Business

Screenshot Hero

Screenshot Hero

Screenshot Hero
Screenshot Hero scans through your screenshots (and other saved photos) and makes then instantly searchable by text in them.

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Highlights
Images are all processed on-device and nothing is sent to any server.
Tested to work with thousands of images.
Best and most performant OCR technology.

Technical Details

I wanted to build a simple utility app that would run OCR through my photos (all 5000+ of them) and make them searchable. I had following constraints for it:

It has to be fast. The UI needs to be fluid even for thousands of images.
All processing should happen on-device, should not be uploading photos to a cloud service.
I need to make it quick (I only had a week allocated for this project).
I am primarily a web developer and am not a skilled mobile developer. So I attempted this project with three different frameworks and here are my notes:

SwiftUI
SwiftUI is appealing as it’s a React-like framework. I wanted to learn SwiftUI but I struggled with the documentation and even writing a simple grid of photos was challenging. The community is tiny so there aren’t that many samples online either. I really wanted to use this but it was taking a bit too much of my time. Sadly, I had to ditch SwiftUI.

Expo.io
Expo is a React Native framework which bypasses the whole Android SDK + XCode step of making the app. It’s very easy to get started and the dev experience is great. Having written a React Native app before, I really wanted this to work. The only problem occured when I wanted to write the OCR part: expo eject workflow is kinda broken. In my case, the CameraRoll API broke due to some unlinked native module when I tried to run it via XCode after ejecting the app. I spent a few hours fixing the native modules but that didn’t work.

Without ejecting, I could have gone with Tessaract.js but it’s not fast enough to process thousands of images quickly.

There also isn’t a way to do background processing with Expo. I feel expo is great for simple CRUD apps for now and will fail you if your app needs a custom functionality.

React Native

In the end, I had to fallback to what I already knew. I copied views which I had created earlier for expo.io into a new ReactNative project. I then created a custom Swift native module which had all my business logic:
Methods to fetch all photos and process newer ones.
Queue to process only N photos concurrently.
Storage Model, went with MKKV as it was quick to set up.
OCR, used Apple’s Vision API which is surprisingly accurate and fastest on-device.
Set up BackgroundTasks to schedule photo processing for later, when the app is sent to background mid-processing (remember we may have 10,000+ photos in our queue, each photo takes ~1s to process).
Conclusion

I learned that React Native is fast enough if used only for views (and maybe lightweight logic) only. I used FlatList for the grid photo view (with some optimizations to lazy load photos) and it is very smooth even for thousands of photos. Real-time searching/filtering is also really smooth. React Native also has great community support.

This means writing more backend code per platform, which sucks but is straight-forward. It’s still better than writing front-end for each platform and dealing with all the quirks of each of them.

Try Screenshot Hero here.

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