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Feature Friday | August Recap

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase both new and favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.  August: Month in review  Here in the US the days are becoming shorter, nights a little cooler and as quickly as it began, August is coming to a close. During the month, our team has released new features, provided bug fixes, and began the process to migrate our infrastructure. Below is a recap of some of the key features and areas of focus we’ve been working on behind the scenes:  Apigee + AppSheet connector (in beta) We provided a demo and Q&A session in a recent Office hours webinar.   Deref updates including:  Table-column expressions where the column is a Ref now produces List of Ref List dereferences where the remote column is a Ref now produces List of Ref Column value expressions where the column is a Ref Deref expressions where the remote column is a Ref   Card view Support for price and percent formatting Scroll to the top of the onboarding view when switching from one page to the next.  Import CSV while taking into account UserSettings.  Show_If format rules respected when using the card view.  Finally, we would love to ensure your voice is heard during our UI refresh. If you’re interested in participating as a tester, please opt-in by responding to this post in our Creator Community.   Looking for more real-time feature release updates? Following along with our feature release notes in the AppSheet community and let us know!

IT’s New Machine Learning Strategy

At its core, technology exists to make certain tasks faster, cheaper, and easier to perform, all while delivering better results. Machine Learning (ML) is no different; the task it optimizes is identifying improvements and solving problems. From Netflix to Salesforce to Twitter, many of the world’s largest and most valuable companies are investing heavily in ML, betting on its value with their bottom lines. In fact, analysts expect corporations to commit $12.3 billion to machine learning by 2026, up nearly 5x from the $2.5 billion spent in 2017. But what about everyone else – all those companies that don’t have billions of dollars to commit to hiring ML engineers, developing proprietary AI, and building their own ML programs? How can we democratize ML so that even the smallest and most ambitious companies can get into the game and start using ML to improve how they do business? That’s where Machine Learning as a Service (MLaaS) comes in. Offering ready-made tools that can be easily adopted and fitted to various business needs, MLaaS removes many of the barriers that previously prevented smaller companies and their teams from tapping into the power of ML, including time, budget, and – most importantly – the ability to code. No-Code MLaaS democratizes the power of machine learning  No-code platforms like AppSheet are the backbone of MLaaS, and for good reason. With a no-code platform, anyone — regardless of their technological prowess or experience — can build robust applications that are driven by ML algorithms to solve problems, increase productivity, and deliver a healthier bottom line. These no-code development platforms extend the power of software development beyond the IT department to empower non-technical employees like business leads, employees who run on-the-ground processes, and subject matter experts to create customized business applications without writing code.  Equipped with no-code development platforms, “citizen developers” play pivotal roles in building apps that help move their teams and companies forward. Empowering non-technical workers to build their own solutions also frees up IT to focus on key strategic objectives, and helps eliminate the knowledge gap so that the workers closest to the problems are equipped to solve them directly, no matter their level of technical experience. 4 steps to unlocking your MLaaS strategy With the democratizing power of MLaaS and a no-code platform like AppSheet, you can embark on a new IT strategy that future-proofs your organization’s tech stack from the ground up and delivers continuous optimizations to every facet of your operations. Here are four key tips for unlocking IT’s new MLaaS strategy: Plan No-code MLaaS can optimize mission-critical processes across your entire organization. That’s a powerful prospect. The technology gives business leaders the insights and ability they need to revamp old tech stacks and future-proof companies from the ground up without re-starting at square one. No-code platforms make it easy for all employees to create custom applications that enable app creators and app users to tap directly into data sources. For example, data resting in a spreadsheet or database can be surfaced for strategic trends and predictive insights that can help shape that department’s strategy.  This direct connection between the data and the non-technical workforce enables citizen developers to transform the way work gets done, fully automating tasks and eliminating process gaps. But no-code doesn’t leave IT in the dark. Quite the contrary. The IT department establishes and maintains the governance guardrails for app building organization-wide. Without any coding experience, employees can create apps that not only extend the life and value of your legacy systems, but also bridge the gap between them, making it easier to connect  older systems with newer technologies so your organization can plan for the future and be prepared for whatever’s next. Invest A decision to use a no-code platform is an investment in your organization and IT department. MLaaS eliminates the pressure of developing ML systems and constantly creating and testing new business apps through the IT team’s workflow, relieving the strain on over-stretched developers. This frees up time for IT to focus on what they do best: Keeping critical processes and strategic initiatives humming at maximum efficiency. With MLaaS, the role of planning and execution moves from the IT and development teams to the people across your organization who know your company’s challenges best – from sales and marketing to HR and operations – all while supporting technical innovation and organizational growth. Evangelize The next step in any MLaaS strategy is to identify early adopters in your organization and get them on board. Who will see the most benefits from creating no-code apps? And how can you sell them on this solution? The key here is to help them understand the game-changing value of solving problems at an unprecedented scale by thinking creatively and building their own solutions. No-code MLaaS puts the control back in the hands of your employees, harnessing untapped problem-solving potential. Everyone across your company can perform better when they feel that leadership empowers them to make decisions and equips them with the tools they need to succeed. That’s exactly what we mean when we talk about the democratizing power of MLaaS. Iterate ML apps get smarter the more they’re used; that’s why it’s called Machine Learning. And the people who create these apps do, too. Perhaps the most important step in any MLaaS strategy is iteration. ML doesn’t just help your business run better; it continuously surfaces insights about your operations that you may never have even considered. As a result, app creators learn what’s possible and iterate more quickly using MLaaS. That means that your digital transformation isn’t a one-time event; it is a constant, ongoing process of improvement and optimization every single day so that your apps (and the people who create them) will perform even better tomorrow than they did yesterday.

