter stuff in CardScan, or in my phone, or in my lotus notes address book and all devices are in sync. This is how it works in Windows and there is never a hitch.

Its easy to say 'Why use these products?'. Here's why:

A) CardScan is the *best* scanner out there. Its hit rate of correct scans is the highest of many options I've tried. When you do a lot of scanning, hit rate matters. The new 'mobile OCR' apps don't hold a candle to CS. There are other dedicated scanner alternatives but none as good as CS.

B) Lotus notes is quite simply one of the best groupware solutions out there - our corporation uses LN for more than email. Our internal policies, performance management, document shares etc are all done via our integrated email clients. Further, LN is one of the best email clients for remote sync (i.e. users to need to work in offline mode and occasionally sync. Trust me - there is more to this than meets the eye. We did a detailed comparison with many iMap clients, including Outlook and LN and LN was far ahead. The only mistake we made was not to benchmark against exchange - however, having said that, in addition to email, we use notes shared databases extensively to keep business documents that are accessible by our entire business team with different access permissions - very convenient - I haven't seen an equivalent in MS Outlook client).

C) iPhone - come on, you shouldn't be asking me why I use an iPhone :)

Now this situation is trivially simple in Windows. Cardscan beautifully syncs with lotus notes (windows version, and before you ask, it doesn't sync with a mac NSF file) and using Lotus Traveler, the contacts zoom to and fro between my desktop notes and iPhone. But Mac. No, no, no. The biggest culprit of the lot is CardScan. They hardly care about the Mac. They have a product for the mac but its horrid, to put it mildly. Not that I did not try all sorts of options:

1) Cardscan <--> Mac Address Book: First, CardScan for Mac only supports syncing with Mac Address book. Nothing else. When you go to cardscan, it advertises syncing with much more, but that's actually for the windows version. There is a side note somewhere that its not for mac. After plunking a few hundred dollars for Cardscan executive for Mac, I realized it only sync with the address book. Ouch. Okay, lets not lose hope. Let's figure out how to sync the mac address book with Lotus notes and iphone.  Okay, so now I have Carscan synced with the Mac Address Book. Before we leave this topic, I even investigated using CardScan for windows running in parallel syncing with my mac's lotus notes address book (by exporting it as a shared folder accessible in my windows VM). No luck. CS for Win does not recognize a mac NSF address book, as I wrote earlier.

2) Lotus notes for mac's address book does not have any sync options. The only way it can sync is for me to push my mac address book contacts to the iPhone and then have Lotus Traveler auto push it to Lotus notes client. So now, let's figure out how to get mac address book data to my phone.

3)Mac Address Book <--> iPhone: I looked at two options. How about I sync my Mac Address book to iCloud and sync iPhone with iCloud? Woo hoo. Works right? No. It looks like the idiotic iCloud address book is different from the mac address book. When you enable iCloud sync on the mac address book, it syncs the address book of mac with iCloud, but then when you go to your mac address book, you will see two groups "contacts in your mac" and "contacts in icloud". From then on, to sync with icloud, you need to add to the "contacts in icloud" group. And obviously, when you sync cardscan with mac address book, it sync with the "contacts on your mac" group. Ouch. The option of syncing mac address book with iCloud via System Preferences is junk, It just works the first time you enable it. iCloud==FAIL.

4) Okay, what else can I do? The only other option is to use itunes to sync the iPhone address book and the Mac Address book. Fortunately, iTunes now has a wireless option to sync over WiFi. Yes, I have to launch another sync, but fine. So now, I have my CardScan synced with MacAddress book synced with iPhone. Now how about getting lotus notes to address book to sync?

5) Gmail? How about if I sync Mac Address book with gmail? There is an option for that. It works well. Now how do I get the gmail contact to lotus notes without plunking in some $60bucks for another 3rd party solution? I couldn't find any. All  I could find is a way to configure lotus notes to seek contacts from Gmail over LDAP but that won't work for me. I need it in offline mode.

6) Hmm, I'm getting smarter. How about I enable Traveler to sync contact from lotus notes to iPhone and then add the gmail contacts to iPhone via exchange. Bad idea. Lotus traveler address book is synced with iOS under a different contact group as is gmail. They don't mix.

7) How about I just activate traveler contact sync for lotus notes between iOS and notes desktop? Oooh yes! Then I can just have my phone auto populate entries to lotus notes desktop. Well, bad idea, again. When iTunes syncs the address book with mac it moves all contacts to the local address book group, whereas Traveler needs the address book to stay in the IBM Lotus notes group. Oh man, this is frustrating

8) *Sigh* So is the only way to export all contacts from CardScan to Lotus notes in a CSV? That's the only option mac CS has. Ok, well, whatever. I did it. I imported it. Guess what? Import gets messed up - LN for Mac muddles up CS Title field with Name Prefix. In other words, in CS if you have a person called 'Jon Doe' whose Job Title is 'Vice President' it gets into LN via CSV import as 'Vice President John Doe'. Great. You need to manually change the map, but guess what? No way to save the custom map. Fortunately, I have parallels with Windows running at the same time and the windows version of CS has many more export options including export to a single vcard file - which works.

So finally, what is my chosen solution so far:

a) CardScan for Mac syncs with Mac Address book (by the way, even today it's not foolproof. Once in a while, new contacts don't sync with the address book - I need to disable/enable sync with cardscan and only then does it work. Did I already mention Cardscan Mac is a horrible product?)

b) Mac Address book syncs with Gmail

c) I use Gmail as an exchange account in my iPhone to sync its contacts

d) For email, calendar and notes sync I use Lotus Traveler (contacts disabled)

The above is automatic and allows for updates of contacts on all sources (iPhone, CardScan)

e) For Lotus Notes address book, I use the windows version of CardScan and export a single VCF archive and import it in. I do this once in a few months, so my lotus notes address book is not updated realtime like the others.

