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Human-centric automation with AppSheet

    A few months after AppSheet was acquired by Google Cloud we announced that we were extending our no-code capabilities to include a new way to empower citizen developers- AppSheet Automation.  While the team is hard at work iterating on this offering, I was recently able to have a conversation with one of the Product Managers leading this effort - Prithpal Bhogill. In the conversation below we discuss what AppSheet Automation is, how it’s used, and when you can start using it.    JC: Let’s get started with the big question - what is AppSheet's automation?  PB: Simply put, automation is the use of technology to eliminate manual steps in typical business processes (eg: Employee Onboarding, Expense Approvals etc) and make your business run more efficiently. Automation is the key enabler of digital transformation.  With AppSheet, automation is an extension of the no-code capabilities that so many organizations have begun to implement as part of their digital transformation. It’s intent-aware, modular and allows creators the ability to activate powerful automations - in addition to their no-code applications - all on the same unified platform. This part of the no-code evolution enables you to automate common business processes and document based workflows that are often time consuming by quickly configuring bots that listen to events and execute processes.    JC: You used the terms “intent aware”, “unified” and “modular”, can you explain what that means for our citizen developers who aren’t as familiar with this space? PB: Let’s break it down into the three parts starting with Intent-aware. AppSheet as a platform uses the power of Google AI and Natural Language Processing to understand your data model (eg: employee), what you are trying to automate (eg: employee onboarding) and will surface relevant suggestions for bots, events and processes - minimizing the clicks and configuration required to create your automation.   For eg: When you type in “Employee Onboarding” during the automation bot creation, the platform detects that the employee data model has a column “Email” and offers up suggestions  (completely configured bots) that are relevant. It can automatically populate complex expressions thereby reducing the amount of time the application creator has to spend setting up the automation.     Next up is “unified” The no-code nature of the platform allows anyone to create both applications and automations within the same product rather than from separate products as is the case with some other solutions in this space. The application creator can use the same application editor that they use to design application experiences, to configure bots, events and processes. This allows them to create powerful automations that include rich approvals and intelligent document processing (more on that later).    Finally, “modular” Modularity is a key design principle of AppSheet, and this is not to be confused with the drag and drop elements that you see in low-code platforms. Events, Processes, and Tasks (steps inside of processes) are all reusable components - saving valuable development time. That means  you can reuse events and processes in various bots and tasks in various processes.   JC: We're in the early stages of this release, any particular business need that you’ve seen really benefit from this thus for?  PB: Anything related to approvals has been quite popular, especially because of what we call document AI, or document processing. Think order approvals, invoice requests, employee management, etc.   JC: Ok, I know we have some really incredible work happening behind the scenes. Is there anything you’re particularly proud of that you want to highlight for our audience?  PB: Document AI, or intelligent document processing, is a really powerful part of the intelligence behind automation. The best way to think of it is the extraction of content from an unstructured document. To take it a step further, the intelligence capabilities of AppSheet will automatically extract useful content from document files that are stored as a PDF, GIF or TIFF files. Pdfs of invoices or receipts that need approvals are one of the best ways to see how automation leverages document AI.    JC: One final question for you - where can those that are interested go to get started? There are two places, both serving separate needs. The first is our Creator Community. We’ve created a special channel where those that are interested can engage with others leveraging this capability. This channel is also a great place to provide feedback and let us know what’s working and what you’d like to see. The second is your AppSheet account. We’ll be rolling this out over time so not everyone will be able to access it right away, but once you see the Automation tab appear in your navigation bar, you can dig in.  A big thank you to Prithpal for sharing his expertise and to the entire team for their work on this next AppSheet chapter.  Ready to get started? Begin your automation journey today. 

Feature Friday | September 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.  September: Month in review  September brought the change of seasons and a few notable announcements of updates you'll be able to experience in AppSheet soon. Most of the product enhancements made came from months of small, incremental steps that led to larger releases.  Below is a recap of some of the key features and areas of focus we’ve been working on behind the scenes:  Next OnAir announcement of AppSheet Automation Completion of our migration efforts to expand our GCP integrations Testing phase of our PDF Creation Facility  UI refresh with updates Google branding  Apigee Data Source moved to general availability  Improved chart rendering  SOC 2 Type II compliance  We also held our Quarterly Office Hours webinar where we discussed what we've worked on over the past few months and what you can expect over the next quarter. If you missed the live webinar, you can review the recording of it on our Office Hours Youtube playlist.   A number of these features were made possible by the feedback and adventurous spirit of each of our app creators. Thank you to each and every one of you who continues to volunteer for early testing and feedback opportunities.  We have a lot more in store before the end of the year. Follow along with our feature release notes in the AppSheet community to gather more information as it becomes available. 