Feature Friday: No-code vs low-code

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase both new and favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.    No-code vs low-code A common mistake is the grouping of no-code and low-code platforms as one in the same when in fact they are quite different. These differences vary greatly from audience type - no-code empowers citizen developers while low-code still requires technical capabilities- to how an application can be shared. In today’s edition of Feature Friday, we wanted to touch on three key differences in the feature offerings.   Data vs code No-code platforms use a data-driven approach to build applications. Simply connect your data source and you have the foundational component to build an application. There are of course helpful tricks that will help set you up for better success as an app creator when it comes to your data. Data design is an important one - the better your data design at the outset, the better you can reach your design goals for your application.  AppSheet takes data-driven app building one step further by baking in AI and ML capabilities that analyze your data and provide smart suggestions based on your data inputs. Have a date column in your spreadsheet? A calendar suggestion will appear. Are you using a series of actions in your behaviors section? A handful of workflow suggestions may be listed for you to select from.  Low-code applications on the other hand still require the use of code to build applications. Calendar views and the implementation of workflows are done so with the use of code. If you are a skilled developer, this process may be preferred simply because you prefer the use of code, but for those wanting to quickly build an application for scheduling employees, learning a new language on top of keeping your team running can be a barrier of entry.  Data driven UX vs custom CSS We just discussed the difference between data-driven development and code, but let’s drill down a bit more into one of the most important aspects of application creation- the end user experience.  Remember the calendar suggestion? That comes from what’s called a UX view type. View types are the way in which your data is displayed in your application. Much of this is dependent on the type of data captured in columns, also known as a column (data) type. If you’re working with addresses, your AppSheet editor may suggest adding a Map view type to interact with Google Maps within your application. Remember, this is all possible without writing a linie of code.  View types aside, making the app look and feel like your own is often what’s most important. For those with experience coding, low-code platforms may provide the upper hand as you can write custom CSS for your applications. To compliment the coding capabilities of low-code platforms, however, AppSheet has been expanding their branding offerings to include options such as a color picker and logo placement.  Expressions vs logic The last category to touch on is related to how one expresses facts and rules within their applications. This area can become rather complex rather quickly, so we’re going to keep it as simple as possible.  No-code platforms do not contain any code. There’s no code editors, no script to access, just data. That being said, there is a way to customize the look, the behavior, and more within your application based on certain rules. In AppSheet this is performed with expressions. In low-code, these facts and rules are created with logic. If you are a professional developer, logic (and therefore low-code) may be the preferred route to go. For those unfamiliar with logic programming, AppSheet’s expressions are going to be a great place to get started.    The above three categories are by no means exhaustive, but they are a great place to begin to understand what sets the two types of technology apart. If you want to learn more about no-code app development, start your free trial below and read Business Uncoded: An Introduction to No-Code App Development.  How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know!  

