Microsoft readies new mobile, cloud-centric 'PowerApps'

Microsoft is working on a new set of Azure 'mobile first/cloud first' microservices for business users, an effort some at the company say could become another billion-dollar business.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

A small team of developers in Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group is building a set of new Software-as-a Service (SaaS) offerings they are calling "PowerApps."

The mission of the team behind this, according to a couple of recent Microsoft job postings about their work, is to bring together Microsoft's favorite two buzzwords -- mobile-first and cloud-first -- into a new set of SaaS deliverables for business customers.

One of the job postings for a program manager for PowerApps goes so far as to call PowerApps "the next Billion dollar business for C+E (Cloud and Enterprise)."

From the job descriptions I've seen, I'm not entirely clear if PowerApps will be end-user-facing, developer-facing, or both. In either case, I'm thinking PowerApps is likely a key piece of Microsoft's evolving Azure microservices platform.

One Microsoft job description says there will be "rich clients that consumer the offering like Siena," making me think PowerApps might be more of a back-end service. (Project Siena is a Microsoft tool for non-professional programmers designed to help them build business apps.)

Another Microsoft job description describes PowerApps as being extensible by information workers, again, making me think this could be more of a developer/back-end SaaS offering than a customer-facing one.

Update: This job description is "no longer available." Here's the text from it:

"Do you want to be at the forefront of mobile first cloud first revolution? Are you interested in building engaging mobile and cloud first apps that make a difference? The Azure AppPlat team is hiring! Our team is chartered to build rich engaging mobile apps that pull together information from across enterprise and consumer sources and make it easy for Information Workers to build and extend such apps. We are looking specifically for folks with strong mobile experience with Cordova/PhoneGap and Javascript.

"We are a small and agile set of developers trying to bring the full power of the mobile sensors (camera, video, touch, ink, GPS) and cloud (SaaS & PaaS applications) to the enterprise application space. This involves working with a variety of SaaS vendors, connectors and working closely with design team to build next generation rich UI applications. We operate like a well-funded startup with a constant focus on agility and by helping the Azure business grow customers and revenue. We use the best tools available, release daily, and make data-driven improvements by leveraging A/B tests, user feedback, and analytics."

I don't think PowerApps, codenamed "Kratos," (as @h0x0d discovered a while back) have anything much to do with the handful of Microsoft Power BI products that are already in the Microsoft stable. The Power BI SaaS suite includes Power Map, Power Query, Power View and Power Pivot, and is focused on turning Excel reports into a self-service business-intelligence service.

Instead, from wwhat Microsoft has posted on its Career site, PowerApps will be designed to harness data from mobile sensors, specifically camera, video, touch, ink and GPS and combine that with back-end services running on Azure, including Azure Active Directory, Commerce and the like.

To build these PowerApps, Microsoft is working with other SaaS vendors and using connectors. I'm betting this means Microsoft may be using its own recently announced Azure App Service as the back-end for these applications. Azure App Service pulls together Azure Websites (now known as Web Apps), Azure Mobile Services and BizTalk Services into a new single developer service.

Using Azure App Service, developers (including Microsoft itself) can build mobile apps that run on iOS, Android and/or Windows and that make use of Azure on the back end.

When Microsoft unveiled Azure App Service last month, officials said that the new service could be used to create Web sites, mobile apps, "logic" apps and API (application programming interface) apps. "Logic apps," which are likely building on BizTalk and BizTalk Services, are apps that automate business processes across the cloud and on-premises. "API apps"are those which build on and consume APIs in the cloud, according to Microsoft's description.

I asked Microsoft for more information on PowerApps and was told by a spokesperson the company had nothing to share on the topic.

An aside about the Kratos codename: Yes, it's another videogame codename-- as were the codenames for Windows 10 (Threshold) and Microsoft's personal digital assitant (Cortana).

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