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Microsoft to improve voice controls in Outlook mobile

Microsoft plans to bolster mobile workers' productivity when using 365 by improving the voice controls in Outlook and adding handwriting transcription to Lens.

Microsoft plans to improve the voice controls in the iPhone and iPad versions of Outlook and introduce handwriting transcription in Lens, a 365 mobile app used to capture and edit images of whiteboards and documents.

The improvements, detailed in a blog post this week, will help mobile users get work done without resorting to their phone or tablet's keyboard. Microsoft said the features will be available in the coming weeks and months but did not provide exact dates.

Microsoft plans to bring better voice controls in Outlook through enhancements to the Cortana digital assistant. The improvements will include accepting multiple commands in a row, while taking context into account. For example, a user could schedule a meeting with a voice command and invite a new participant by saying, "add Adele."

This feature will help workers schedule meetings, search through their inboxes and write emails faster than with a keyboard, Microsoft said. According to a Stanford University study, dictating a message or email on a computer is three times faster than typing it on a keyboard.

Microsoft will roll out the improved voice commands for the iOS version of Outlook in the coming weeks. The controls will initially be available in only English for U.S. customers with a Microsoft 365 business account.

The company expects to provide the same updates to Outlook for Android in a few months.

Microsoft Lens, formerly Office Lens, lets users take pictures of documents, handwritten notes, business cards or information on a whiteboard and save the images as a PDF or in Word or PowerPoint.

Microsoft Lens
An image captured using Microsoft Lens

Later this year, Lens will recognize handwriting in notes, letters and whiteboards and change it into text. Microsoft said it will add the feature to the Android app first and the iOS version later. The transcription feature will eventually come to other Microsoft 365 mobile apps, such as Teams and Outlook.

By the end of March, Microsoft plans to integrate Lens with Teams, so users can record short videos, annotate them and share them with fellow employees via the collaboration app. Microsoft plans to release the feature first in preview mode.

Overall, the new features will help bolster mobile workers' productivity, Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller said. "These are all good developments for Office users."

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering end-user computing topics such as desktop management. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole Times, Sharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in Central Massachusetts and Southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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