PowerApps Replacing InfoPath: 3 Things to Know

Update: For a newer post about PowerApps replacing Infopath, see: PowerApps Limitations as an InfoPath Alternative

3 things to know about PowerApps as an InfoPath successor

The wait is over — Microsoft has now designated PowerApps as the successor to InfoPath. On the occasion of PowerApps being released to general availability this week, here’s our take.

1 PowerApps was not intended as an InfoPath replacement, but has been pulled into that role

The Original Story

When it was first introduced in November 2015, the SharePoint community lit up with speculation this might be the  long-awaited replacement for InfoPath. Microsoft worked to dispel this perception, even to the point of denial. From an early Office dev center blog on PowerApps:

“… you might naturally ask the question whether this is intended as a replacement for InfoPath or SharePoint Designer. It’s a fair question, but the short answer is ‘no.’”

Dan Holme concurred:

“PowerApps does not replace InfoPath and SharePoint Designer. It creates an entirely new class of capability….”

All indications are that PowerApps was not intended as an InfoPath replacement — including the way the word ‘forms’ was so carefully avoided in its roll-out.

The New Story

For the first three quarters of 2016 the silence from Microsoft on InfoPath replacement remained deafening. Then at Ignite 2016 Formotus first started talking about PowerApps as being a successor to InfoPath.

In this interview from Ignite, Microsoft Senior Product Manager Chris McNulty said:

“We’ve talked about ‘we want you to get off InfoPath’ but we never gave you a good answer before. We’ve really learned from that. And now we have the answer, and the answer is PowerApps and Flow. They are the successor to the InfoPath / SharePoint Designer model.”

This week Microsoft announced the general availability of PowerApps and Flow, and at the same time on its SharePoint blog made the most definitive statement to date about these new products being the designated replacements for InfoPath:

“PowerApps and Microsoft Flow are tools for business users to build business applications and automation in SharePoint today and tomorrow. They are the successors to InfoPath and SharePoint Designer for many common business scenarios, especially custom forms used on SharePoint lists.”

2 PowerApps is not a SharePoint-first or browser-first offering

If you aren’t yet familiar with PowerApps, here’s a little background:

  • It is a product of Azure, not SharePoint. It has close ties to Dynamics 365 and an underlying goal of promoting the use of the Common Data Service (aka Common Data Model).
  • Its full-power design tool is a Windows (Win32) application, with a browser-based version being developed after.
  • Its full-featured clients are mobile apps, with browser-based form filling promised on the roadmap.

So PowerApps was invented as a Windows application to design mobile apps that consume Azure services. The idea that it will also be used as a browser-based interface to modern SharePoint lists has been a later development.

There’s an interesting historical parallel here, because InfoPath itself was not originally intended for designing web-based forms for SharePoint. But SharePoint needed such a tool, and InfoPath was ultimately pulled in to fill that role. Now it’s PowerApps’ turn.

3 PowerApps only partially replaces InfoPath

The integration with SharePoint is clearly focused on providing a rich user interface to data in SharePoint lists. While list UI has been a common use for InfoPath in the SharePoint community, it’s important to note that it’s only one of many uses for InfoPath. (In this sense PowerApps might more precisely be called a replacement for FoSL — the Forms on SharePoint Lists project announced in January 2014 and later discontinued.)

Microsoft has clearly been giving caveats. The slide at Ignite read:

“PowerApps is the successor for forms scenarios, but doesn’t seek feature parity with InfoPath.”

Chris McNulty said in his presentation:

“There are some scenarios InfoPath excels at — the offline access, those rich XML document scenarios — these you should continue to use.”

So while Microsoft is developing PowerApps as the new best way to create rich user interfaces for SharePoint lists, they are not promising to replace other scenarios in which InfoPath is commonly used.

InfoPath Scenarios not supported by PowerApps

If you use InfoPath for any of the following scenarios, PowerApps is not recommended, even by Microsoft, as a replacement:

  • Offline scenarios in which InfoPath Filler can be used without an Internet connection.
  • Rich XML document scenarios in which forms can be moved, shared, reopened, edited, or processed for data.
  • Wider audience scenarios in which users outside the organization are filling the forms. PowerApps only supports appropriately licensed users in the same organization.

For these kinds of scenarios there is no reason to believe that Microsoft will be providing any new alternative to InfoPath, so it’s probably time to get serious about investigating third-party solutions.

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