Feature Friday | Deref Q&A

    Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase new and favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.  Reference changes in expressions  In no-code, expressions are one way to enrich the performance and end user experience of your applications. The proper expression can display different information for different users, perform advanced actions or perform calculations based on data points. Our recent Office Hours covered some of the fundamentals of working with expressions, but we wanted to dive a little deeper into a particular area of the expression family with the engineer who built it,  Read my chat with Natalie, a software engineer who's showing some major love to our expression offerings.   Jennifer: Recently you’ve been working on a rather large project related to derefs. Before we dive too deep into the details, can you explain what a “Ref” is and how it differs from a “deref”  Natalie: A "Ref" (short for "reference") is a possible type for a data column. If a column is a Ref, that means that it holds a key to a row in another table. Refs are essential for connecting tables with related information. For example, we could have tables for Rooms and Buildings, where a Building has many Rooms. If we wanted a Room to record which Building it is in, the Room would have a Ref column to hold the key of a row in Buildings. A "deref" (short for "dereference") is an expression you can use with Refs. It allows you to access columns of a row in another table. Let's say the Buildings table has another column called "Address". If a row in the Rooms table wanted to compute the Address value, and it had a Ref column called "RefToBuilding", we can use the deref expression "[RefToBuilding].[Address]". Pretty cool, right? Jennifer: Very cool! There's already a lot of value in the refs we provide, why did we make the decision to invest in this engineering area? What benefit does it provide Creators or their end users?  Natalie: Before, it was hard to create Refs, since the AppSheet server often wouldn't produce Refs as the output type of an expression. By removing this barrier, it is easier for app Creators to do more with their data through derefs or other expressions that use Refs. Refs are also useful for the end user, who can use Refs to open or edit the referenced row without having to do anything with the raw key value. Jennifer: What changes will app Creators see?  Natalie: The main changes focus on more expressions producing Ref as the output type. This is currently in rollout, but all users should see this change by the end of this month. These include: Column value expressions where the column is a Ref Deref expressions where the remote column is a Ref Table-column expressions where the column is a Ref now produces List of Ref List dereferences where the remote column is a Ref now produces List of Ref To prevent breaking existing apps, I added the ability for expressions that expect a certain type to automatically convert Refs to the expected type. I also expanded derefs to work with Enums of base type Ref and list dereferences to work with EnumLists of base type Ref. Jennifer: With so many changes, do you have a personal favorite or change that you find really helpful?  Natalie: My favorite is the change for Ref column value expressions to produce Ref. It's an issue that is personal to me, since the previous behavior kinda bamboozled me when I was a first-time user. So, driving the change felt like a personal milestone! Jennifer: That's amazing! Before we close out our conversation, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to share?  Natalie: Just feeling proud to be part of a supportive team and tackling a fun and challenging problem. :) Thank you again to Natalie from our incredible engineering team for your contributions to this week's post. Be sure to follow along in the AppSheet Creator Community for additional updates and get started building your next app today.   

