Microsoft's PowerApps: The easiest way ever to create a mobile app

Using a simple Excel spreadsheet you can create a mobile app that runs on iOS, Android and Windows

Want to work on your phone? Microsoft has a new service to let you build your own apps, instead of waiting for the IT department to get around to it.

"The way we work is changing," says Omar Khan, who runs Microsoft's new PowerApps service. "We're more mobile than ever before; work now happens everywhere. Businesses have a more mobile workforce and most employees are doing their work from more than one location.

"But still, a lot of work happens at our desks. Many mission critical systems were build decades ago and many of those systems require VPN connectivity and a desktop web browser to access. In fact, half of information workers still don't have access to their business apps from mobile devices, even though our consumer apps have rapidly evolved, in fact so fast that it's hard to keep up with."

Redmond has produced a mobile app builder so simple any Office user can use it

Redmond has produced a mobile app builder so simple any Office user can use it

Cloud drag factor

Why have business apps lagged behind? One reason is the popularity of cloud services. They're convenient and they often have mobile apps for their own tools, but that doesn't help if you need to use them alongside data from another system, especially one that's running on your own server.

"As businesses adopt more SaaS services, their data is more dispersed than ever before," Khan points out, "and being able to connect to that data across clouds is difficult."

IT departments can't help, says Khan. For one thing "they lack the skills to deliver the apps that employees need". And for another, they can't keep up with the number of apps business users need and he doubts they'll be able to catch up.

That's the same story that CCS Insight saw in a survey earlier this year – 20% of employees said they'd asked IT for mobile apps, and of the 80% who didn't ask, over half said it was because they didn't believe IT would be able to deliver (and given that 43% of those who did ask didn't get an app from their IT team, they might be right).

A third of the employees surveyed said they'd consider making their own apps without asking anyone at their company and 10% said they already had – looking at the survey numbers just from the UK, 14% said they'd make their own apps.

You don't have to write code to create options like a slider bar

You don't have to write code to create options like a slider bar

Scope of PowerApps

They are exactly the users who Khan thinks will want Microsoft's new PowerApps service. The idea is to make it easier to build mobile apps that use business data, whether that's coming from a cloud service, a server or just an Excel file, says Khan. "With PowerApps, you can connect to your company data – whether that's coming from SaaS apps like Salesforce, Dropbox, Office 365 and many more, or from enterprise systems like Oracle, SAP, SQL Server or even from custom systems in house."

And the key is that this isn't another developer service; it's designed to be easy enough for the employee who needs the app to make it themselves. "Anybody with simple Office skills, Excel and PowerPoint skills [can] create apps using the data exposed through the service, and you can share them with other people in your team, on any device – iOS, Android or Windows."

You can make simple tools with PowerApps, or you can build something more powerful. Khan notes that "it's useful for anything from instant surveys all the way up to extending critical business systems, like time and expense tracking."


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.