Getting to know Microsoft PowerApps

August 8, 2017

 

I got a task to create an app using Microsoft PowerApps for the first time. This is a summary of how it went.

 

Microsoft have released PowerApps in Office 365 with the idea you can create custom mobile apps in your Office 365 environment. This offers the potential of creating cross mobile Apps specifically designed for your business without the traditional cost of App development.

 

Since this platform is made for normal business people, with no development skills, to be able to create their own Apps, I decided to give it a go without any research.

 

First Impressions

I did not start a new app from scratch. Instead, I got an App started from a business person that got stuck with PowerApps, this just gave me a hint that it is maybe not so easy to build an App after all.

 

After a few minutes to get used with the project, I noticed the project is very similar to a Microsoft LightSwitch project. However, instead of using a big development tool such as Visual Studio, I was using a light web application which is pretty good.

 

A few more minutes had passed and I was able to understand what was happening with the App so far. I found the data connections, which connected the App with SharePoint Lists, all the screens and forms.

 

For some reason, the connection kept dropping in the web version of PowerApps so I decided to download the Windows 10 PowerApps Studio and started editing my App with that.

 

Road blocks

My first road block was to try reuse the same form to add new items or edit and view existing ones. When I got to this point, I realised I needed to research a little bit which means PowerApps is not so easy as we may think. After a bit of googling I found the official PowerApps site which is very useful and has a lot of tutorials that help learners like myself.

 

In the PowerApps site, I finally found a comprehensive step-by-step tutorial to create an App that connects to SharePoint Online. It helped a lot to sort the problems like:

  • When you create a form to edit an item and go back to the previous screen, the form keeps item’s detail in it - It turns out you have to call the ResetForm(<YourFormName>); before calling the Back() function.
     

  • To reuse the same form to create a new item and edit an existing one, you have to prepare the form before navigating to it by calling the NewForm(<YourForm>); before calling the Navigate() function. The same applies if you want to set the form to view only, you call ViewForm(<YourFormName>) then call the Navigate() function.

 

Technical challenges

It is worth mentioning the Windows 10 App crashed a few times when I was “developing” my App losing all my changes.

 

I started saving the App more often which took me back to the early versions of Visual Studio when Ctrl+S was mandatory after you finished any line of code.

 

Another problem I found was that if you have a lookup field in your SharePoint List and the display value is “Title (linked to item)”, the data connection for this list will not load the data.

 

The conclusion

When I got the App up and running I got the feeling that PowerApps is a good accelerator for developers and maybe for IT Professionals to have business Apps on Office 365.

However, it is going to be a little challenging for a business person, with little technical knowledge, to build an App from scratch.

 

References


PowerApps tutorial site: https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-us/tutorials/

 

Create an app from scratch: https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-us/tutorials/get-started-create-from-blank/

 

 

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