If you are just beginning your learning Journey with Power Apps or are completely new, then an in-depth guide is a must-read.
It will give you insight into the key concepts you need to know before moving on to other learning, where you may build apps or see how more complex tasks are completed. Consider this book as giving you a foundation to begin building upon.
It covers topics such as Citizen Development, the tools that help you develop a Power App, formula’s and properties, Connecting to data, Power Automate, Publishing, and using your first Power App.
Citizen Development, Power Apps, What’s All The Fuss About?
Citizen development is still one of the hottest terms in the Gartner dictionary, but what does it mean and what is a citizen developer? Gartner describes it as:
“A user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.”
In short, this means that “citizen development” refers to non-developers who have the skills to create business applications, tools or processes.
Is Citizen Development A Good Thing?
Absolutely! Who else other than the business owner, or someone very aware of the business operation, knows enough about what’s needed to build the business app he/she needs?
Becoming a Citizen developer will help you stop thinking about who you should hire to help improve your business processes, how much will it cost or whether the developer will understand the needs and unlock the potential to be able to build productivity solutions yourself.
Using learning tools like this from Collab365, you can start YOUR journey and quickly realise the potential of the Microsoft Power Platform to save your business time and money.
Here’s an example of a Power App.
In the past business users who wanted to create an application to improve efficiency in their processes didn’t have the tools and often decided to spin up projects to develop or buy solutions.
For more routine needs, there were often cases where work revolved around creating complex Excel spreadsheets or Access databases. Solutions that solve complex business problems are still often passed on to an IT department to be developed, enhanced or maintained going forwards.
Opportunities within Microsoft 365 are now so available that the idea of becoming a Citizen developer is much more possible.
Modern companies are embracing Agile methods and ideas and want to be able to respond and adapt quickly. Unlocking shorter and more efficient journeys to better workflow, decision making and processing of information helps them in that mission. This is where the Power Platform and specifically Power Apps can begin to earn its money.
As part of the Microsoft 365 suite of technologies, Power Apps allows a person to learn some core skills quickly and using a drag and drop interface, develop fully functioning, scalable and attractive apps for mobile or desktop devices.
Here’s the best part, these people – Citizen Developers – don’t have to have the coding language skills of a developer. Power Apps can be thought about, developed and deployed in MINUTES.
Keen to find out how? Read on …
How do I Get Started?
Power Apps creation happens within the Power Apps Studio. You can going by navigating to make.powerapps.com in your browser and signing in to Microsoft 365.
It’s worth noting that you’ll need a Microsoft 365 licence but Power Apps and basic data storage is included in subscriptions for as low as a few dollars per month (search for Microsoft Business Basics if you don’t already have access to Microsoft 365).
There is also the opportunity to grab a free Microsoft Developer licence at Developer Program | Microsoft 365 Dev Center or you can begin a trial Microsoft 365 licence for 30 days to experiment.
The Power Apps Dashboard
If you navigate to make.powerapps.com, the first screen you will see looks like this. This is the Power Apps dashboard.
The dashboard brings together a collection of shortcuts to useful aspects of Power Apps to help you get started quickly. Many of these options lead to the Power Apps Studio but let’s look at the most important ones to start with.
If you click the Home Icon in the left navigation menu, you’ll see a screen similar to the one above.
The main sections to be aware of for now are (note these change from time to time but the idea of being your quick start area remains) :
- Start from – There are 2 elements to a Power App. 1) The App itself. 2) The data it will expose, consume and allow you to interact with. You may also have automations or other features but we will come on to that later. A simple example of a power app is one which exposes data you have in a SharePoint list (it might be holiday bookings or events that you have scheduled) and using a simple set of screens, allows you and your colleagues to view, update and add items to the list. The start from data option is a great one to choose if you have data already and want Power Apps to create a basic App for you. Yes it will do this! Power Apps will read and interpret the data you direct it to and choose a simple way for you to interact with it right out of the box.
