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Microsoft brings ability to turn photos of table data into Excel spreadsheets to iOS

Microsoft is bringing its 'Insert Data from Picture' feature to iOS devices after debuting it on Android earlier this year.
Credit: Microsoft

In March 2019, Microsoft announced a new innocuous-sounding Excel feature called "Insert Data from Picture" to the  Excel for Android mobile app. That capability -- which could revolutionize how some think about spreadsheets -- is now starting to roll out to iOS devices, as well.

"Insert Data from Picture" enables users to take pictures on their phones of table data and automatically turn it into an Excel spreadsheet. Microsoft announced this feature at its Ignite conference last September. It is generally available on both iOS and Android devices running Excel Mobile as of today, May 29, and users don't need an Office 365 subscription to use it.

Here's how this feature works, as Microsoft officials explain: 

• Open Excel on your phone or tablet and tap the Insert Data from Picture button
• Narrow in on your data until you see a red border, then tap capture 
• Excel will process the image and convert it to a table 
• Excel will give you the chance to correct any issues it discovered during the data conversion process. Ignore it or edit to correct it
• Press Insert when you're done and Excel will finalize the data

Microsoft announced last year that it would be adding new data types to Excel, starting with geography and stocks. The new geography data type supports states, countries, zip codes and cities. Stocks includes ticker symbols, fund names, company names and can fetch up-to-date prices.Microsoft's strategy is to add more smart data types to Excel over time.

"Smart," in this case, means "data-infused." The Microsoft Knowledge Graph already powers Bing and Excel data types. It's this cloud-connected/Knowledge Graph connection that makes these things "smart."

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