Incidentally, the Gmail contacts sync is not without idiosyncrasies. It allows me an automatic way to keep my CardScan DB, iPhone, Mac Address book in sync, but even when nothing has been changed by me anywhere, my mac pops up conflicts with "vague" warnings like "changes have occurred which may affect upto 25% of your contacts" (I have 2000 or so). When I compare a few, I find the "before" and "after" identical. Who knows if Gmail is refreshing its contacts automatically from Google+ or whatever. No real damage so far - but if I ever see Gmail updating the contacts with other emails etc it gleans from its social network, I'll give it the boot out...

Also note that is really uncomfortable for most business users to have to use Gmail as an intermediary. Its just not predictable what happens when you mix a free social network/service with a business need, especially with the social sharing part being to prominent these days. Furthermore, its a strict no-no with any medium or large IT - the fact that business contacts (which technically are property of your company) are being exported to Gmail could be considered as a potential security breach if someone were to get strict about it.

So who is at fault?

Hard to say, really, but:

a) Dymo (Cardscan) is really the worst offender of the lot. Their Mac product is pure junk. Its slow, crashes and their Mac OCR is bad (odd, their windows version is great). But to the point, they should have supported the same sync agents the windows version supported. They charge a few hundred bucks for a really shoddy mac version. If they supported LN, I wouldn't be howling.

b) Apple - their iCloud system is closed. Other vendors can't do much with it besides storing documents. Worse, their creating different contact groups and offering a broken sync function between Mac Address Book and iCloud that doesn't work is frustrating. It would have been so much simpler if they allowed users to choose which 'profile' the sync should be from.

c) IBM (Lotus Notes) - I wish they could show some extra love to business users who are loyal to them and offer a sync function to keep their address book in sync with at least, say, Mac's address book. (Admittedly, its a somewhat weak complaint from me... they overall have a better mac implementation than the above two, even though the Mac LN is significantly bug ridden compared to windows, but thats another story)

Geez. Its like mac users are step children when it comes to a simple thing like using some leading industry products' mac ports to do simple things.


  1. I feel your pain! Your experience is fairly similar to what I've seen -- there are some great advantages to switching to Mac but some big limitations you need to put up with as well. Blogged here:
    We have a shared Windows machine in the office for scanning in cards to a shared nsf, then it's easy enough to copy them into your names.nsf, but it's not very automated.

  2. Thanks for the post David. How do you scan cards into the shared NSF in the first place?

  3. We have a CardScan device. I just created a new database using StdR4PersonalAddressBook template to receive the cards.

  4. David, sorry for being dense here. Can you help me understand this better? From what I know, CS (windows version) can only scan cards into its own database and then you need to sync to move it to a lotus notes NSF file - are you saying you are directly scanning it into the NSF file?

  5. Our version of CardScan has an option to sync to a Notes address book. I haven't done it myself for a while but here are the instructions for the data entry folks:

    Start the CardScan program (icon on desktop)
    Insert a business card in the scanner -- face up. It will be scanned and a pop up box will appear in CardScan.
    Click Process. Edit/correct the details as needed.
    Insert each card one at a time (there is a batch option if you have many cards to process at once)
    When you're done scanning all cards, select File - Data Exchange - CardScan Synchronization.
    Press the Synchronize button. You may be prompted for the password again for Lotus Notes.
    When the synchronization is complete start Notes and replicate the names to the server to make them available from other computers.

  6. Thanks David - that clears my confusion. Yes, that is what we have here too - you need to synchronize post card import to get it to the NSF.

  7. Hi,

    I don't know if a Mac matters in this method, but I have been using Card Munch from LinkedIn lately. I photgraph the BCard with the iPhone and it OCRs and keeps a photo. I can then invite them to connect on LinkedIn or add them to my address book on the iPhone, which is synch'd with my Notes Address Book via Traveler.


  8. Thanks Pete. I did use CM for a while and then removed it - I can't remember why. I'll reinstall and post why I did that.

  9. I have an issue with the speed of the OCR. I seriously wondered if they emailed the image to a sweat factory somewhere that hand did the transcribing. A number of *really* good photos would come back as not being processed.

    That seems to have gone away now. It works well for me.


  10. Ah, I remember now.
    a) I too found the OCR lacking – glad to know that problem went away for you after a while
    b) I too was not comfortable with the delay – I got the feeling its OCR was really poor and they were, in fact, sending it off somewhere for manual conversion :-)
    c) It did not meet my need to store the images easily on my desktop – since my phone is space limited, I did not want them stored in my phone.

    Thanks, Pete!

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  12. Thank you for making this article available for the readers to know about the sync procedure in windows mac. I have read the user manual that will help me to work on with the mac synchronization. Regards keep updating.

  13. Once you set up the application, you will no longer need to carry these cards in your wallet, purse or on your key chain. You can access card information with a single touch from the CardStar home screen, and merchants can scan the card information directly from your iPhone. Thanks.
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  17. I don't know if a Mac issues in this technique, but I have been using Cards Eat from LinkedIn lately. I photgraph the BCard with the iPhone and it OCRs and keeps a picture. I can then encourage them to link on LinkedIn or add them to my deal with guide on the iPhone, which is synch'd with my Notices Address Book via Visitor.

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