Formulas and Expressions are Key to Powerful No-code Apps

Building custom apps can really streamline business processes, but where do you begin if you don’t have a technical background? While coding traditionally requires years of education and expertise, you can immediately start building custom apps using a no-code development platform — even with zero coding skills.    If you need to build customized apps for complex business processes, consider the flexibility and robust functionality of a declarative no-code development platform such as AppSheet, which uses formulas to tell apps what to do. In AppSheet, these are called app formulas and expressions. Using formulas and expressions may sound intimidating, but they’re actually intuitive to master. In fact, if you can use a basic spreadsheet, you can use the AppSheet no-code platform. In fact, AppSheet expressions are a lot like the formulas you use in Google Sheets or Excel. For example, if you have an app for job managers that contains data for every job your team does, you can use a formula to filter the view to display a specific result such as “jobs not completed.”  That’s just a basic example; with formulas, you can build powerful functionality within your apps. Consider that same data set of jobs and the information captured about due dates and status. With formulas, you can have your no-code app highlight overdue jobs, jobs that are incomplete, and all jobs that have a due date before today. You can even configure your app to have a custom view that marks overdue jobs in red or displays a list of only overdue jobs. Using formulas, you can also create a more user-friendly experience that displays your data dynamically and doesn’t require job managers to manually filter tables to get the type of reports they need. Taking formulas to the next level, you can create actions. For example, for each overdue job, you can have your app create a new email that’s pre-populated with a message that job managers can easily edit before sending an update to their supervisors. You can also have your app record the fact that the email was sent and save that data to the job record.  The most powerful use of formulas in no-code apps takes actions to the next level with automation. In the example above, sending out the email required the job manager to spend time customizing and clicking to send and record the email. If you want to reduce this type of manual task (especially ones that might be repetitive) further, you can automate your no-code apps. For example, each morning your app could send the job manager and their supervisor an alert with all newly overdue jobs. The AppSheet platform excels at this kind of workflow automation by managing a complex scenario that triggers an action, helping keep your work moving forward on time and on task. Automated workflows are a powerful feature of declarative no-code development platforms. With declarative no-code apps, you can filter results, display custom views, create helpful actions, and create automated workflows that reduce manual tasks and opportunity for human error.  Here are some tips and best practices to take into account as you build no-code apps: You might already be familiar with expressions if you're a spreadsheet user. Learn a few new rules and you'll hit the ground running.  Filter data using expressions in Security Filters or Slices to make sure your app users experience the best performance and only see data relevant to them. Use expressions as 'Show If' conditions on views, actions and data fields throughout the app to ensure specific app features only appear when relevant to the user. Take advantage of app user details to influence app functionality and make it relevant to the individual app user: USEREMAIL() for detecting who is using the app CONTEXT() for understanding what type of device they're opening it with HERE() to use their location to present nearby entries USERSETTINGS() to apply their custom settings to their app experience (localization) For more ideas on how to create your app using formulas, check out our App Design 101 guide, which walks you through the different types of formulas you can use to build and make the most of your no-code business app. Ready to build? Start AppSheet today for free.

Feature Friday | Column Order & Card Rules

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase both new and favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.  Column Order in Forms    Forms have been one of our most popular view types for quite a while. They’re used in nearly every type of application and sometimes, such as in the case of field work, they make up the foundation of the entire application.   While ColumnOrder has been available to implement on certain view types, the ability to do so quickly and easily with a form has been a gap in our offerings until now. A clever combination of slices and filters was part of the rearranging process in the previous method. Now, a form can leverage this new capability by clicking the “add” button under UX > Views.      This feature will be rolled out slowly over the next few weeks. To learn more about working with Column Order in different view types, please review this documentation.  Card Rules  Last summer we released the beta version of our Card view type to help visualize data with media more easily. In the months that have followed, we’ve made a number of updates and changes. Most recently, we’ve added improvements to the rules to properly display Show_if format rules when using the Card view type. You can now make updates to colors, font and more but implement this expression.  Why did we make this update? Not only is UX an important part of your end users app experience, but updates such as this have come from app Creators like you posting in our Creator Community. Our goal is to make your applications truly feel like yours, this is another improvement to help meet your customize needs.    How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know!

Feature Friday | Headers and footers

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase both new and favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.      Custom Headers + detail views  Detail view types operate jointly with a number of other views. Table, Deck, and Gallery types all rely on the detail view to showcase the full detail of the clipped data from the previous view.  This view type, however, was limited in its customization capabilities. We wanted to grant Creators such as yourself the ability to really take control of what your users experience when they use your apps, so we added the ability to treat the header of the commonly used detail view type as a card view type.  Ready to give it a try? Navigate to UX → Views → Click on Detail View type → View options → Classic (traditional detail view) or Card (custom detail view).    Footers + primary views  When making decisions about how you would like your end users to interact with your application, views are one of the most important areas of consideration. View types can be accessed in a number of ways- adding numerous views types to display your data throughout the application, side menu, or primary views.  The primary views are those that are made accessible via the bottom bar of the application. Think of it like a speed dial for views you’ll need to access quickly and often. If you have a robust app that houses multiple view types, the primary view is an important addition to your application. But what do you do with a footer when you are working with a less complex app that doesn’t require designation of a primary view type?  We asked ourselves the same question and provided a new default view to address the real estate that an unnecessary navigation bar might occupy. If you have an application and have not selected a primary view, the navigation footer disappears. If your app does contain a primary view, a navigation bar will be available in the footer. The only exception to this is form views. You will always have access to the “save” and “cancel” options on a form, no matter the primary view settings.    How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know! Happy app building!

