IFax for IPhone

Attorneys, real estate agents, and accountants all have one thing in common: they're still using fax machines. When nothing else will do except a hard copy of your signature, then faxing is a must. Unfortunately, fax machines and going mobile don't go together too well, unless you use Maplewoods Associates' exceptional iFax app--a tool that does one thing and does it well.

Interestingly, iFax has some commonality with scanner apps like JotNot and DocScanner--you snap a picture of a document, and then send it to your intended recipient. The similarities end there, however.

Scanning tools don't really take the place of a desktop scanner, because a scanner still serves other functions, such as high-res photo scanning and image-to-text conversion. But with iFax, you can probably ditch your fax machine--at least, if you only send faxes and you don't need to receive them. (For that, just use the free eFax.com service.)

iFax is a useful app because of how it takes advantage of the iPhone camera. (iFax lists compatibility with the iPod touch as well, since--in theory--one could attach an image stored in the photo library, but you really need the built-in camera to get the most out of this app.) One common use: you can print out a contract on your Mac, sign it, and--with iFax--snap a photo of the contract and fax the document. Or, you can just compose a basic text message and send the fax without the effort of typing a doc, printing it, and faxing. Any app that means you can skip antiquated hardware such as fax machine is worth having, even at the slightly overpriced $15.

Yet, iFax is a also well-designed app: there's a wizard that walks you through the process of typing the fax number, setting the urgency, attaching photos and documents, and sending. One trick--you can snap a screenshot of anything shown on your iPhone (just hold Power and press Home), such as a Web page or PDF, and then attach them to a new fax and send. I'd prefer built-in PDF functionality for the price, though, so you can fax any PDF. iFax does not require that you sign up for any fax services or even create an iFax account, a major time-saver.

Faxes take quite some time to send through the iFax service--about 20 to 30 minutes--but the service worked reliably in my tests. Also, iFax doesn't do anything other than help you compose and send a fax. There are no features for storing faxed documents, cleaning up an image by making it sharper or brighter--e.g., making a signed contract you photographed look more legible--or even keeping track of fax numbers, although you can add a number from iPhone contacts.

I did notice one goofy limitation. To reduce fax spam, you can only send one fax to the same number every six hours. If you deal with a lot of contracts, and need to fax back to the office frequently, then iFax might not be the tool for you. Also, I should mention that fax quality is highly dependent on the quality of the iPhone photo you take. Usually, documents look clear--although in some cases text looked a bit chunky and pages looked too dark. Some users have reported problems sending faxes--iFax worked well for the US numbers I used. The app does not support international faxing, however. For the price, it probably should.

What I like about iFax is that it replaces hardware on your desk, and it means the iPhone has even more functionality. iFax worked well, even after sending several faxes, and I never had any crashes or problems. The app is well-designed, too. Combined with a Web service such as eFax.com for receiving faxes, iFax is a tool that I highly recommend--unless of course you do not work with any attorneys, real estate companies, or accountants.

iFax is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 3.0 software update.

[John Brandon is a 20-year veteran Mac user who used to run an all-Mac graphics department.]

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