- More Create Options – From this link, you will access the Create menu directly opening up the potential to start from pre-created Power App templates and more.
- Learning for every level – Access options here to learn from Microsoft materials.
- Your Apps – This is where you access all the apps that have been shared with you or have created. You’ll note, every app has 3 dots next to it. Using the context menu, you can quickly Edit or Play your app to test it. You can also Delete apps using this menu.
The Power Apps Studio
For now, that’s plenty to digest on the Dashboard. Let’s look at the Power Apps Studio that you will use when you are creating an app .
You can get here by Selecting Create in the Dashboard or by using the Edit option for an existing Power App.
From time to time, new options will be revealed and items will change but the basic form and structure is likely to be very similar to what you see below. Each section has a specific purposes to the Citizen Developer. The Power Apps studio looks like this.
1 – App Authoring Menu
Selection pane to switch between data sources and insert options. On the left pane in Power Apps Studio, you can switch between options such as:
- Tree View (like file explorer this allows you to navigate pages and controls in your apps)
- Insert (This is where you find controls you want to add to your apps)
- Data Sources and more (You connect to sources of data for your app from here)
- Power Automate if you’d like to trigger automations from your Power App (see our
Power Automate Beginners Guide), you can do so from this icon
Each item clicked will appear in the App Authoring Options pane so you can interact further.
2 – App Authoring Options
This pane shares options relevant to the selected menu item from the App Authoring Menu. In the example above, the Tree view has been selected.
3 – The Canvas
This is where you compose and view your app and its pages. This will show the currently selected screen from the Tree view.
4 – The Properties Pane
The Properties list for the selected object. Think of a property as either a behaviour that an item in a Power App exhibits or an attribute i.e something about that item such as a colour or a border.
Properties are displayed on the right hand side in a form for you to view and update. You can access generic ‘Properties’ such as the Name, Text, color, size, or position.
The Advanced tab in the properties pane shows more options for customization and may be locked for editing. It’s possible to unlock but we won’t dig into that in this guide.
5 – The Formula Bar
Compose or edit a formula for the selected property. You can use calculations, values or functions to change the appearance and behaviour of your screen items.
Access the different Properties of each item using the drop-down on the left of
the Fx notation in the formula bar. Once selected, you can edit within the formula bar. For the example, to change the Fill color of a Button, change the Fill property in the formula bar to “Blue” or change the RGBA value.
6 – The Build Hub
Another way to navigate to actions relating to your Power App. This has recently been redesigned so you can now add items to your app, add screens, change themes and more.
Also on the right hand side, you can add comments, Play your app (to test it) as well as Save and Publish (more on how you publish an app later).
Starting With a Power Apps Template…
The recommendation, if you’re just starting, is to create your first Power App from one of the templates. This helps you quick start into the way a Power App works and gives you controls to learn from and repeat in your own apps.
Head out of the Power Apps Studio (use the ‘Back’ button in the Studio if you like) and back to the Power Apps Dashboard (remember its make.powerapps.com)
Click the + Create menu item on the left or More Create Options link in the Home screen. They both arrive at the same place. Using the start from template options (part way down the screen), you can see there are a multitude of ready baked apps to choose from.
Taking the example of an onboarding app, Power Apps will launch, connect to the sources of data it knows will contain “To-Do lists”, it will create an onboarding list for you and expose it in the app. It will also set up other screens so that you can decide who can access the app and what tasks you ask them to perform as part of onboarding.
This is quite a complex app so have an explore of 2 or 3 apps to start to get used to what’s on offer. We particularly like the Shoutout template and the Asset Checkout and plan to use these in some form in our organisation.
What Other Options Are There To Build A Power App?
Starting from a template is great but there’s nothing like building out your first app from scratch to really get to grips with both the interface and the essential controls and formulas you will need going forward.
If you click Start from Blank app, you have 3 choices.
