Microsoft PowerApps first look: Create mobile apps without coding

Microsoft’s nascent no-code development tool is limited and limiting, but also promising

Is there really such a thing as a “citizen developer” of mobile apps? Or is it a myth?

If it’s a myth, it’s the continuation of one that Microsoft and others have been chasing for decades. In the early days of PCs, we talked about users, developers, and power users -- defining a power user as someone who could put together a spreadsheet that employed formulas or create a style for a text document. Gasp!

Later, power users were supposed to learn Visual Basic, the Basic dialects for Excel and Word, and all the form and scripting features of Microsoft Access. Finally, they were supposed to use those programs to work with data in SQL Server databases. Was it any wonder that the results of these efforts were often unmaintainable, unauditable, and lacking in security?

Given the complexities of mobile devices, even low-code development platforms can be daunting for nonprogrammers, and actual no-code platforms often limit the capabilities of the apps being built. With PowerApps, in light of those difficulties, Microsoft has attempted to create a mobile development platform suitable for the power users of old, or the citizen developers we’ve been hearing so much about recently. The main question I’d like to answer, then, is whether and to what extent they’ve succeeded.

Programming for the people

Let’s start with the big picture. According to Microsoft, PowerApps is a service for creating, managing, and using custom business apps across platforms. PowerApps you create can run on Windows 8.1 and later, on the most recent versions of iOS and Android, and in a Web browser. As a service, PowerApps lives in the Azure Cloud. Because it’s from Microsoft, the design environment, PowerApps Studio, is a Windows Store app.

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