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An Evaluation of the SharePoint iOS App

You may have heard recently that the SharePoint team has released a new iOS application that promises to be the “intranet in your pocket.” First of all, that is a terrible tagline, but more importantly it is a very big promise. Does Microsoft deliver on that promise?

I am going to tip my hat and declare my final assessment up front: the app in its current form is not very good. It needs a significant amount of work, which I will address in this post. Let’s first start by looking at what the team did well with the app.

The Good

There are a few things that the app does do well, and it’s important to recognize those things.

  • The app had no problem handling on-premise or Office 365 site collections.
  • The “Sites” tab is an interesting use of the Office Graph to surface sites, and I’m glad they have included sites that are “followed” (especially since the tags and notes feature was removed).
  • Search in the app is surprisingly fast.
  • The presentation of tabular list data is nice.
  • I like the use of the Office Graph to surface content on the site landing pages.

The Bad

Now we will turn our attention to the negative aspects of the app. I want to be constructive in my critique because I want to see the app be successful.

The first, most glaring thing wrong with the app is the inter-app dependency. To give you an example let me show you the process to open a document from a document library using the app.

  1. Open the SharePoint app, and wait for it to load
  2. Open your site
  3. Click the dreaded hamburger icon, and choose a library
  4. The OneDrive for Business app is opened, and wait for it to load
  5. Find your document in the library, and tap to open
  6. The corresponding Office app is opened, and wait for it load
  7. Document is presented

That is asinine. Why do I need three apps to open a single document? At this point the utility of the SharePoint app itself is severely undermined since document retrieval should be the primary use case. Microsoft offers a page explaining why the OneDrive app is necessary, but it doesn’t actually provide a good answer.

It is important to keep in mind that if you are missing an app in the sequence above you are given a screen telling you to download the necessary app. I understand that the default iOS document viewer is not very kind to Office apps, but they can learn something from Dropbox. The Dropbox iOS app has a wonderful (I believe custom) document viewer, which is shown right away, and then the option is provided to edit the document, which opens an Office app.

Also, the document opening experience is inconsistent. If you try to open a document from the site landing page for some reason it does use a document preview. I am not sure why it does in that situation but not the others.

Here are some additional problems in the current app:

  • When trying to open different sites, using the same site template, in the same site collection sometimes it opens a WebView and other times it gives the native app view.
  • The “Links” section of the app is completely useless. There are several things that would be better suited for inclusion.
  • The app search, while fast, gives little context on why the site or content is a good match for your query. It’s just a titled list with an icon, and I never got any “recommended” search results to work.
  • When you open list items you are presented with a UI option to edit the item, but when you press it you get a “coming soon” message. I don’t know why MSFT continues to include UI elements that aren’t functional.
  • People search provides very little utility above the Delve web app.
  • The iPad version is an obvious afterthought. It is simply the iPhone version blown up.
  • The global navigation (tab bar) disappears when opening a site for some reason.


Right now I would forego the app entirely and just stick with the Office apps (which are really great especially on an iPad). Until the Microsoft team delivers on their promise for an “intranet in your pocket” it will add little to your SharePoint experience.

I want Microsoft to succeed on this, and I want to push clients away from expensive development tasks to make a UI adaptive in lieu of the app. It is just not there yet.

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