- Blank Canvas App o Canvas apps are created to work on mobile devices or tablets. They work on desktop devices but render as if they are on a mobile device. The great thing about Canvas apps is you can create them directly from a data source. Out of the box (using various methods to start the process), you can generate a screen to Browse, Edit and View your data.
- Blank App Based on Dataverse o This option used to be called a “Model Driven app”. They are similar to Canvas Apps but are by design ‘responsive’ meaning they will respond to the device they are being used on and scale appropriately.
- Another distinction is that they sit on top of database tables which Microsoft 365 provides for you. These tables are called the ‘Dataverse’. The Dataverse (previously known as the Common Data Service) has been created based on reusable table structures which exist within a Product called Dynamics 365.
- The Dataverse is designed to provide out of the box storage and relationships to support some common use cases – like Sales or Stock Management. However instead of needing a Dynamics 365 licence, you can create and access the same capabilities from within a Power App (and other Power Platform Services).
- There may be licence implications when using the Dataverse to store data from a Power App so this tends to be a second option if a Canvas App is insufficient.
- Power Pages Website o These are websites for internal or external audiences but built using the same interface as a Power App. They are the newest addition to the Power Platform.
The simplest form of app is the Canvas App. It’s where we would recommend you begin.
I’ve Chosen a Type of App to Build, What next?
Once you are into the world of creating and working with your first app, there are going to be some common considerations. Lets look at some of the more fundamental concepts.
Building for different devices
If you browse the Power Apps in the templates section of the Power Apps Dashboard, you’ll notice some allow you to set up for Mobile Phones or Tablets. In the example of the Estimator Pro Power App, you have the option to format for Tablet or Phone.
A phone factor doesn’t mean your Power App cannot be displayed on a PC or tablet; it means it will work optimally for a phone (having a small rectangular design).
It is up to the Power App creator to choose the design mode and the orientation of the Power App (landscape or portrait) if they choose to start from scratch.
The Power Platform does allow you to automatically generate apps – from items like
SharePoint lists via the Integrate menu option in any list – however you will generally have less control about the setup. You will get what the Power Platform considers to fit best with the data you are exposing.
Is The Look And Feel Important?
The format of your Power App is one aspect to consider, another is how the end user feels when they use it.
A Power App is very much like a shop window to your data. Make it appealing and people will return time and again. Make it messy, cluttered and visually hard to read and you wont gain the engagement you would like.
This is a highly subjective matter and will naturally be different for different creators and consumers of a Power App.
One aspect in this area that is worth thinking about however is that when you settle on aspects like the colour scheme, making it easy to adapt and change is more important than you might think.
Colours and visual aspects are set within items called Properties for the controls you add. Controls are items you add on screen that share information or allow interaction. You will have many options or Properties for each control you add.
When it comes to colours for example, for a simple button control, you have properties such as:
- Color – which determines the color of the button text
- BorderColor – Which determines the color of the border
- Fill – Which denotes the overall color of the button
- HoverFill – Which denotes the color when a user hovers using a mouse
- HoverColor – Which changes the text color when a mouse hovers over the button
… and more! You have many Properties for almost every control you add to a screen.
A Good Tip For Managing Common Properties
Making the choice of colour scheme is one thing. Making it easy to change across your whole app is a VERY important decision to make.
In your first app, our strong recommendation is to start how you mean to go on. The important action to take is to have a consistent brand and colour.
This is easily achieved by defining your colors when you are editing within the Power App Studio. Do this right and they can be re-used and changed very easily.
When you edit an app, you can set something called a Global Reference. This is a variable or an item which you create and set up once and then reuse throughout your app. You can also re-use Global References in any control you wish.
- Add a button or a rectangle to a new Screen in a Power App. (click the + New Screen option in the Tree view if you have not done this before. Next, click the + icon and choose Button)
- A good place to set global references is within the OnStart property of the App itself. To get there, within the Tree view, find the App menu item, now find its OnStart property in the top left drop down property menu (just underneath the Back button, look for the down chevron to pull down the Property menu).
- It is wise to use this OnStart property sparingly as it is the first thing that loads when you launch an App.
