Microsoft’s low-code Power Platform is an important part of the business software suite. Sitting between the productivity tools of Microsoft 365 and the Dynamics 365 line-of-business applications is a way to build out custom workflows and add your own user experiences. As an added bonus, you get access to Azure’s Cognitive Services for AI as a service and connectors that link to third-party applications.
The result is a quick way to roll out code when needed, to fill what’s often referred to as the “enterprise app gap.” The Power Platform tooling is ready for use by both users who need an app, but there is nothing to meet that need, and professional developers who need to quickly roll out a solution. Technologies such as the PowerFX language and Visual Studio Code support make it easy to bring the Power Platform into traditional development toolchains, supporting the development of interdisciplinary and cross-functional fusion teams to design, build, and deploy apps.
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If you’ve built an app in Excel or Access, you can build one in Power Platform, especially using the Power Apps tools. There are three ways to build Power Apps applications: using Canvas apps to drag and drop controls onto a design surface, add code to them, or use model-driven apps to move directly from data to code. Canvas apps give you the most flexibility as they can be used to build a wide variety of different types of apps using many different types of data. They’re also how to host mixed reality in your low-code app.
Power Platform in the metaverse
One technology that is gaining a lot of interest at the moment is mixed reality or, as it is becoming known, the metaverse. Microsoft has a lot of experience using 3D content in virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), with built-in tooling in Windows and Azure, as well as support for mixed reality content for Android and iOS devices using their augmented reality SDKs (software development kits).
Microsoft’s first experiments with mixed reality for enterprises were support tools, which allowed frontline workers to access real-time support with peers who were seeing through their eyes (or at least their HoloLens camera) and annotate the world for them or provide life-size examples of equipment for training and planning.
Those concepts are very much a part of how Microsoft approaches mixed reality in Power Apps– as a tool rather than a gimmick. That’s not to say they can’t be used as part of a marketing app, but there’s a lot more to how Microsoft sees the technology.
The advantage, of course, is that using Power Apps reduces the expertise needed to build a mixed reality application. As a result, instead of having to learn Unity or a similar 3D development environment, all you need is a Canvas app and the right controls. That makes building a prototype a matter of minutes, no matter what devices you target.
Add mixed reality to a Power Apps application
Work had to be done to integrate Babylon’s Native release with React Native as well as iOS’s ARKit and Android’s ARCore. For PCs using the Power Apps web tools, there is integration with the WebXR toolkit.
While you don’t need to understand the back-end to build Power Apps mixed reality, the resulting controls support the core features your apps need, including providing anchors for views, as well as heat testing and plane detection. This now means you can test 3D mixed reality content with Babylon on PCs before moving it to Power Apps and using it on devices.
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Using the controls is relatively easy. Content is stored in the back-end of your application and loaded as needed, where it is displayed using the Show in MR Power Apps Control using the dimensions you have set. Your device becomes a viewing window in a mixed reality world, where objects are placed on a floor or on a wall so that you can move around.
You don’t always want to use this tool; it will most likely be a way to catalog an item and show where it can be used. Maybe it’s a piece of furniture in a house, or maybe it’s industrial equipment on a factory floor. Users click a button in your app to launch the mixed reality view, replacing the view they were using.
Bringing Power Apps, Device Sensors, and AI Together
In addition to using Power Apps to add items to augmented reality, you can use mixed reality tools to measure the environment around it. This can be useful if you are building an app to calculate construction costs.
the . to add Measure Camera Control allows users to choose a starting point and then pan to measure a space, with an overlay showing the current measurements. This takes advantage of the built-in depth sensors in most modern phones; you’ll get the best results if a phone has LIDAR or a similarly accurate sensor. Combining the measurement tools with the display control can help you plan equipment installation so you can see where something can fit safely.
It gets even more interesting when you combine these tools with Power Apps AI Builder. Here you get low-code access to Azure’s Cognitive Services, combining pre-built models with custom capabilities.
You can use Power Apps camera controls and object recognition features to, for example, detect which version of a device needs maintenance, and automatically load the appropriate mixed reality model for comparison. The app can then select the correct Dynamics 365 Guides to assist with maintenance, using an AR phone or, more conveniently, a hands-free HoloLens. An example: from Azure’s developer advocacy team shows you how to use the tools to identify different hardware.
Building the future of application development with Power Apps
Building complex mixed reality apps like this used to be difficult and required a lot of developer resources. By using Power Apps, businesses can take advantage of the ability to quickly connect different applications together, using device cameras and cloud services along with simple workflows.
The result may not be as pretty or as fully featured as a custom designed app, but it will do its job and do it more than well enough. What’s more, you can have something up-and-running as a proof of concept or a quick way to solve problems in a matter of days.