Democratizing App Development with No-code

Businesses today face significant and varied challenges. From streamlining production and communication in an always-on world to satisfying diverse customers, partners, and employees, companies everywhere are grappling with new challenges and pressures. Companies need to do more with less, stretch existing resources, and immediately respond to changing conditions in a world where bad (or even tepid) reviews can spread rapidly.  In today’s environment of disruption (technical and otherwise), the urgency around digital transformation is palpable, and a failure to embrace digital transformation can quickly lead to a failure to stay in business. In response, many enterprises are turning to the cloud, machine learning, and other new tools like no-code application development to maintain velocity, gain control, and improve resilience and revenue. But digital transformations don’t always happen in a vacuum — that is to say, in the IT department. Success depends on empowering every employee with the tools, resources, and knowledge to solve problems at both a team and company level.  No-code development platforms extend the power of software development beyond IT to allow non-technical employees to create customized business applications without writing a single line of code. Equipped with no-code development platforms, “citizen developers” can play larger roles in building apps that help move their teams and companies forward. Unlike low-code development platforms that abstract away most of the complexities of software development, no-code platforms remove all of the technical complexity to allow users to focus on the task at hand – not on writing the code that powers the solution behind the scenes. In this sense, no-code platforms expand the definition of who can be a developer; Gartner predicts that by 2023, the number of “active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers.” This democratized problem-solving approach can unlock a variety of possibilities for enterprise, including the ability to:  More effectively reuse existing technical assets for new purposes: Value from digital assets is variable, and the same data set can deliver different value depending on how it’s used. For example, data that sits unused, in a database has no value until, for example, an app is created to mine that data for strategic trends and actionable insights. No-code platforms make it easy for all employees to create new applications that recompose existing (and potentially unused) data in new and innovative ways. Combine legacy and modern technologies: Beyond reusing technical assets, no-code development platforms allow users to easily combine legacy and modern technologies to solve existing problems with new insights. For example, information tracked in a spreadsheet can be mined for value — without IT intervention — by using machine learning technologies to produce predictions and trends that can inform and impact strategy. With no-code platforms, anyone can use advanced technologies like machine learning without ever encountering actual code. Unleash untapped workforce talent: Embracing no-code development as an enterprise means embracing the untapped problem-solving potential present in all employees. From marketing and sales to HR and finance, no-code platforms can empower everyone to solve problems at an unprecedented scale by thinking creatively and building their own solutions. When employees can solve their own challenges with customized business applications, IT is free to focus on more complex tasks with overarching needs for the business. Build secure solutions without straining IT: No-code platforms give enterprises the ability to dramatically expand their problem-solving capabilities without putting a strain on IT. But providing employees with tools to create their own apps shouldn’t come with a trade-off that compromises security. Unlike apps that fall under “shadow IT,” no-code platforms like AppSheet ensure enterprise security protections and compliance oversight with administrator control over functionality, documentation, management, and more. When companies provide their employees with IT-sanctioned, no-code development platforms, they empower the entire organization to create secure solutions without relying on IT or putting company data at risk. When the people closest to everyday business challenges are given the tools and resources to solve them, the speed at which a company can move and the number of people working on solutions can both dramatically increase. It’s time to get moving with a no-code development platform like AppSheet.  

Are You an App Creator? Take Our Survey.

We love no-code app creators! We're always delighted by the innovative and creative applications built on the AppSheet platform by app creators all around the world. Now, we'd love to hear more from creators about why and how they use no-code development. We invite you to take this short survey, which should take less than five minutes. Your responses will go a long way in helping inform the AppSheet team as we work to bring no-code app development to everyone.