- Microsoft more recently prefer us to use the App StartScreen property because of this load time consideration. However for now, so long as we only do a small number of things, we are safe to continue to use this regularly used property.
- Within the formula bar, write Set(varPrimaryColour, Red)
- The Set command tells Power Apps to create something that you can use in ANY screen within your Power App. There is an alternative which creates a reference visible only to the current screen (UpdateContext()) but we wont cover that here.
- You can use the Set command in many places within your app – we chose the OnStart to give you experience of this useful property of the whole app right away.
- To test something you have written in this area of your app, you have to initiate the
OnStart sequence by right clicking on the App item again and selecting Run OnStart.
By using this approach, you can use vaPrimaryColour as a way to make other controls ‘Inherit’ the colour you have set once.
So instead of using an RGBA value to set the colour for the fill property of the button you just added, select the Button on your canvas, go to the Properties drop down in the top left again. Look for the Fill property. It will look a little like this …
You can use the following instead. By doing this, if you change the colour in the Global
Reference and re-run the OnStart sequence, any control referencing it will change colour.
Have a go and experiment with this approach. It’s worth noting you can set many properties up in this way to lower the future support and maintenance overhead in your app.
More On Formulas and Properties
You have already had hands on experience of Formulas and Properties when setting a colour to re-use throughout an app but lets dig a little deeper.
Power Apps often contain many properties and formulas.
Each item in a Power App will have a variety of properties to work with. Some of these will describe an attribute for the item. A screen for example has:
These properties are set up and persist until you change them.
Some properties will perform actions based upon a state of the item. For example, a screen has :
These types of properties will execute a change that you associate to the property only when that behaviour is initiated e.g. when a screen becomes visible you can cause the data to be refreshed.
To execute change or define an action that takes place when a property is triggered, you use Formulas. Think of formulas like instructions. They may calculate something, cause something to happen or help create a logical flow within which certain actions can happen.
They are similary to formulas in excel, however within Power Apps, you have many more capabilities.
Some controls have properties such as OnSelect where you can define – using a Formula – what should happen when you directly click it. For example, in the below image, the Button on screen has formula written into the OnSelect property to perform a Removal action and Navigate to another screen.
Controls that link to data may have a formula within the Items property where you can define and filter a data source (don’t worry about the complexity yet. Its enough to know that formulas often describe actions to take)
Top 10 Formulas
The art when using formulas is to find what works and experiment. Within the formula bar you have something called Intellisense. This is Microsoft 365’s way of helping you. It may autocomplete a formula for you or suggest a structure for a formula that you’d like to use
(hover over items with red lines beneath to get tips on any problem that’s being highlighted).
The more you use Intellisense, the more it will become second nature so don’t worry about it right away. Just test and build experience to get the results you would like.
There are around 150 formulas that you can use with Power Apps (probably more as you read this), details of which can all be found on Microsoft’s documentation site.
To help you get started amongst this vast array, here are some of our favourite and most commonly used.
Determines if an expression evaluates to true. If it is then a specified value is used, otherwise a default value is returned.
Allows you to sort a table by one or more columns.
Sorts a table based on a given formula and sort order.
Saves the contents for a form to the underlying data source.
Allows you to filter a set of records based on a given formula.
Allows you to search for a set of records based on a given search query.
Allows you to store any useful value in a context variable. Scoped to the Power Apps Screen.
Similar to UpdateContext only this time the variables stored are globally scoped.
Finds the first row in a table matching a specified formula. Returns a single record.
Clears all records from a collection and then adds a different set of records to the same collection.
Update a value if a condition is true.
Connecting Power Apps to External Data
Once you have some basic form and function to your app, you have some level of interaction taking place, the next area to consider is the data you want to expose.
Power Apps has great support to connect to data from many systems and locations – some inside Microsoft 365 but also others external to the service.
There are already more than 180 connectors available. Examples of the most common ones are shown in the screenshot below. You can add connections to your Power App via the Data link in the App Authoring Menu.
