Microsoft now lets users take pictures of tables and automatically convert them to Excel spreadsheets

For those of us who get to interact with huge datasets almost on the daily, Excel, Microsoft’s popular spreadsheet program (remember when they used to be called programs and the word app didn’t exist in common parlance?), is unbeaten.

Sure, there’s the convenience that comes with the collaboration that is possible with Google Sheets, the equivalent product from the custodian of our favourite mobile platform but, as many can attest, it doesn’t compare. Microsoft Excel is Microsoft Excel and there’s nothing out there like it.

While that remains so, it’s still been quite a chore when doing certain tasks. Like converting data into a format that can be manipulated on Excel spreadsheets.

Heck, for those of us who must extract data in tables on already published material like books, magazines, newspapers etc, there have been tools to allow us to do that. Personally, I’ve been using Tabula (check it out). Data entry is not fun. It’s why there’s a whole business for outsourcing the same out there that is even very popular in Kenya.

The problem, though, is that I haven’t been able to settle on a Tabula equivalent for mobile. Plus, anyway, Tabula is limited to just documents (PDFs). Given how many times I encounter interesting data when out and about, like, say, reading a newspaper at the barbershop, something for mobile would come in handy.

Given that we can already do things like using our smartphone cameras as portable scanners and OCR (optical character recognition) machines, this seems bizarre, doesn’t it?

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In an era where a significant chunk of the global human population has access to smartphones and mobile apps have been all the rage for a decade now, it is only natural that something as widely used Excel also played nicely with mobile devices and tapped into their huge potential, right?

This is why Microsoft’s recent announcement is pretty interesting and an idea whose time has come.

“Using the Excel app, you canĀ take a picture of a printed data tableĀ on your Android device and automatically convert the picture into a fully editable table in Excel. This new image recognition functionality eliminates the need for you to manually enter hardcopy data, ” notes the company in its latest round of new feature announcements for its Office products.

It is not the first time we are hearing about this feature, though.

Microsoft announced it last September at its annual Ignite conference as part of the Artificial Intelligence-powered features making it to Excel. What we didn’t know then was when we’d get to see it in action.

Now, Microsoft confirms, that it’s rolling out to the Excel app for Android with a promise to do the same “soon” on iOS (as if we cared).

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