Mobile Support for SharePoint?

Mobile Man / Friday, October 30, 2015

Since 2001 SharePoint has been one of the key industry players when it comes to document management, records management, and intranets. Its widespread popularity has made it one of Microsoft’s most successful products yet. To put this success in perspective, in terms of revenue Microsoft earns more money with SharePoint than it does with Windows.

However, from a technological point of view, a lot of things have changed in the way we interact with our documents and data, since SharePoint was first released. These changes mean its once revolutionary powers sometimes feel a little behind the curve. By far the most obvious change here is that people now bring their own tablets and smartphones into the workplace. As a result, businesses have almost no choice but to support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. The issue here? SharePoint is a lot slicker on a monitor than it is on a 3-inch screen. 

SharePoint is not so mobile for intranets

To be honest, mobile support for SharePoint when it comes to web content management has never been state of the art. Where other web applications had a “mobile first” view with responsive designs, SharePoint has some flaws when it comes to mobile support. For example, out-of-the-box, a mobile user is delivered a totally different mobile view to what they’re used to on the desktop. This works fine for browsing document libraries, but doesn’t work in web content management scenarios.

Nowadays, the standard is to support mobile users by providing a responsive design. To put it bluntly, SharePoint just isn’t responsive. It requires custom masterpages and page layouts to deliver a responsive design but custom masterpages are advised against, especially in SharePoint Online.

Things did improve somewhat in SharePoint 2013 with device channels and improved mobile views. Also, Office Web Apps are pretty mobile-friendly now, so for document management it works pretty well on the go. However, for Intranet or content management applications, SharePoint 2013 could hardly be described as mobile friendly.

NextGen Portals: things will get better!

The current site templates available in SharePoint are not focused on mobility. On the other hand, the new ‘NextGen Portals’ do have a bigger focus on mobility. These portals are only available in Office 365 and are still a work in progress. The first portal which has been made generally available is the Office 365 Videos portal - it has a very modern look & feel, and has a strong focus on mobility - and what we think is it looks awesome on every device. Microsoft have more portals under construction and these are likely to be released over the next few months. This Sway document outlines all the aspects of the NextGen portals we can look forward.

Three areas where SharePoint can do a better job on mobile

We’ve found that there are three key areas where SharePoint lets users down when they’re using mobile devices:

Adding, editing, and deleting files while on the move

This only applies to operating systems other than Windows Phone. With Android and iOS there is currently no app that makes it easy to get an overview of all team sites, and to be able to add, edit, or delete files. Windows Phone users have the Office app installed by default, which makes it a breeze to do this, but iOS and Android users don’t get this app. They do of course have access to the mobile apps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but these only offer document editing capabilities - and not the option to store files directly in SharePoint.

Social features

SharePoint’s social features have never been top of the range when compared to other products. And when Microsoft acquired Yammer, the social features built-in SharePoint stopped receiving significant upgrades. As a result there is no real support for SharePoint’s social features for mobile users out-of-the-box (although SharePlus from Infragistics does fill this gap by bringing SharePoint’s social features into iOS and Android).

Enterprise Search and offline use

Without a proper search engine, people cannot find the documents they need. SharePoint has an excellent search engine which is the same engine that drives Bing. And, the new Office Graph is also delivered by the same search engine. However, the search experience on a mobile phone is not that great - it works, but that’s about it. For example, there is no concept of an offline search. SharePlus however, does bring the enterprise search engine to mobile devices, by delivering a user interface that taps into the SharePoint search and brings offline search, search across all documents, and much more.

Mobile is now - and the future

We now take mobility for granted when it comes to applications in the enterprise. Employees expect to be able to use their mobile phones to access company applications, and this remains the case when it comes to SharePoint. While Microsoft has improved the platform for mobile users over time, there is still a lot of room for improvement. To see what that improvement could look like, start your ten day SharePlus trial today.