Comparative Review: SharePoint Solutions for the iPad

Comparative Review: SharePoint Solutions for the iPad

Integration options and user experience are the key points for these apps

The corporate workplace has become home to diverse mobile devices, mainly driven by user demand for improved UIs, speed, and "cool factor." Also core to this demand is employee mobility. Organizations expect anywhere, anytime access to information, applications, and communications to meet increased demand for productivity and customer responsiveness.

With more and more organizations moving to this mobile-employee model of working, IT can no longer control the proliferation of "non-standard" devices. (From a corporate perspective, there are manageability and security issues with mobile devices: corporate application support, authentication, securing the device and its data from theft, and providing support for employees through Help desk services -- but these topics are beyond the scope of this article.) Many staff have multiple devices, including work devices (e.g., Research in Motion [RIM] BlackBerry phones) and personal devices (e.g., Apple iPhone or iPad) that they want to use for work purposes. From a user perspective, iPads and similar devices have several usability advantages that enable mobility. Compared to iPads, laptops are bulky, heavy, and take a long time to boot. iPads enable instant startup and access to corporate, social, and standard productivity applications (e.g., email, word processing, spreadsheet, presentations). The instant access and light weight are helpful for mobile workers, who can easily carry the devices in airports, on planes, in hotels, or to the local coffee shop. Other beneficial aspects are the multipurpose nature and polished UI of the device.

Specifically, the iPad can be used for corporate applications, games, reading, music, navigation, and more. (I know that my iPad has reduced the number of devices I carry.) With employees purchasing their own iPads or with some organizations standardizing on these devices, organizations that use Microsoft SharePoint need an application that can provide the full features of the program, such as the ability to upload documents or to take items offline for editing, to mobile users. For this article, I tried out the top four SharePoint apps that are available for download from the Apple App Store.

Options for Accessing SharePoint

A variety of options are available for accessing SharePoint on the iPad. Using the native iPad browser provides a surprisingly decent -- though not perfect -- SharePoint browsing experience. However, this solution is not tested by Microsoft and does sometimes run into issues, such as not allowing users to upload documents. The Microsoft SharePoint Team Blog explains the cause for the incompatibility:

Cause: Apple Safari 4 or higher for a Mac/PC and Safari for the iPhone OS are not the same. Whereas the desktop version of Safari supports content editable attribute, Safari on the iPhone OS does not. The content editable attribute is used by SharePoint 2010 and other collaboration products, such as Office Web Apps, to provide a rich editing experience within a supported browser. In the future, if Apple were to add support for the content editable on the Apple iPad, then we will investigate and update this post.

For those that require a richer experience and offline support, several apps are available for download from the App Store. For the purposes of this article, I downloaded the full versions of four such products -- Colligo Networks Colligo Briefcase Pro v3.0.0, Infragistics SharePlus Pro for iOS v3.2, Aircreek Filamente v1.6.7, and harmon.ie SharePoint Mobile Client v1.2.3 -- to my iPad 2. I then evaluated the installation, configuration (when connecting to a Microsoft Office 365 Team Site), and content browsing, viewing, editing, and uploading experience for each product.

Test Environment

For this review, I used the following test environment:

  • Apple iPad 2 64GB running iOS 5.1.1
  • Productivity apps: Apple iWork Keynote (version 1.6.1), Numbers (version 1.6.1) and Pages (version 1.6.1)
  • Remote storage apps: Dropbox (version 1.5.3) and Microsoft SkyDrive (version 2.1)
  • Small Business Office 365 license: SharePoint Team Site, Office Web Apps
  • A 65MB dataset consisting of 150 items: documents (i.e., Office documents and Adobe PDFs), pictures, blogs, and discussions

I tested the apps on various mobile networks with varying quality and speed: home, coffee shops, airport, and hotel. If a problem occurred during product testing, I used the app's user manual and set aside 5 to 10 minutes to resolve the issue. I did not contact the manufacturer support because one component of my evaluation was product stability and functionality as posted in the App Store.

Baseline Test: Native iPad Browser

My first series of tests used the Apple Safari mobile browser that ships with iOS 5.1.1. I did this is to set a baseline and to satisfy my curiosity regarding compatibility and functionality.

To access a Team Site, I simply needed to enter the URL, and my user ID, and my password. At first glance, the Team Site rendered well, and standard functionality appeared to be present (see Figure 1). Clicking through the navigation provided consistent results, with no surprises.

Figure 1: Accessing a Team Site via Safari
Figure 1: Accessing a Team Site via Safari  

Entering text by clicking Posts triggered the pop-up iPad keyboard. I was able to enter and post text easily. The Ribbon appeared with the standard functionality items. I selected Discussions and easily added a discussion item; no surprises with user experience at this point.

Next, I clicked the Documents link to see how the document library would render. Again, the browsing experience at first glance looked fine. The folders and documents appeared along with the icons for the Office Web Apps (i.e., Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote). I highlighted a document, and the appropriate Ribbon appeared (see Figure 2). But when I clicked Add Document, the option to select a document was unavailable.

