Slack adds app home screen, better app discoverability

The collaboration software vendor is hoping to make it easier for developers to build apps for its platform, and help users find those apps once they're released.

At its Spec developer conference, Slack today unveiled new features aimed at bolstering app discoverability and reducing the need to leave Slack for a variety of tasks. The changes include a new app home screen and redesigned app launcher, the addition of modal windows, and an extension of app “actions” across the platform. 

Accessing other apps from within Slack has long been key to the collaboration tool’s appeal; there are now more than 1,800 third-party apps available in the company’s App Directory.  Options include integrations with the likes of Microsoft, Salesforce, Workday and Google and for Slack-specific bots and services Polly and Troops.

Slack said 600,000 daily active registered developers are now building on the platform. That prompted the company to find ways to make it easier for developers to create new services – and for users to access those services.

One of the new features is the app home screen, which lets developers offer new functions for individual apps. The software, for instance, can now display information related to a user’s work (like upcoming tasks or pending expenses) and the ability to interact directly from the home screen. 

The Google Calendar app, for example, can display a user’s schedule for the current or future date and let users respond to meeting requests or join video calls directly.

Developers can customize home screens using the Block Kit UI framework launched last year. 

The Google Calendar app home in Slack Slack

Google Calendar is one of the first apps to make use of Slack's app home screen.

App home screens are accessed by clicking on the new app launcher in the Slack sidebar that gives an overview of all installed and available apps. 

“Previously, a user had to hunt around or search for apps that they interacted with in the past. Now, we provide a single entry point to easily access that,” said Andy Pflaum, Slack director of product. “You can think of this like an app on your phone, where every time you open an app you're taken to the same starting point – so it is a consistent experience and a user knows where to navigate from there.” 

App home is now available as an open beta.

Slack app launcher Slack

Slack's app home screen is designed to make it easier for users to see what apps they can use, and how.

Slack has also extended the capabilities of its “actions” feature so it’s accessible from other parts  of the platform. Actions, unveiled last year at the company's first Spec conference, let users interact with apps by clicking on a context menu placed on the right-hand corner of a Slack messages. 

App action menus will be accessed from an icon in the sidebar, and users will be able to pin actions to a Slack channel. Users will also be able to search for app actions with the Slack Quick Switcher. The new actions feature is available as a closed beta and will be generally available “in the coming months,” Slack said.

“Slack is adding value through integrations, and [is] not just a chat application,” said Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC. “Developers believe the new Slack app toolkit will make it easier to leverage much of their existing IT stack with low-code solutions.”

He added: “Enterprises have to realize, regardless of the collaboration platform they use, integrations are how the average employee will access IT stack applications.”

App windows

Another feature that developers can customize is multi-step modal “windows.” These offer another way to add detailed information into apps or display interactive choices, and provide an alternative method to conversational bot interactions for certain tasks. 

Qualtrics, which sells survey and employee experience software, is using windows to distribute more advanced surveys to users in Slack, while Bridge – a learning management system – offers a way for users to search and register for courses without switching apps.  

“Between the App Home and Windows we are giving developers a lot more surface area on  which they can build their interactive apps, and it means that users are doing less context switching and less jumping in and out of applications,” said Pflaum. 

The windows feature is now available.

Granular permissions narrow data access

To encourage more organizations to deploy third-party integrations, Slack also introduced granular permissions that allow developers to request only the necessary information for an app to function.  

In the past, a “bot token” required a full range of permissions, something that could deter more security-minded admins from using a third-party app.

“That change is going to go a long way to make more enterprises be able to install more apps, because they'll be able to see specifically what the app is going to do,” said Slack’s director of developer relations, Bear Douglas.

Granular permissions can now be accessed as an open beta.

Finally, Slack also said it has introduced a certification program to give admins and developers accreditation for expertise in deploying, managing and creating apps for the Slack platform.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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