Microsoft takes wraps off PowerApps mobile-app creation service

Microsoft is opening up a limited preview of its PowerApps service for creating, sharing and managing mobile business apps on iOS, Android and Windows devices.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is kicking off a limited preview of its PowerApps enterprise service for connecting, creating and sharing business apps.

PowerApps -- codenamed Project Kratos -- is designed to allow business users and developers to create custom native, mobile, and Web apps that can be shared simply across their organizations. Microsoft officials announced the opening of the invitation-only PowerApps preview and are demonstrating PowerApps running on iOS, Android, Windows and the Web during the opening day of the Convergence EMEA conference on November 30.

Microsoft's goal in developing PowerApps is to allow business users to harness the power of data scattered throughout their organizations in both software-as-a-service and on-premises apps without having to know how to write a single line of code. The tooling framework that's at the heart of PowerApps is based on the Project Siena business-development tools that Microsoft began several years ago and then back-burnered.

(For those wondering, PowerApps are not related to the "Project Napa" Office 365 developer tools for Visual Studio. The Office 365 developer tools are for professional developers wanting to extend Office apps, but PowerApps are for non-pro devs and users to create business apps which can connect to Office data.)

Under the covers, the PowerApps service runs on Azure, and integrates with Azure Active Directory, Azure App Service and Azure Media Services. The PowerApps service connects to Office 365 data via the Microsoft Graph application programming interface (API). It also can access data stored in third-party services via those companies' public APIs via connectors.

A PowerApp is a native app that users install on their iOS, Android or Windows devices. As is currently the case with apps like Users and developers can create and use a PowerApp inside a PowerApp (the same way they can create and consume a Word document inside Word). Users can save PowerApps locally or in the cloud. Providing other users with access to a PowerApp looks and works just like sharing a document in Office 365 today.

"People are using all kinds of devices to get work done, yet a lot of the apps we use haven't been mobilized as quickly in business as they have in the consumer space," said Bill Staples, Corporate Vice President of the Azure App Platform.

That's why Microsoft is looking to try to get users to "power their business with apps." Examples of the types of mobile business apps that Microsoft envisions PowerApp developers creating are apps for accessing inventory systems; pushing breaking information about a specific account or customer to a sales force; and screening job applicants.

Microsoft officials see three potential audiences for PowerApps: Business users, professional developers and IT pros, who will control and manage PowerApps.

Earlier this year, a Microsoft job listing described PowerApps as a possible billion-dollar business opportunity for Microsoft. Microsoft execs aren't yet providing prices, but are sharing some information about the coming SKUs.

A free version of PowerApps will allow users unlimited app creation and use with two cloud-data sources per user. The Standard version will enable unlimited app creation and use, with unlimited cloud data sources, including Office 365, Dropbox, Dynamics CRM, Salesforce and more. An Enterprise version also will be available with unlimited app creation and use, unlimited cloud-data sources and on-premises data sources, including SQL and Dynamics. The Enterprise version will offer users a dedicated infrastructure (not shared, as is the case with the free and standard versions), plus app governance, access control and reporting.

Microsoft is working with a number of other app and service developers to build connectors for their data stores and apps.

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