Home Workforce Productivity SharePoint 2013 Apps: Six Reasons You Should Care

With the launch of SharePoint 2013, Microsoft introduced the SharePoint App Model – a new way to add functionality to your SharePoint-based sites. There are tons of good articles digging into the App Model, so we’ll cover the highlights here and provide links to more details.

You can think of apps for SharePoint the same way you think of apps for your iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone. Just like apps for a phone or tablet (such as a game or banking application), apps for SharePoint provide a specific piece of functionality that enhance the capabilities of the SharePoint site in which it is used. You might have an app on your phone that provides weather information; likewise, a SharePoint app can be placed on your intranet to display the weather for the user’s zip code. The image below shows some recently popular SharePoint apps on the Office Store:

SharePoint Apps

Just as SharePoint users have become accustomed to talking about web parts, Microsoft has changed the game from web parts to apps. A common question involves the difference between apps and web parts.

From an end user perspective, web parts and apps are similar – they both provide a way to add functionality to a SharePoint-based web site.  Once created, they can be leveraged on multiple sites with proper deployment and configuration.

The primary difference between apps and web parts is how they are developed and deployed.  Web parts are built to run within SharePoint and are deployed directly to SharePoint Servers.  Apps run outside of the SharePoint environment and are simply added to SharePoint sites. One benefit of this is that poorly built apps will not impact your site like poorly built web parts can.

Apps have several distinct advantages. Since apps do not run on a SharePoint server, they will not impact your SharePoint server if they are poorly built. Additionally, adding apps to sites does not complicate the management and maintenance of your SharePoint environment. The app store provides a convenient way for you to purchase applications that have been validated by Microsoft, and an App Catalog (see the description below) is an easy way to share and control functionality across an enterprise. Another benefit is that upgrading a SharePoint environment containing apps should be easier than upgrading a SharePoint environment containing custom code developed by other approaches, since it is easier for your developers to maintain backward compatibility. Finally, your developers can use industry standard technologies, such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript to develop apps and do not need as much detailed knowledge about SharePoint. You can see more advantages broken out by users, administrators and developers in this Microsoft blog.

Apps are built by your developers, by consultants/contractors you hire, and by third parties. These apps are stored either on Microsoft’s Office Store or in your organization’s own App Catalog. Just like apps for your phone and tablet, apps on the Office Store are provided by third parties and have costs that vary from free to hundreds of dollars. Your company can create its own App Catalog to store the apps you’ve developed. This gives your users a centralized place to locate approved functionality they can easily add to the SharePoint sites they manage.  Apps that are created in one area of your company are now easy to share across the organization.

SharePoint Apps

If you’ve read the previous blog on SharePoint 2013 in the Cloud, you know that Microsoft is pushing SharePoint Online and making sure SharePoint Online capabilities are as robust as those in the on-premises versions. In keeping with this goal, both on-Premises and SharePoint Online environments can take advantage of apps.

No, they are not. While we’ve listed many features and associated advantages, Microsoft still has work to do in this area. For example, apps run in an iFrame on the web page, which can lead to a variety of challenges (such as having an entire SharePoint page gray out when a modal dialog is displayed). And as you might expect, the App Store does not contain many apps at this point. The store is relatively new and third party developers want to see the value in creating apps before they dedicate time to creating them.

We’ve talked about the highlights and this post should give you a basic understanding of the SharePoint App Model – you can learn more in this Microsoft article.

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