What IS Microsoft PowerApps?

Lately, I’ve heard from a lot of people:  “I’ve heard about Microsoft PowerApps, but what is it?  What does it do?  What doesn’t it do?  Do I already have it? If so, is it tough to use?”  PowerApps was just released live in January, and while people are starting to hear the name more, I don’t think there is an easy primer on what it can do for companies, or why they should even care.  Here’s a nice and “simple” explanation on PowerApps:

Easy Business Apps for your Mobile Devices

PowerApps at it’s core is a Platform as a Service.  It allows you to create Mobile Apps that run on Android, iOS, Windows (Modern Apps), and through almost any Internet browser.

PowerApps is also a Mobile App!  Historically, Mobile App Development has often involved creating Apps for each Operating system they need to run on. (one for iOS, one for Android, one for Windows).  This essentially triples your development work, triples your support costs, and increases the development resources you need to create Business Apps.  With the PowerApps Mobile Apps, all of the PowerApps you create run through the PowerApp App.  It takes care of the the differences between the Operating Systems, and just allows you to run your Apps.  It is essentially a container that make mobile apps much easier to use across mobile platforms.  In addition, there is also a Web Version of PowerApps.  It’s the Same concept, but runs through any modern web browser instead of a mobile App.

First, Tap the PowerApps icon on your Phone
Then, tap the Published App to run it!

Ok, so What does PowerApps do?  How do I make one?

PowerApps provides a nice drag and drop GUI to allow you to Add different controls (i.e. text field, choice field, etc), media (images, video, camera controls for your phone), forms,  screens to construct a Mobile App.  It also allow you to connect to external data sources or store data directly inside the App.  Once you have created an App, all you have to do is publish it and share it with your organization.

Now, that is a very high level and simplistic definition of PowerApps, but I did promise a simple primer 🙂

Making a PowerApp can range from simple to complex, but everything is created through either the PowerApp Windows Modern App on a Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 device, or through the Web designer, which can be run through any modern web browser:

Windows 10 PowerApps Design surface

Ok, I like the concept, but what’s the catch?  What doesn’t it do?

PowerApps are designed to be used for BUSINESS Mobile Apps.  You’re not going to create a PowerApp to share with everyone in the world.  These a re not designed for consumer consumption, mostly due to the licensing model, as well as technical limitations with sharing with external users to your organization.

Also, all of the functionality in PowerApps is “no-code”.  Your in-house developers won;t be able to add any custom HTML or JavaScript, or do any hacky things to the underlying device.  If PowerApps can;t access anything external to it, then neither can your users or your developers.  While it sounds like a limitation, it can also be a good thing.  Restricting rogue code from your PowerApps will allow the platform to keep stability and ease of use for the long term.  If you need custom business logic that PowerApps just cannot provide, you can connect to any custom REST API with PowerApps to get the best of both worlds.

Lastly, PowerApps functionality may not meet your exact requirements for what you are looking to do with your mobile apps today, but as this is a Cloud oriented service, updates, features, and enhancements are being release at a very strong cadence from Microsoft.  Make your voice heard with them on things you would like to have the product do, they are listening!

So, do I have PowerApps?  Is it tough to create and use Apps?

If you have an Office 365 Enterprise E1 or above subscription, you have PowerApps!  Now, does that mean you have every feature of PowerApps?  Not necessarily.  Check the licensing page for PowerApps here to see all of the different license levels, features included with each license, and how to get A- la- carte licenses if you don’t have Office 365.

As for ease of use for creation, like everything else, it just depends.  You can create simple PowerApps that are really easy to create, or you can create ridiculously complex PowerApps which increase the knowledge curve needed.  But do you have to code in JavaScript, HTML, or C#?  Nope.  Do you need to write formulas to describe your logic? Yes.

The PowerApps formulas were designed around Excel formulas, to allow business users to reduce the learning curve to create formulas for this logic.  While not perfect, it is actually fairly simple to learn.  As time goes by, I would like to see Microsoft really double down on examples and documentation, but for a product that was only released a few months ago, they have done a reasonable job with their documentation on Powerapps.com

Is that all for PowerApps?

This primer just barely scratched the surface.  Please check out some of my other articles to take a deeper dive into the product, and as always, please feel free to reach out to me at jo.karnes@centricconsulting.com

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