Whilst we are still waiting for Microsoft to release Office or SharePoint apps for the iPad, their partner ecosystem is plugging the gap
[Update: 1st June] Colligo and Infragistics have kindly provided codes to access the full versions of Briefcase and SharePlus. I’ll be updating this post over the weekend following further tests.
[Update: 18th June] Post amended following further and more extensive testing with the full versions of Colligo’s Briefcase and Infragistics SharePlus. Both have been sufficiently successful to also be demonstrated to clients. Colligo just edges it but with compromises on list design.
An increasing number of apps are beginning to appear on the iTunes app store offering the ability to access SharePoint on the go from your iPad. I decided to review three that I have seen crop-up in discussions. All three offer free versions to trial:
- SharePlus Pro from Infragistics
- Briefcase Pro from Colligo
- Harmon.ie Lite from Harmon.ie
Summary: Briefcase Pro offers the most complete app in terms of offline and mobile access to SharePoint site content. SharePlus Pro handles various list types better but is let down by clunkiness in other aspects of the UI. Harmon.ie Lite is focused on document libraries only. All three were unable to sync or view web pages (including wiki page libraries). All three apps experienced crashes. And logging in to Office365 is a royal pain in the butt most of the time, but not sure any of the apps can do much about that. Most importantly, if accessing SharePoint content via iPads is of interest, it may require a rethink in how you design sites to optimise access from all devices – focus on lists/libraries and metadata columns to create views for quick navigation, filtering and sorting. And wish for Office365 login to be improved if you’re using SharePoint Online…
Notes: If any application provider would like a review of their full product, if you can allow temporary access to try it out please get in touch via the comments here or use the contact form (link at the top of the page).
The following is a brief review of the pros/cons experienced when trying out each app. Images included are screenshots from the iTunes App Store. The apps were tested on an original iPad 1 connected to an Office 365 site collection. They were tested both online and disconnected from the network.
Summary: Some good UI innovations in some areas are let down by a clunky interface elsewhere.
- Within lists and libraries, you can do adhoc sorts or group-by (you can see the settings open in the image above). This was the only app tested that offered this option and a very useful enhancement.
- You can toggle between created views (you can see ‘All Documents’ visible in the bottom bar. Tapping there will display a dropdown of all available views to select from). Nice position for it.
- Some aspects of the UI are well thought out. e.g. the default list views include some elements of metadata (other apps just show titles). The Discussion board displays as a stacked conversation. (The only app tested to do this.) HTML fields display with full HTML including pictures, both online and offline (ditto, only app to do this). Both features make some types of content easier to work with in this app compared to others.
- The ‘new item’ form most closely mimics the actual web site, with paragraphy boxes and easy pickers. Odd that the view version is so weak in comparison.
- Includes conflict resolution although the UI is a little confusing – you toggle between ‘original’ and ‘pending’ to view, then separate action to choose.
- App works on both iPad and iPhone.
- Offline synchronisation is fiddly to set-up. You have to configure per list/library and the defaults are low. Useful to manage storage but a pain to have to go in and change each one individually.
- The properties form for viewing items could do with improvement. Multiple lines of plain text have a pop-up box instead of being displayed in the form. Headings are a heavier font than the values. Managed metadata looked ugly (bad formatting). Calculated fields suffer a similar fate (shows max. number of decimal places). Weirdly, the reverse is true of the ‘new item’ version of the same form that more closely mimics the actual form compared to other apps.
- Columns containing multiple lines of rich text are treated as HTML and have to be viewed in a separate screen instead of as a paragraph of text within the default list form. But do display well (i.e. rich text) once you’ve tapped to view.
- Minor annoyance – views listed in order created instead of alphabetically, harder to locate when switching views.
Interestingly, most of the negatives are less painful when using the iPhone app – almost as though the app has been designed for the benefit of a small screen but some of those benefits are lost if using an iPad. The handling of multiple lines of plain text (not displaying in the main properties form) is the biggest annoyance for me and what tips in Colligo’s favour with Briefcase – ‘notes’ columns can help with quickly scanning content in certain scenarios.
Most complete app in terms of using in a mobile format and offline, but with some UI limitations.
- Easy granular sync options – you can toggle sync on/off per list or library and even per item. Under settings you can also choose which lists, libraries and views to include in the app.
- When attachments included, nice indicator showing when file is synced and available for offline viewing.
- Form to view properties is nicely laid out and easy to view content. Able to display managed metadata correctly.
- Able to display paragraph text in the properties form view (column type ‘multiple lines’ plain text). Ditto for rich text fields but loses formatting (images, links) so appears the same as plain text. Quick to view instead of an additional click to open but does mean text-oriented, not visual (due to no rich text formatting displayed).
- Can switch views on each list or library but not the granular group or sort options provided in SharePlus. Views are listed alphabetically and easy to toggle between.
- Preview pane available for document libraries – very nice feature. Would be fab if same were available for lists…
- Conflict resolution worked incredibly well – displaying differences in properties form to resolve (both items side by side), pick and sync.
- List view only displays titles (SharePlus includes some metadata), have to tap through to form to view more details. (No preview pane that you get with document libraries – or if there is one, haven’t found it).
- Whilst columns containing multiple lines of rich text are displayed in the properties form, loses some HTML formatting (e.g. images not displaying). A big disadvantage compared to SharePlus if using rich text columns in your lists or libraries. Calculated fields are not included at all (similar to the view form within SharePoint).
- Doesn’t have the granular sort or group-by options that SharePlus includes, you have to rely on setting up views to sort/filter items in lists and libraries. And you need filters as hard to scroll through large lists when you’ve only got titles displayed.
- Certain list types do not display well, e.g. discussions – shown as a flat list with a very user-unfriendly title for each.
- When creating new items, the ‘new item’ form is very basic, single line for each column regardless of type (i.e. no paragraph sizing for columns storing multiple lines of text) and choice menus very small to pick from.
Whether Briefcase is better or worse than SharePlus depends most of all on how you are using the SharePoint site. If rich text formatted columns (HTML), embedded images and discussion forums are part of the design, go with SharePlus. But if not, in most scenarios Briefcase edges ahead thanks to superior offline sync configuration and the properties form UI is better in most other respects. Performance also seemed better but I didn’t scientifically measure it so could have been perception.
Nice user interface with updates and social integration but only works with document libraries, not lists.
- Includes Updates activity stream to see what has been updated by who (behaves like alerts in SharePoint)
- Includes People Profiles
- Document management options more thought out (highlighted in their screenshot above) but does add an extra step to every action – you have to tap to view this screen, then select to view and choose what app to view in (the other two open in the default viewer and from there you can choose to edit)
- Only designed for documents currently – no lists are available to view in the app. If you’re only working with documents there are better and cheaper alternatives to consider
- As with the others, unable to view items within web or wiki page libraries
- Whilst the UI looks nicer, it is at the cost of usability. Every step requires additional taps. E.g. tap on a file name, see basic properties. Then tap again if want to view more properties. Close that view and tap again if want to view the document. Plus then tap again to select what app to view the document in.
- Slowest to open lists and views
Originally posted on www.sharepointsharon.com