Your iPhone’s camera can do more than just take photos. It can also help you record measurements for do-it-yourself projects. I recently tested two apps—one that lets you record measurements on the photos you snap and another that also taps into your iPhone’s accelerometer to do the measuring for you. Here’s my look at how both these apps measure up.
Big Blue Pixel’s Photo Measures is a handy productivity app that allows users to record measurements and dimensions directly onto their iOS device photos.
The app has a clean look and feel that makes it well-suited to professionals such as contractors or real estate agents who need to quickly record, save, and share measurements on a regular basis. But it’s also convenient for homeowners and apartment dwellers who can carry around the dimensions of their homes and always know if that bookshelf or picture frame will fit where they envisioned it.
Here’s how it works: Snap a photo of the room or object for which you want to record measurements (or grab a photo from your camera roll). Once the photo opens, swipe along the part you want to measure with your fingertip. As you draw your lines, a magnifying glass appears in the corner of the photo to ensure accuracy. Alas, the app won’t actually calculate the distances for you (though it will measure angles) but it makes recording detailed measurements quick and easy, even on the iPhone’s small screen. Using it on the iPad’s larger screen is, of course, easier.
In addition to recording measurements, you can insert text boxes to make notes and measure angles. To measure an angle, select the angle icon from the app’s toolbar and swipe along the angle you wish to measure. When you are done, the angle’s measurement will appear next to your line. The angles I measured appeared to be accurate although you may also manually enter your own measurements.
Each aspect of your measurements can be customized. For example, you can record dimensions in feet, yards, and inches or in millimeters, centimeters, or meters. You can also change the size, color, and style of your lines and text.
Photos are organized into different categories—Recent, Favorites, To Do, Important, Rooms, and Objects are the default categories, but you can add (or delete) as many additional categories as you like.
Once you have entered all your measurements into the app, you can easily save and share your measured photos by exporting them either to your photo library or by emailing them as JPEGs or PDF documents. Head over to the settings and you can chose to export high resolution images, if you want. You can also protect images to prevent unintentional changes.
These features show that the developers clearly had professionals in mind when they designed the app. The only feature the app really lacks is integration with Apple’s iCloud or DropBox functionality to back up and sync photos across devices.
The $5 app is compatible with iOS devices running iOS 4.0 or later. Big Blue Pixel also makes a free version of the app, Photo Measures Lite, which limits you to two photos and places a watermark on any photos you export.
Hollingtech Software’s Measured picks up where Photo Measures leaves off. Unlike Photo Measures, Measured aims to be a total replacement for your tape measure.
The app uses your iPhone’s accelerometer to measure distances and dimensions without the need for a tape measure. Launch the app and you are greeted with a tutorial that walks you through the calibration process. First, you need to specify what kind of shoes you are wearing and what size. This is so the app can accurately determine how long your steps are—you must do this every time you wear a different pair of shoes when using the app. (Alternatively, if you want to be extra precise, you have the option of measuring your own shoe and manually entering the length.)
Next, you need to calibrate your iPhone’s accelerometer by tapping the Level button, placing it against a doorframe, and rotating it twice. A video tutorial demonstrates the process, which is essential to getting accurate measurements. After the calibration is complete, you’re ready to start measuring.
Measuring is a little complicated at first, but the process gets easier once you get the hang of it. First, you take a photo of the object you want to measure. Then, you carefully step heel-to-toe at least one-third of the distance to that object, remembering to set a step-count (the default is six but I found 2 or 3 was usually sufficient) before taking another photo.
Once you have taken your two photos, you can begin taking measurements by indicating whether you want to measure width or height, and then dragging along the parts of the photo you want to measure. As with Photo Measures, a magnifying glass appears to help ensure accuracy. Once you have completed this process on both photos, the app generates a measurement.
I found that the measurements were surprisingly accurate, within a few tenths of an inch in most cases, provided the device was calibrated correctly. That said, if you need absolutely precise measurements, it probably wouldn’t hurt to measure the old-fashioned way as well.
Additionally, you can use the app to enter in your own measurements the same way you can with Photo Measures. But this feature lacked much of the functionality afforded by Photo Measures. For instance, you can’t import photos from your camera roll—you must take all of the photos from within the app. While this makes sense for measuring purposes, I found it frustrating when it came to simply recording measurements you already have. Also, your customization options are far more limited in Measured. Unlike Photo Measures, there is no way to record a note, and the app has no support for recording or measuring angles (though you can specify whether the measurement is of size, distance, or elevation). Measured can only share photos via email or to your Camera roll, so it lacks the export options available in Photo Measures.
Despite these shortcomings, Measured’s ability to accurately measure dimensions on-the-go make it a handy utility . Measured is compatible with the iPhone, iPad, and fourth-generation iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later.
When considering these two apps, it’s less of a question of which one is better, as it is which one will work best for your needs. If you only need to record measurements, Photo Measures is the better choice. It is much more flexible and has better options for importing and exporting photos. It’s also much faster and simpler to use and offers better functionality as a note-taking aid.
If, however, you don’t have the measurements in front of you, and want to get measurements quickly, Measured is definitely your best bet. It has a longer setup process but if you need it to take accurate measurements quickly on-the-go, it will be worth the investment of time for the initial setup.
[Karissa Bell is a Macworld editorial intern. Follow her on Twitter.]