Figure 2: Access Documents Link via Safari
Figure 2: Access Documents Link via Safari  

Next, I clicked the Word Web App and chose the option to create a document (see Figure 3). I entered some text and found that typing in the first few characters was problematic: The keyboard didn't appear to be working. I pressed various keys (e.g., backspace) and eventually the text appeared. This was quirky and probably not something I would want to deal with on a regular basis.

Figure 3: At Word Web App Creating a Document via Safari
Figure 3: At Word Web App Creating a Document via Safari 

After entering the text, I saved the document and returned to the Documents library. Searching for pictures with "Fairchild" in the name yielded three pictures (see Figure 4), which was my expected result. However, the results didn't appear for quite a while -- about an hour -- because of the Microsoft indexer schedule.

Figure 4: Searching for Pictures via Safari
Figure 4: Searching for Pictures via Safari 

Overall, for basic access from within the office (via intranet) or through the Internet to a Team Site, using the native iPad browser is certainly an option, albeit one with limitations. If all you need is some browsing and basic viewing of documents and images, though, this might be enough for you.

Colligo Networks Briefcase Pro

The Colligo Briefcase Pro client installed easily and adding a Team Site was a straightforward process (see Figure 5). I simply touched the People icon in the upper-left corner of the main screen, and the Add Site window appeared. I entered a URL, username, and password, and I was done. If you have specific sync options in mind, such as lists that you want or don't want to synchronize, you can set those here. You can also set a storage limit.

Figure 5: Using Colligo Briefcase Pro to Add a Site
Figure 5: Using Colligo Briefcase Pro to Add a Site 

The home page for a Team Site uses the left area for primary navigation of lists and libraries and the right area for displaying items and item properties (see Figure 6). To view a list item, touch the list item name (e.g., Documents), and the subitems are displayed to the right (see Figure 7). Clicking an item name lists any subitems.

Figure 6: Colligo Briefcase Pro Display of Site Home Page
Figure 6: Colligo Briefcase Pro Display of Site Home Page 

 

Figure 7: Viewing List Items with Colligo Briefcase Pro
Figure 7: Viewing List Items with Colligo Briefcase Pro 

In the upper-right corner, there are two icons. The Plus (+) icon displays the Add menu, with options to add a List Item, Photo from Camera, Photo from Library, or Sketch. You can use the Eye icon to select the SharePoint view (e.g., All Items) that you want to use.

Clicking the Arrow (>) icon next to an item displays a Properties window, which includes options for storing files for offline use and synchronizing views (see Figure 8). Within that window, the item title and properties are displayed, along with Edit and Delete buttons. For synchronization control, a Sync Documents and Attachments option helped with managing sync time and space consumed on the iPad. I used the default sync options for my test.

Figure 8: Viewing Item Properties with Colligo Briefcase Pro
Figure 8: Viewing Item Properties with Colligo Briefcase Pro 

The list item screens (e.g., the Blogs screen) and the Properties window both contain a Back button (in the upper left corner) as well as Favorites and Actions links (in the upper right corner). The Actions link in the list item screens offer options to Copy Link, Email Link, and Go To Folder; in the Properties window, the options include Open In, Copy Link, Email as Attachment, Email Link, Print, and View Details. To view an item such as an image or document from a list item screen, touch the item (see Figure 9).

Figure 9: Viewing an Item with Colligo Briefcase Pro
Figure 9: Viewing an Item with Colligo Briefcase Pro 

When adding an item (e.g., adding a list item to a SharePoint blog), a window with basic text boxes and a Done button appears (see Figure 10). This is one area in which Colligo Briefcase Pro falls short. Other products have rich text and HTML editors that provide more flexible and user-friendly text editing and formatting. Also, only one line is provided for text entry (e.g., for the body of a blog item), which seems limiting.

Figure 10: Adding an Item with Colligo Briefcase Pro
Figure 10: Adding an Item with Colligo Briefcase Pro

Searching for pictures with "Fairchild" in the name yielded the expected results (see Figure 11). I could search from anywhere within the Team Site. Full sync time from my local coffee shop was 12 minutes -- on par with the other apps that I tested.

Figure 11: Searching for Pictures via Colligo Briefcase Pro
Figure 11: Searching for Pictures via Colligo Briefcase Pro 

Overall, the product was easy to use and intuitive. The ability to configure the sync engine for tuning is advantageous. The Site-wide search feature was also helpful because I was able to search from one location, rather than being confined to the list or library level.

Infragistics SharePlus Pro for iOS

The SharePlus Pro client installed without issue, and adding a Team Site was a simple task. To add a Site, I just touched the People icon in the upper-left corner of the main screen, which brought up the Add Site window (see Figure 12).

Figure 12: Adding a Site via Infragistics SharePlus Pro
Figure 12: Adding a Site via Infragistics SharePlus Pro 

Under authentication, different available types included Windows, Web, and Office 365. I just needed to enter a URL, username, and password. The home page for the Site uses the left area for primary navigation of lists and libraries and the right area for displaying items and item properties (see Figure 13).

