Tech

Turn handwriting into searchable text with the latest Microsoft Lens

The OCR text recognition in Microsoft Lens can now interpret your scrawls, too.

Concentrated African American male worker sit at desk handwrite watching webinar or training on laptop, focused biracial man make notes busy studying working on computer at workplace in office
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One of the best apps in the Microsoft Office suite is also one of the least known. But that could be about to change. This week, handwriting recognition went live in the Microsoft Lens app, which was previously known as Office Lens.

The app already had OCR text recognition that made it Lens an effective scanner, but with the latest update, the company says Microsoft Lens can do a pretty good job of recognizing and digitizing your scribbles on paper. For now, the capability is limited to English handwriting. It's a useful addition for students, office workers, scholars, and anyone else who still believes the pen is mightier — or more convenient — than the keyboard.

Microsoft

The official schpiel — In a recent company-wide announcement talking up the new feature, Microsoft says:

Our apps provide the ability for you to transform and collaborate around modern multimedia content and help provide the privacy and protection you need to safely express yourself from your mobile devices. For organizations, providing new ways to create, curate, and collaborate around mobile, user-generated content will unleash the power of your workforce’s creativity. And supporting a secure and inclusive culture for self-expression that is centered on people’s data and identity protection will free workers to focus on business outcomes.

Hold your horses — Microsoft Lens' ability to take your handwritten notes and convert them into digital text can save a lot of time and labor that goes into academic, corporate, or any other projects that involve lots of note-taking. But like dictation software, Microsoft Lens isn't perfect, and shouldn't be trusted for important documents without giving its output a pass. There is, after all, a chance that the app will make a mistake or three. However, thanks to machine learning, Microsoft says that Lens will improve over time. You know, more data, fewer problems. Maybe, with the right kind of training, Microsoft Lens will be even one day be able to successfully parse doctors' handwriting.

Once your handwritten notes are converted, you have the option of translating them into more than 30 languages, changing their format from Word to PDF or other formats, adding annotations, and other editing and layout options. Of course, if you seldom write anything beyond a birthday card, this new feature may be wasted on you. But at least you can scan those, now.