For as long as Apple’s iPhone has had a capable camera users have toyed around with using the device as a quick way to digitize documents and just about anything else around them. Today, Microsoft finally answered the question of how to digitize documents on your iPhone with a new dedicated app its calling Office Lens.
Microsoft announced the new Office Lens app for iPhone and devices running Google’s Android operating system today on its Office Blog. The app is already available in the Windows Phone Store for Lumia and other devices running the operating system, but hadn’t been among the apps made available when Microsoft rolled out free Microsoft Office apps to Android and iPhone users last year.
In a world where everything is going digital, too many situations still involve having to handle actual notes. Office Lens is the remedy for that. The free app uses the iPhone’s rear-facing camera to snap a quick picture of any document with clear, legible writing on it.
If this were the only features of the app it’d be no better than the other sub-bar scanning apps available in the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store. Office Lens crops the image around the document and searches what is left of it for any text. It then renders what it sees in text straight to a digital notebook in Microsoft’s OneNote app. Depending on your settings, it will also create a Word document on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage utility. Microsoft says the apps use OCR or Optical Character Recognition to detect what’s in the document itself.
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Beyond documents, Office Lens is incredibly handy for saving travel receipts and ditching business cards that people hand out at events. It’s also a very handy way to avoid ever having to fax anything. Office Lens is the perfect complement to OneNote since it also allows users to scan whiteboards with text and turn those into documents as well. This is perfect for anyone using OneNote as a complete notebook replacement on the iPad, Surface Pro 3 or a device running Android. On the iPhone users just switch the dial below the viewfinder on their screen. Office Lens will do the rest of the work. In some cases te app handles the switch on its own.
That Microsoft is making the iPhone and Android versions of Office Lens available to users for free is definitely going to earn it some strange looks from users of Windows Phone, but it’s absolutely the right decision to make. iPhone users in particular are always searching for a way to ditch their documents with a scanning app.
Office Lens is the perfect complement to OneNote, which is itself available on iPhone and Android. Unlocking this functionality for everyone drives more people to OneNote and OneDrive and closer to using more Microsoft products. Since Microsoft’s products are better on its own platforms the company is betting that it’ll see an uptick in people looking to experience OneNote, OneDrive and Office on Windows where it’s better integrated. Microsoft updated the Windows Phone Office Lens app with automatic mode switching for whiteboards and documents relatively recently.
Office Lens is available in the iTunes App Store today without any hassle at all. That being said, the same isn’t true for Android devices. Users will need to join the Office Lens Android Preview community in Google’s Google+ social network and click on Become a Tester in the About area. Microsoft says that the version of Office Lens Android users are getting today is actually a preview of the final application. Microsoft hasn’t said when Android users can expect a final version of OneNote for Android.