Focus on Microsoft PowerApps

Still on preview, Microsoft PowerApps purpose is to let you design mobile and tablet apps and also Logic Flows (kind of mix between workflow and IFTTT). So, how does it work? Well, you request an invitation on the official website https://powerapps.microsoft.com then you download the Windows 10 app from the Windows Store.

Various possibilities: start from an existing template, from your data or from scratch.

  • Starting from an existing template permits you to fastly enjoy a budget tracker app or a service desk app for example
  • Starting from your data will adapt the generated app. We will take the example of a leave request management app based on a SharePoint list. By choosing SharePoint Online as data source, you give the site URL and determine which list is concerned. Well, you may have noticed that data sources are quite limited for the time being : Office 365 for SharePoint (no on-premise), excel file on your Onedrive (nothing else)… Efforts still have to be made but the PowerApps application is really evolving fastly :

PowerApps2

 

That tool is really similar to the Microsoft AppStudio. Created apps are available through the PowerApps app on your smartphone/pc. We have tested it on iOS. So, is it much complete than the AppStudio ? Well, yes and no.

The Appstudio, in its approach, is limited to basic actions and standard branding, yes. But you can create a solid base then download the source code in order to continue the development in Visual Studio (and you will get a complete application). By its side, unfortunately, PowerApps doesn’t provide that functionality. Microsoft choose a user friendly approach. No code, no. But a language based on “excel formularies”. So yes, it’s affordable. But, it’s also confusing at first. That’s not really for a developer who will feel frustrated, neither for a standard user who won’t take time to understand how it works. After that first impression, we finally end with beautiful results.

Let’s take the example of the leave request app. Here is how it starts in PowerApps :

  • Create your SharePoint list on Office 365
  • From PowerApps, choose to start from your datas and link to the list we’ve just created
  • Note that when you create your data connection, you can see which account is used and change it if wanted:

PowerApps3

  • When starting from your data, the interface will be generated automatically, but also formulas and screen to view, edit or create a new item ! Easy.
  • Of course, you may want to change the generated interface or the layout, that’s possible. Note that there aren’t a lot of choice for the moment.
  • Quite touchy, the user interface needs improvements. PowerApps sometimes also is touchy in its mechanisms. For example, if you want to change displayed field by another one on the data connection you have to : select the field, click on the Content tab, then click on data sources. You will see availables fields on the right. Thinked as a Universal Windows App, PowerApps needs some improvements to get an intuitive interface.

PowerApps4

  • You can change the logo and rename your app by clicking on the File menu:

PowerApps5

  • Note that if you want to access medias in your app, you have to load the content from the menu File > Media. Then you will be able to “call” the media in your formulas

PowerApps6

PowerApps7

  • No package or store to publish your app. You have to save and share it. Your app will then appear on the PowerApps application of your users. That’s another idea of improvement : make the created app available out of the PowerApps app. Right now it’s impossible to separate these two (you may want a shortcut to your created app right on your bar or desktop… Well, come back later ). Another thing, the app doesn’t work disconnected, no synchronization for the moment… Soon maybe.
  • What about Logic Flows? the other big part of PowerApps. It permits you to interact with data sources or API (like slack or twitter for example). So, how does it works ? Well, that time you begin online, in your web navigator. You can launch the page by clicking on File > Logic Flows:

PowerApps8

  • So yes, logic flows only provides basic actions, as IFTTT would do. But that’s the real point of PowerApps : create simple apps with capacities as simple and easily accessible. One again, you can select a template of start from your need:

PowerApps9

  • Actions are simple but really complete. You first select the trigger of your flow. The simplest idea would be to start when a user press a button on your app (action is “when a control is selected”). You can imagine starting a flow without any link with your application, when an item is created on a SharePoint list for example

PowerApps10

  • Next steps will let you add an action or a condition. Actions list is getting bigger and bigger and it looks like the first trigger action list of the Logic Flow. You can create an item or a folder in SharePoint, an item in Salesforce or a contact in Office 365…
    Logic Flows are pleasant and easy to use. Simplicity really is the key of that tool. Thinked as an AppStudio++ for enterprises, PowerApps finally is completely different. But it works ! and it’s getting better and better. I’ve already noticed a lot of improvements after 2 months. Still in preview, there’s no doubts the final release will be empowered with a lot of features like online/offline synchronization, standalone Apps, own templates etc. Whatever, PowerApps really feeds a need: the need to be mobile, to enjoy mobility and to use and interact with enterprise ressources through a native and universal mobile app. For me, Microsoft’s bet is almost successful.

PowerApps11 PowerApps12 PowerApps13 PowerApps14