Competing With a Little Help From Your App

The mobile market is flooded with leisure apps and apps that are useful in everyday life, and most of the mobile discussion centers around these markets (as we saw last week at WWDC). Of equal importance, however, is the burgeoning space of business related apps. For instance, workflow management programs are a niche, but growing, market, and they're making their way to mobile platforms. IFTTT (If This Then That) is a leader in this marketplace. Through this program users essentially build recipes, which are composed of triggers, ingredients and actions. Triggers are events- for instance a decision to change your profile picture on facebook- which automatically trigger some action- maybe a corresponding change on twitter. Indeed, the ability to link various types of services (Dropbox, Feedly, Google Calendar, Foursquare, etc), and set up complex series' of cause and effect, can be an enormous time-saved.

Microsoft's Flow service, which has recently debuted its iOS app, performs similar functions. While it connects fewer platforms than IFTTT, it excels at integrating various Microsoft products, particularly those within the Office 365 Suite. The cause and effect relationship in Flow is simply called a flow and it's created by a similar process. While you can't currently create flows on the iOS app, you can manage already created flows, including setting the app to notify you when something goes wrong with a flow, and then fix it in real-time.

PowerApps is one of the products that can be managed through Flow and it's an increasingly powerful business tool in its own right. It allows users to build basic business apps without doing coding. Apps can be created through basic templates and even from-scratch builds are doable for the uninitiated. Through PowerApps users use the Studio on their PC to build apps which can do things like track budgets. Then, after they're finished, it's easy to use the apps on phones and tablets, and share them with colleagues.

This functionality, while powerful, is hardly new. Not only does it cover some of the same territory as Microsoft Access, it's also in indirect competition with another Microsoft venture: SkyGiraffe. But while PowerApps is aimed, according to market watchers, at ordinary business people with basic familiarity with programs like Excel, SkyGiraffe targets CIOs and IT departments. It does this by permitting greater integration with mobile device management systems and allowing companies to store data on location, without using the cloud- a key feature for those concerned about security.

A final advance in business related apps is worth noting: Dropbox and its recent evolution. Dropbox has faced stiff competition from companies like Google which offer ever increasing free storage. This is despite the fact that Dropbox offers integration with many other programs/sites. So they're made a bid to add new featurea. For instance, they recently announced something called Optical Character Recognition. OCR should allow users to scan documents into Dropbox using their phone. This feature doesn't simply act as a camera- OCR will recognize the actual text of a document, making it searchable. Things as diverse as whiteboards will potentially be scannable as well, allowing those business users who still prefer a tactile experience to work in a manner they find comfortable without sacrificing the flexibility technology provides. Also being added to the list of features is the ability to convert Dropbox docs to Office docs and to view previews of previous versions of docs easily without having to revert to every previous copy.

While these programs haven't yet reached mass adoption, they do point the way forward and offer those business people willing to master a few simple steps a leg up on some of their competition.