Feature Friday | Editor Refresh 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.  Editor UI Refresh Q&A with Carie Phon  Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. What is your current role at Google and what area of AppSheet are you currently working on?  I’m a UX/UI Product Designer. My main area of focus is improving the app creation experience for both new and existing app creators. At this very moment, however, I’m working on refreshing the App UI, the apps being created by app creators (more information to come!)  You've been working on refreshing an important part of the AppSheet experience. Can you tell us what that is?  Now that we’re a part of Google Cloud, there has been a huge effort across AppSheet to integrate. The Google UI refresh was no exception. To ensure an integrated experience without breaking existing functionality, we adopted Google’s Material design standards into the product. The refresh introduces accessible colors and contrast, recognizable Material UI patterns, visual hierarchy, and minor usability improvements to the Editor.  You worked closely with our Creator Community on this project, can you explain what that relationship is like?  The Creator Community was instrumental in how quickly we were able to deliver the refreshed UI to the public. From day one, I was thrilled at the number of people who volunteered to beta-test the product. The Editor refresh was a substantial change, so the fact that so many people readily opted into the new interface was incredible. Thanks to the beta-testing group, we got a lot of great, honest feedback and were able to correct a number of issues right before launch. If it wasn’t for these dedicated testers, I don’t think we would have felt as confident about rolling out to the public as soon as we did.  Was there a challenge you didn’t anticipate that ending up turning into something you really enjoyed?  At first, the Editor was intimidating. App creators use the Editor on a daily basis, it was a real challenge to incorporate Google design patterns into such an intricate interface using only CSS updates. However, what was intimidating at first quickly became a fun collaboration between cross-functional teams. Together, we were able to make AppSheet look and feel like a Google Cloud product and improve usability without any major functionality changes. It looks so different and yet it’s still the same AppSheet under the hood! What was your favorite part of the refresh experience?  It’s hard to pick just one part, I’ve learned so much from this experience, but one moment that really stood out to me was the first time I saw an AppSheet demo using the new UI. That made me really happy to see someone making an app, end-to-end, using the designs I created.  Any final thoughts you’d like to share?  This was a collaborative effort, a special shout out to the entire team who made this all possible: Nico, Seth, Maria, Arthur, Mike, Chris H, Josh, Morgan, Peter, Jeff, Christina, Lilia, Dallas, Devin, Chris B, Praveen, and Theirry. The refresh is but one of many improvements to come, stay tuned for more updates to the app creation experience!   Thank you again to Carie 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.   

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.   

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!

Feature Friday | Charts and an IP address update

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.    Charts  One of the areas we’ve been working to improve is our UX View Type: Charts. We have not released anything just yet, but over the next few months, you’ll begin to see changes and updates. Here’s some of what you can expect:  Charts are changing in a positive way. Our first step is to improve some of the issues that had been encountered in the rendering of the charts.  Over the next few months, a number of updates and small releases will be taking place. These will impact everything from enterprise management to authoring.  Community driven iterations! We’re in need of testers to help us ensure we’re getting it just right. Not everyone who volunteers for this will be accepted into this particular test group, but there will be many more opportunities in the future. You can volunteer by replying to this post in our Creator Community. A friendly reminder for database users For those that currently leverage databases to develop applications, there are updates coming to the IP addresses you’ll need on your allow list. These changes are taking place next week and require an action on your part to ensure there is no disruption in authorization of data usage. Please consult this thread for additional information.   How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know! Happy app building!

Feature Friday | Roadmap edition

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.  The first six months We can hardly believe it, but roughly six months ago AppSheet joined Google Cloud. There has been a number of activities taking place behind the scenes, and this week we held a special Office Hours to address some of the questions and concerns. A recording of the session is available, but below are the three main areas we've been focused on:  Creator Community. We continue to take in and absorb feedback from each one of you across multiple channels. The impact may not be felt immediately, but this feedback helps influence our engineering decisions and other actions we take.  Team expansion. The funny thing about a no-code platform is that you need coders to build it. We've welcomed a number of new team members to make this happen and take AppSheet to the next level.  Improvements and/or new features. In six months we've worked on over 120 new features or updates. Here's a brief overview of some of what we've worked on: What we're working on next  We have some really, really exciting developments in the works. Our engineering efforts will be focused on the following five areas:  Richness Authoring App UX  Connectors Admin So what exactly does this mean? In short, many, if not all, of the features and updates we release this year will be focused on the above list. While we cannot provide a complete list of each and every feature we're working on with a proposed release date, we hope that this provides some clarity around the direction in which the product is heading.  Our commitment  We've thrown a lot of information at you, but the outstanding question is how are we going to improve communicating this all to you? Here are a few immediate steps we're taking: Feature Release Notes section in our Creator Community. The goal of this area is to behave much like a changelog, please see the category description for additional details.  A feature release summary blog post of what we've released that month. This will be posted on the last Friday of every month.  These items are the immediate actions we're taking to improve your experience with AppSheet. Have additional suggestions or requests on how we can improve this part of your experience? Send a direct message to  Which of these new features have you used in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know! Happy app building!