STEM

Useful apps with PowerApps

With Microsoft PowerApps development platform, it’s convenient and relatively quick to create mobile and PC friendly apps by writing and designing the code just once. The apps are fully responsive on all devices (any manufacturer, any operating system) and supports both mouse and touch on any resolution of the device or computer. They can be published to the Cloud, hosted by Microsoft (Azure) allowing access from anywhere there’s internet or cellular connection. While the platform still has some quirks, bugs, and confusing issues in it, it’s quite useful for creating quick utility type of apps. In this post, I share with you a couple of applications I wrote for myself.

The impetus to creating these two apps arose from personal needs. I always kept a list of movies in a spreadsheet that I plan to watch. Once I watch them, I decide if it’s worth making my curated list online that I make publicly available, so I mark each as my favorite if I liked it enough, and also mark each if I it’s not my favorite but specify to myself if I need to add them to my cloud database of movies or not. [You can view my online Movie app here] This requires some task management, and I figured if I made a mobile app that I can just update from the living room using my phone, I don’t have to go back and forth the spreadsheet or paper. So, the MovieQueue app was born. I’ll discuss the second app in a moment, but let’s see how it was done and how it looks on a phone.

The idea was to keep the app very light-weight, very easy and intuitive to use. All I need is to enter some very basic information such as movie title I want to see, if it’s available for free to me (meaning, either it’s available on my current channel lineup or existing subscriptions like Netflix and Prime, etc.) or if I need to rent or buy separately to watch it, where it’s available (channel, streaming service, theaters, etc.), and this information will be entered into table, specifically, I used a Dataverse table as PowerApps work great with that type. It should be avaiable from anywhere…any room at home, or away from home. So, the Dataverse table and app was deployed to the Cloud. The hosting is provided for free by Microsoft for personal use, so that’s a plus. After I watch a movie, I should be able to update its information with whether I need to add it to my Cloud database, whether it should be marked as a personal favorite or not, etc. So, all the basic item addition, editing features including deletion. Additionally, I want to sort the list by if the movie is free to me or not.

The main screen looks like this:

The main action buttons there are explained below:

Tapping or clicking on any movie item in the list shows its details in a screen like this:

From the details screen, I can click Edit (pencil icon) to edit its information, or completely delete the item from the list (which immediately updates the Dataverse table in the Cloud). Or I can simply decide not to take any action by clicking on the back icon to return to the main screen.

Tapping the + icon from main screen, allows me to enter a new movie in the following simple screen:

The dropdown lists are Yes/No choices. The rest of them are text inputs. To edit an existing movie information (e.g. to mark it as Seen=Yes after I’ve seen it), tap the Edit icon and the screen looks like this:

This simple app now makes it fun, and a breeze to keep track of the movies…no need to write down on paper, or even update my local spreadsheet on my PC. I can do this even when I’m away from home.

The second app’s inspiration came from another real-world need. I don’t like to spend time looking for things in a grocery store, especially as large as our local Fred Meyer store. They also move items around, and some items are unintuitively located! There’s no store directory, and finding a staff there to help them locate an item isn’t always possible or convenient, nor time-saving. So, I wanted to create my custom app based on items we buy, sometimes items that we buy once in a blue moon, and jot down their locations (aisle number for example) in a list that I can access from anywhere, on the go. Once again, it’s a great candidate for PowerApps and a Dataverse table will also serve just perfectly here. The FredMeyerItemLocator app is born!

The screens look like this:

Main screen
Command buttons, Actions
Search feature
Item details screen
Edit screen
Add-a-new-item screen

Yes, I also took the trouble of adding a Fred Meyer logo on the main screen 🙂

So, where’s cornmeal located? No problem…I just enter the first few letters “corn…” and BOOM! It instantly tells me which aisle it’s in. Where is Babba Ghanoush? Or is it Baba Ghanouj? No problem! Just start typing the first few letters and the app tells me where it’s located.

Note that the platform is very enterprise-centric unfortunately. To even create an app on it, you’ll need a work account (or a school account) which makes it a little difficult for individual, freelance developers to adopt easily. Additionally, the apps are not shareable outside of your organization. To give permissions to specific people or team, your organization must have Active Directory or such set up as it will only validate people from there.

I hope this was interesting and educational. Happy exploring!



Interested in creating programmable, cool electronic gadgets? Give my newest book on Arduino a try: Hello Arduino!

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