Microsoft Power Apps: a look at UX capabilities

DevToolsGuy / Tuesday, May 3, 2016

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the complexity of getting even basic enterprise apps built, you’re not alone. Gartner recently revealed that they expect the demand for enterprise mobile apps to grow at least five times faster than availability over the coming years.

Whether you’re looking for simple forms for mobile colleagues, workflows for their daily tasks or more powerful BI or specific jobs, mobile apps can be amazingly helpful. They save time and let your employees become a lot more productive.

However, many companies simply can’t produce all the apps they’d like their workers to use. Unless yours is a particularly large organization, the chances you’ll have a team of in-house developers is small. You’re therefore dependent on third party teams, consultants and freelancers; all costly and in high demand everywhere else.

Microsoft has recognized this problem, and in November 2015 announced the upcoming release of PowerApps. This amazing little tool might just change your life!

What is PowerApps exactly?

PowerApps represents a very clever move from Microsoft. Having recognized that they will always struggle against Apple and Android in the consumer app stores, they’ve turned their attention to the burgeoning enterprise app market instead.

PowerApps effectively allow anyone to play at being a developer. By providing a simple and intuitive environment for creating apps without any code, employees can connect to company data and create functional (if somewhat basic) apps by themselves.

This certainly isn’t the first time anyone has attempted to allow non-techy people to build apps, but it’s perhaps the most advanced attempt.

As good as this sounds on paper, will it be a success in practice? By providing your colleagues with quick and dirty apps, will you be damaging their User Experience? And is this even a problem?

What you get with PowerApps

PowerApps will basically work as follows. Once you’ve downloaded your version of PowerApps (there are going to be a variety of levels from free to premium), you get to choose from a series of templates for your app including:

  • Event signups
  • Product catalogues
  • Surveys
  • Workflows
  • Service desk calls
  • Opportunity tracking
  • And more

You can then introduce data from a wide range of Microsoft and third party sources such as:

  • SQL Server
  • SharePoint Server and Online
  • Salesforce
  • Google Drive
  • OneDrive
  • Dropbox
  • Dynamics CRM Online

Business users can then build apps with no code by connecting to these data sources. Apps can be built for iOS, Android and Windows from an easy to use ‘drag and drop’ design canvas.

You can introduce controls, graphs and other features straight from a side panel of commands. Apps and APIs are hosted in Azure, and your business user can share the app with his/her colleagues via a simple email link, making the whole process very quick and easy.

Should mobile developers start rewriting their CVs?

In a word, no. PowerApps is a very welcome move from Microsoft. It will allow teams to create apps that, frankly, would be a waste of time and money to farm out to professional developers. PowerApps let users build the kind of simple apps that otherwise would never have been built because they were, well, too simple!

Microsoft are kind of gambling on the idea that for forms, workflows and approval scenarios, business users aren’t going to be bothered about having the world’s most beautiful app. The focus is all on function, much less on aesthetics.

For a more complex app – and anything that involves B2C – you’re going to need a much more powerful design tool. Nonetheless, PowerApps does include some neat UX features.

  • Charts. PowerApps let you import data from a whole range of sources and display these as column, pie and line graph style charts. They might not have the most appealing visualizations, but they do what they need to do. If your salesperson simply needs to see how much they’ve sold this year, as the following chart shows, PowerApps does the trick:


(Source: Microsoft)


  • Multimedia. One thing we think is particularly neat about PowerApps is the ability to add multimedia. Business users with no technical know-how can add videos, music, voice recordings and images. Mobile users will be able to use the capabilities of their devices and add information directly into the app.
  • Interactions. When building an app, even the least experienced business person will be able to implement some basic UX features around interaction. For instance, they can change how pages will appear on screen, how they will scroll and how images react when end-users select them.
  • Galleries. Again, this is pretty straightforward stuff, but PowerApps lets business people define how images and content are displayed in their apps, their size, shape and position. The following screenshot shows how users can define the layout of an image gallery.


 (Source: Microsoft)

The power’s in your hands

PowerApps are a very welcome move from Microsoft. Anything that puts more IT power into the hands of business people has to be a good thing and will help users achieve a lot more in terms of mobility.

Of course, they’ll never offer the same level of control as some of the more advanced offerings. PowerApps are a little like Paint is to Photoshop. Nonetheless, for simple, functional apps, PowerApps is a very exciting move and we can’t wait to see what impact it will have on the market.

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