Lately, Microsoft has been coming out with a multitude of helpful productivity tools in the way of apps, including Planner, Flow and Delve, to name a few. These are some fantastic apps that expand and tie together the Microsoft ecosystem in a way that makes so much sense that it feels like second nature from the start. PowerApps can now be added to that group. PowerApps is one-third of the suite of products that Microsoft’s corporate Vice President, James Phillips, refers to as the “Power Trio.” The other two products being Flow and Power BI.

In case you missed our previous tip on Microsoft’s Power BI, see it here.

What is PowerApps?

PowerApps is a tool that enables creation of no-code apps in a matter of minutes. The strength of PowerApps is that it cuts development costs associated with producing a custom app, drastically decreases time from concept to creation, and enables businesses to be more agile in order to stay current with changing times. PowerApps is simple enough to transform the learning curve of coding on mobile devices into a matter of a few clicks yet deep enough to provide developers options to customize functionality.

How functional/useful are the apps developed in PowerApps?

This is a must-have tool for a company using SharePoint and wanting a companion mobile experience. The keys to a great mobile experience are:

  1. A well-designed user experience.
  2. Mobile-optimized business processes.
  3. Sound Mobile infrastructure.

User Experience

A well-designed user experience makes it easy for end-users to pick up the device and intuitively navigate the app.  PowerApps analyzes the data in a SharePoint list, suggests a logical layout, and creates an interface based on several pre-configured templates. This includes multiple screens, familiar controls and functionality built-in to edit items, send changes back to SharePoint from the mobile app, sort the order and have pre-determined navigational paths. Looking at the interface below, it’s clear what to press to perform any of these tasks. If asked to see all posts on new investors, refresh, edit author, delete a post or send changes back to SharePoint, little to no instruction would be needed.

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Mobile-Optimized Business Processes

Mobile optimization of current business practices aims at making life easier through use of the mobile app. What is to be loved most about PowerApps is the integration with core SharePoint functionality.  SharePoint is most frequently used as content management. As such, data manipulation is essential.  PowerApps provides direct manipulation of SharePoint lists right from your smartphone. Can you add a new item? Yes. Edit existing list items? No problem. Delete an item? You got it! No longer does business have to wait for end-users to make it back to a laptop to perform quick changes to a SharePoint list.

Mobile Infrastructure

Ideally an architecture promoting integration with corporate data and quick development of the app is a basic component of an effective app tool. PowerApps has the ability to connect to various data sources, one of which being SharePoint lists. From here, PowerApps does all of the work behind the scenes and creates a suggested interface to display the corporate data from a mobile device. This whole process is seamless and simple. From start to finish, this can be done in under 5 minutes.

How to quickly create a SharePoint PowerApp

Microsoft designed PowerApps to be a no-code easy entry portal for app development. The quickest path to creating a SharePoint Online app (using the new list experience) can be completed in three easy steps.

  1. On the list, click ‘Create an App’ under PowerApps dropdown in the menu bar.
  2. Select format, change default columns shown and orientation (optional), then name and save.
  3. Download PowerApps to your mobile device and login to your O365 account.

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Can I customize the app?

PowerApps provides a number of options to customize apps: create an icon from a standard list of images mixed with a background color palette; upload your own image; customize the design based on screen size; or specify landscape or portrait mode. The functionality is customizable through specialized functions included for math operations, string manipulation, table creation, custom actions and event receivers, dates and even REST calls. PowerApps incorporates a host of tools and options to customize the look, feel and function of the app just short of coding it from scratch.

In the above highlighted steps, an end-user can go from this:

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PowerApps applications extend beyond list management. An example of PowerApps empowering designers includes connecting a PowerApps application to Flow and automating an alert to corporate social media based on items being added to a list. This example sheds light on why PowerApps and Flow are two parts of the “Power Trio” and shows how a developer can use these apps together to meet business needs.

What data sources can PowerApps connect?

In addition to SharePoint lists, Microsoft included an array of possible data sources. PowerApps even allows connection to multiple sources within the same app, establishing a versatile tool for data collection. These data sources include:

Business

  • SharePoint
  • SQL Server
  • The Common Data Service
  • Dynamics 365
  • Office 365 Users
  • Outlook
  • Excel
  • GoToMeeting

Email

  • Outlook
  • Gmail
  • Mail
  • MailChimp

Cloud

  • OneDrive
  • Google Drive
  • Dropbox
  • GitHub

Social

  • Twilio
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook

As of the time of this article, there are already nearly 100 different data sources to which PowerApps can connect. For the entire list, see PowerApps Documentation.

What do I need to get started?

There are only three things needed to get started with PowerApps: An Office 365 account, a mobile device (tablet or phone), and the PowerApps mobile app. Apps are associated with the Office 365 account. Logging into the mobile app with the Office365 account will pull all the apps assigned to the account. Finally, PowerApps can be downloaded online, from the Google or Apple marketplaces, the Windows store or an on-premises gateway.

PowerApps is a powerful tool that has flown under the radar thus far. We suggest getting your hands on this tool and jumping ahead of the curve. We definitely see PowerApps ballooning in popularity as Microsoft turns its focus from new iterations of SharePoint to expanding the vast Microsoft products ecosystem and promoting synergy between those products.

This tip written by Abel Solutions SharePoint Consultant Henry Nixon.