Bringing AI to Excel—4 new features announced today at Ignite

Editor’s note 9/24/2018:
This post has been edited with updated information on the availability of Ideas and new data types in Excel.

Excel’s power comes from its simplicity. At its core, Excel is three things: cells of data laid out in rows and columns, a powerful calculation engine, and a set of tools for working with the data. The result is an incredibly flexible app that hundreds of millions of people use daily in a wide variety of jobs and industries around the world.

Today, we’re pleased to announce four new artificial intelligence (AI) features that make Excel even more powerful:

  • Ideas
  • New data types
  • Insert Data from Picture
  • Dynamic arrays

Introducing intelligent suggestions with Ideas

Ideas is an AI-powered insights service that helps people take advantage of the full power of Office. Proactively surfacing suggestions that are tailored to the task at hand, Ideas helps users create professional documents, presentations, and spreadsheets in less time. In Excel, for instance, Ideas helps identify trends, patterns, and outliers in a data set—helping customers analyze and understand their data in seconds. Ideas will be generally available in Excel soon and will also begin rolling out in preview to other apps starting with PowerPoint Online. Simply click the lightning bolt icon in Excel or PowerPoint Online and Ideas will start making recommendations. Read more about Ideas in this support article.

An animated image shows Ideas in Excel.

Making new data types generally available

Excel has always been great at helping people make the most of numbers. But now Excel can do even more: It can recognize real-world concepts, starting with Stocks and Geography. This new AI-powered capability turns a single, flat piece of text into an interactive entity containing layers of rich information. For instance, by converting a list of countries in a workbook to “Geography” entities, customers can weave location data into an analysis of their own data. And this new capability—though deceptively simple—opens a whole new world of possibilities. As we add new data types over time, Excel’s rows, columns, cells, logic engine, and tools can be used to organize, analyze, and reason over any combination of numbers and sophisticated entities. The Stocks and Geography data types are rolling out to general availability next month. Read more about data types in this support article.

Image shows the Geography data type in Excel.

Saying goodbye to manual data entry

With Insert Data from Picture, you can take a picture of a printed data table with your Android device and convert that analog information into an Excel spreadsheet with a single click. New image recognition functionality automatically converts the picture to a fully editable table in Excel, eliminating the need for you to manually enter data. Insert Data from Picture will be available in preview for the Excel Android app soon.

An animated image shows Insert Data from Picture being used on a mobile device.

Calculating with ease using dynamic arrays

With dynamic arrays, we continue to invest in making advanced formulas easier to use. Using dynamic arrays, any formula that returns an array of values will seamlessly “spill” into neighboring unoccupied cells, making it as easy to get an array of values returned as it is to work on a single cell. You can immediately harness the power of dynamic arrays by using one of the new FILTER, UNIQUE, SORT, SORTBY, SEQUENCE, SINGLE, and RANDARRAY functions to build spreadsheets that would previously have been nearly impossible. So now, rather than writing many complex formulas to solve a multi-cell problem, you can write one simple formula and get an array of values returned. Read more about dynamic arrays in this Tech Community blog.

An animated image shows Dynamic Arrays in Excel.

Faster LOOKUP and MATCH

We’re not only adding new capabilities to Excel, we’re also continually improving the features customers already know and love. For example, we have invested in significant performance improvements for important lookup functions. We’re pleased to announce that VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP, and MATCH functions operating on large data sets will now execute in seconds instead of minutes. We’ve also improved performance on many key operations like copy/paste, undo, conditional formatting, cell editing, cell selection, filtering, file open, and programmability. Read more about these improvements and capabilities in this Tech Community blog.

An animated image shows the LOOKUP function in Excel.

We’re excited about these new features and hope you are, too. For us, Excel isn’t just a tool—it’s a way of life! And today’s announcements not only deliver incremental improvements in data handling and performance, they also push the app into new territory with new data types and AI-powered analysis services. We look forward to showing you more at Ignite this week and can’t wait to see what you do with it all. As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please send us your thoughts through UserVoice—and keep the conversation going by following Excel on Facebook and Twitter.

Availability

  • Ideas will be available soon.
  • New data types are rolling out to users of Excel in Office 365 (in the English language only) soon.
  • Performance improvements are rolling out first to Excel in Office 365 starting today.
  • Dynamic arrays is available in preview for users signed up for the Office 365 Insiders Program starting today.
  • The Insert Data from Picture feature will be available in preview for users signed up for the Office 365 Insiders Program on the Android Excel app soon.