Office Lens is arguably the most underrated Microsoft mobile app of the year, one of those things you realize you can't live without as soon as you use it. To date, this handy little mobile tool has let you use your Windows Phone's camera like a scanner, with modes for photos, whiteboards, and documents, and it's been particularly useful for scanning receipts. And in an experimental new update this week, Office Lens is adding support for business card scanning.
To be clear, you could have always scanned a business card with Office Lens, as it's just a (small) document. But this update takes things quite a bit further than that.
First, there's a new business card scanning mode in addition to the previous choices of photo, whiteboard and document.
When you use this mode, Office Lens adds a scan of the business card to OneNote as before but it also formats the information on the card nicely in OneNote so you can click-to-call with Skype, email the person, or access other information from the card.
From there, you can use OneNote (Windows, Mac, your smart phone) to search for data that is on the card. I tested this with a scan of a business card from Tangier, Morocco, and searching OneNote on my Lumia handset for tangier did indeed work.
Best of all, you can use OneNote on Windows, Mac or your smart phone to export the business card as a VCF file, so you can import it directly into Outlook (Windows, Mac) or your phone's contact list. This I've not been able to test as the card I'm using isn't being converted properly to that nicely-formatted image shown above.
According to Microsoft, Office Lens uses new technology from Microsoft Research to perform this feat, but it's also a work in progress. It works best with English-language business cards right now—which might be related to the issue I'm seeing—though support for other languages is coming. Microsoft is also asking users to help them improve the recognition algorithms by uploading your scanned business cards to any cloud storage service and then sharing a link to the scans with [email protected].
And if you're a developer, Microsoft is also opening up the OneNote APIs for scanning and recognizing business cards. You can learn more on the OneNote Developer Blog.