Microsoft Unveils Office Lens Document Scanning App for Android, iOS

A Windows Phone app that essentially turns a smartphone camera into a portable scanner is now coming to iOS and Android devices. In the year since it was first released, Office Lens has become "one of the most popular free apps on Windows Phone," according to Microsoft's OneNote team.

The capture app works by optimizing your smartphone's camera image of any document -- from a restaurant receipt to a business card or whiteboard presentation -- and then saving it to Microsoft's OneNote program for sharing across devices. Office Lens not only cleans up photos of documents to identify corners and adjust for the angles at which the photographs were taken, it also uses optical character recognition to convert written images into searchable, editable text.

After saving an image with Office Lens, users can also convert their photos into Word documents, PowerPoint presentations or PDFs. Text taken from photos of business cards can also be used to automatically add new names and numbers to a phone's contact list.

"Bringing Office Lens to iPhone and Android is a significant step for extending OneNote capture capabilities to more devices and endpoints," according to Microsoft.

The Whiteboard Challenge

Launched for Windows Phones in March 2014, Office Lens grew out of a Microsoft research project called Whiteboard It. The team working on that project was tasked with trying to find an effective way to reproduce content written on a whiteboard so it could be saved and shared as an electronic document.

The Whiteboard It team had to overcome a number of challenges to develop the tool. For example, how could a software program work with whiteboard photos taken from a range of distances and angles, and convert those into recognizable and usable text and images?

The development of Office Lens also involved the use of algorithms...

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