Because this is a beginners guide, we wont go into detail about each and how each one may help you, we just wanted to expose you to the idea of connecting an App to a data source.
This can be internal to your Microsoft 365 tennant or external.
It’s worth noting that external connections require something called a Gateway. Again, we wont go into detail but it’s worth being aware that some data is accessible within seconds, some takes a little more setup but can still be exposed with a more knowledge.
To give you a really quick example showing how easy it can be:
- Find a SharePoint site you use regularly.
- Find a List that you have access to with some rows of data in it.
- Look for the Integrate option at the top and click Create.
Go ahead and experiment creating your first app from data to see what happens.
You can delete it right away from the Power Apps dashboard but its worth experiencing just how SIMPLE it can be to get started from a list of data.
Do More in Power Apps with Microsoft Power Automate
Power Apps allows you to create mobile applications easily and quickly. Along with your mobile application, you will probably also need some automation to be done in the background, for example, sending e-mails when a user clicks on a reservation button.
Simple tasks like this can easily be done in Power Apps, however when more advanced logic is needed, Microsoft Power Automate offers more flexibility to handle this.
Power Apps integrates very well with Power Automate, and they make their connection via the Power Apps and Power Automate buttons, each one allowing the other to be started. You can even use Power Automate to handle some Power Apps maintenance and governance.
For this guide, its sufficient to be aware that it’s so easy to integrate this Power Platform component when you want to. Have a search for our beginners eBook on Power Automate if you decide to head in that direction.
Publishing & Sharing Your Power App
When your Power App is ready, use the save, publish and share icons.
Your workflow for publishing for the first time would be:
- Build your app
- Save your changes
- Click Publish – to make this the version that people will use
- Share – select who can access the app or view it via make.powerapps.com
- A final step to take if you have linked your app to data (a SharePoint list for example) is to make sure the data is also shared with your intended group or person. In the example of SharePoint, make sure you also share the list with the people or person you have shared the app with.
Once this is done, others will be able to interact and use the app you have created. A tip here is to use a helpful name, a good icon and share a little about it within the description.
Power Apps Mobile App
To run a Power App that you have created on your mobile device simply install the Power Apps application via the Google Play Store (for Android devices) or Apple App Store (for Apple devices).
The first time you start the Power Apps app, it will ask you to sign into your organizational account. When this is done, all apps that you created or which have been shared with you will be displayed here.
If you have a couple of apps that you use frequently you can favourite them.
The screenshots below are sourced on the Google Play store (provided by Microsoft) and give a great example of what a Power App looks like on a mobile device.
If you don’t want to install another app, then don’t worry, you can access them via your browser.
Licensing of Power Apps
Creating Apps, publishing Apps, using Power Automate within your apps and deciding how widely used your App are all decisions you will take along the way to your first launch.
One aspect not to overlook is licencing. This aspect varies immensely and is ever-changing within the Microsoft Cloud eco-system, so its worth researching a little time.
One thing to focus on is the minimum level that you may need. For example, if your business is three people all wanting to share news items, you can most likely get by on a licence which costs less than $20 per month. However, if you are looking to roll out an enterprise-wide security check-in solution which integrates with the Dataverse for secure permission sharing and scale, you will be looking at an entirely different level of licence.
There are experts in the marketplace to ask for advice and many communities. Our advice initially, however, would be to focus on the minimum you may need and work from there.
For even $5 per user per month, you can access Power Apps, Power Automate, SharePoint and Office 365 at present, so it’s worth seeing what more you might need before taking a bigger step.
Thanks For Reading …
We appreciate you taking the time to read this guide. We hope it has given some insight into what you may need to focus on to build and publish your first Power App. None of the concepts we have covered is too complicated and is all created to support a non-developer getting to grips for the first time.
If you’d like more support or to learn more, drop us a line at [email protected] or visit us on social. Also, be sure to check out our other eBooks and learning materials.