Live Text is a new feature in iOS 15 that allows you to pull text from photos and your live camera to use elsewhere. You can snap a photo of a business card and later copy and paste that information into an email, or point your camera at a shop to quickly jump to its website and learn more about it.
Whether or not this tool is going to catch on with users is up in the air — it’s really a hybrid replacement for QR codes and just typing what you see into a search bar yourself. In testing it out, I did find a handful of useful situations to use Live Text in though (if I remember it exists).
How to use Live Text
Using Live Text is simple, whether you’re looking at a live image using the camera app or pulling text off a saved photo. You can also capture text with your camera from Messages.
Using Live Text with your camera
- Point your camera at anything with text out in the world. Books, signs, handwritten grocery lists, you name it.
- If the feature recognizes text, brackets will surround the text in your viewfinder and the Live Text icon will pop up in the bottom right-hand corner of your camera view. It looks like three lines of text between brackets. Tap on that. If this icon doesn’t show-up, you could be too far away from the text or it could be unreadable for Live Text.
- Once you tap the icon, Live Text pulls a screenshot of the selected text forward, giving you a better idea of what it can read.
- Live Text will give you the choice to copy, select all, look up, translate, or share the pulled text. You can also hard press on the screenshot to select just a portion of the captured text, like you would on a website.
- Once you’ve finished, you can snap out of Live Text mode by tapping the icon again or the area behind the captured text.
Using Live Text with a saved photo
- Pull up a photo with visible text.
- Hard press on the text to highlight it.
- You can adjust the highlight tool to grab the entire portion of text or just a selected chunk.
- Now you’ll be given the same options as above and can copy, select all, look up, translate, or share the pulled text
- To get out of Live Text’s highlight mode, simply tap on any other part of your screen.
Using Live Text in Messages
- Open up a text message thread and tap on the text box at the bottom of your screen.
- Tap the cursor to pull up additional input options.
- Tap the Live Text icon
- Live Text capture through your camera will come up on the bottom half of your screen. Point your camera at any text you’d like to share in a text.
- In Messages, Live Text auto-captures text for some reason and will preview it immediately above in your iMessage. Don’t worry — you can change which portion of text you’d actually like to insert. In the Live Text box, you can tap the icon in the bottom right-hand corner, exactly like you would using the Live Text directly through your camera. Here you can highlight text as usual and pick what you’d like to capture.
- Once you’ve highlighted the text you’d like to share properly, tap “Insert” to add it to your text in progress.
When you should use Live Text
Sometimes quickly typing out text or snapping a photo of a flier is going to be all you need — no special intelligent device solution needed. But in testing out Live Text, I ran into plenty of situations where the feature made my life a bit easier.
Scanning phone numbers and addresses
With Live Text, you can access phone numbers and addresses with your camera like you would on any website. Point your camera at a long customer service number listed on a product or quickly at a lost pet poster and you can easily make a call.
Looking up new words
Live Text makes it easy to pull that one word you don’t know from a block of text and quickly look up its definition. This is especially useful with long words that’d be a pain to type out or complex phrases that you’d have to come back to to remember.For me, this was really useful while exploring local plant shops. The high-end ones around town always use scientific names for plants that I usually don’t recognize, let alone know how to pronounce. With Live Text, I could scan that name, quickly look up the plant to check out its care requirements and decide it's not for me, all without butchering the name aloud while asking staff for assistance.
There have always been third-party apps available to translate foreign languages, but having it built into Apple’s native camera app is a game changer.Live Text can translate between seven different languages: English, Chinese, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. It’s obviously not the most inclusive line-up and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translations, but it can surely help you in a pinch if you’re looking for directions on a trip abroad or trying to translate a quick piece of literature.
Sharing hand-written lists and notes
I’m a hand-written to-do list guy through and through. I can’t operate unless I write it down. But occasionally I’ve got to share those messy lists with someone else: a coworker, my partner, a friend. Live Text has been great for turning my hastily jotted down to-do lists into actionable lists for work and collections of recipes into digestible grocery list texts to my partner.This process wasn’t always clean. I don’t have the messiest handwriting in the world, but my iPhone had trouble deciphering it sometimes. Maybe you'll have better luck.