Google powers up PDF tools in Chrome browser – but there’s a catch

Google is adding a useful new PDF editor capability to its Chrome browser in the name of accessibility. 

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology lets users convert PDF files to text. Now, that OCR software is set to come to Google’s web browser, the company confirmed at edtech event ISTELive 23. 

Although no dates are given – Google states the feature will start rolling out “in the coming months” – the addition means users will be able to use screen readers to convert images to text and read it aloud. 

 Reading and readers 

Greater web accessibility is the driving force behind the new free PDF reader mode. According to the company’s own analysis, over 360 billion PDFs can’t be accessed by those with sight and reading difficulties.  

The solution, it seems, is AI (because of course it is). 

Google said it’s using the technology to create built-in Chrome browser features to address the issue. “When a screen reader user comes across a PDF that does not have alt text (a description of the image embedded and readable by screen readers), the screen reader will be able to convert the image to text and read it aloud,” the company said. 

But there’s a catch to using OCR in Chrome: for now, at least, users will need to be on a ChromeOS device. 

OCR isn’t the only feature set to launch in Chrome as the firm strengthens its commitment to online accessibility for all. Reading Mode, which launched in March and was similarly restricted to Chromebooks, will soon be available for all devices – which is about as accessible as one can get. 

Having said that, there may still be a touch of the browser wars about this reveal. Chrome is often regarded as one of the best browsers on the planet (and easily the most popular), but it’s entirely possible Google was spooked by Microsoft’s commitment earlier this year to power Edge’s free PDF editor with Adobe Acrobat.  

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