Figure 13: Infragistics SharePlus Pro Display of Site Home Page
Figure 13: Infragistics SharePlus Pro Display of Site Home Page 

To the bottom left of the screen, I found icons for refreshing the page, displaying favorites, displaying all items, and contacting support or providing feedback. To view list items, I touched the item name, or I could touch the Arrow (>) icon to list subitems within the list. I could then touch a subitem to display it (see Figure 14).

Figure 14: Viewing List Items with Infragistics SharePlus Pro
Figure 14: Viewing List Items with Infragistics SharePlus Pro 

Another icon in the top-right corner lets you display a menu with options to Add Item or View In Web (Opens Item in Safari). At the bottom of the page, three other options are displayed: Table allows you to display items in a grid or table, All Items lets you choose the view, and Settings allows you to select which columns to display.

To display an item's properties, simply touch the item (see Figure 15). An icon in the upper right provides options to Edit Item, Add to Favorites, or Delete Item.

Figure 15: Viewing Item Properties via Infragistics SharePlus Pro
Figure 15: Viewing Item Properties via Infragistics SharePlus Pro 

Touching the html content link beside the Body property displays the contents of the body in a window. To view an item, touch it and it is rendered in a new window (see Figure 16). For Microsoft Office documents, Keynote, Numbers, and Pages convert and open the document for you.

Figure 16: Viewing an Item with Infragistics SharePlus Pro
Figure 16: Viewing an Item with Infragistics SharePlus Pro

To add or upload an item, navigate to the list or library and click the Arrow (>) icon. Options appear to Take Photo/Video, Photo Albums, Record Audio, or Local Files (see Figure 17). When you are at the list or library level, different menu options are listed, including Add Word, Add Folder, and View in Web (Open in Safari).

Figure 17: Adding an Item with Infragistics SharePlus Pro
Figure 17: Adding an Item with Infragistics SharePlus Pro 

Searching for pictures with "Fairchild" in the name didn't yield the expected results, nor did a site search. I had to browse to the Pictures library and then search (see Figure 18). Full sync time from the coffee shop was 10 minutes.

Figure 18: Searching for Pictures via Infragistics SharePlus Pro
Figure 18: Searching for Pictures via Infragistics SharePlus Pro 

Overall, though, the product was easy to use and the UI was intuitive. Other than the search issues, I experienced no problems with the product.

Aircreek Filamente

To add a Team Site in the Aircreek Filamente SharePoint mobile client, touch the Plus (+) icon in the upper-right corner of the main screen. The Add SharePoint site window appears (see Figure 19). Enter the URL, touch Manage User, and enter the user ID and password. Touch the Save button to finish. To view a Site home page, touch the SharePoint site that you want to browse.

Figure 19: Adding a Site via Aircreek Filamente
Figure 19: Adding a Site via Aircreek Filamente 

The page layout displays lists and libraries to the left and selected items to the right. One useful feature is the number of items listed beside each list and library (see Figure 20). To view list items, touch the list or library and the items are displayed. Another useful feature is the viewing options that appear in the left-side navigation area. These options enable you to filter content. At the bottom right of the page, a Send icon displays the Printing option and the Plus (+ ) icon displays the Create Text File, Upload from Local Doc, Upload from Album, Take Photo or Video, and New Folder options (see Figure 21).

Figure 20: Aircreek Filamente Display of Site Home Page
Figure 20: Aircreek Filamente Display of Site Home Page 

 

Figure 21: Viewing List Items with Aircreek Filamente
Figure 21: Viewing List Items with Aircreek Filamente 

Click the Arrow (>) to the right of an item to display a pop-up window that contains the item's basic information, such as title and size (see Figure 22). At the top of the screen, a Globe icon opens the item in a browser, a Sync icon initiates synchronization, and a Gear icon provides access to setting such as the UI theme, list item limits, data refresh intervals, a link to a Dropbox account, and access to support and user manuals.

Figure 22: Viewing Item Properties via Aircreek Filamente
Figure 22: Viewing Item Properties via Aircreek Filamente 

Note that after you activate Dropbox, you have a central repository for items. Also, the Attach from Dropbox option appears in the Edit menu.

At the bottom right of the page, the Send icon displays options for Emailing Items, Personal Note, Open In, and Print. The Plus (+) icon displays options to Create Text File, Upload from Local Doc, Upload from Album, Take Photo or Video, and New Folder.

To add or upload an item, navigate to the list or library to which you want to upload the item (see Figure 23). Touch the Plus (+ ) icon (in the bottom-right corner of screen) to post the new item. The item body uses a rich text editor to enhance the user experience.

Figure 23: Adding an Item with Aircreek Filamente
Figure 23: Adding an Item with Aircreek Filamente

Searching for pictures with "Fairchild" in the name yielded the expected results (see Figure 24). The search function is exposed at the list or library level. Full sync time from the coffee shop was just 5 minutes.

Figure 24: Searching for Pictures via Aircreek Filamente
Figure 24: Searching for Pictures via Aircreek Filamente 

Overall, the product was both easy to use and intuitive. I experienced no problems, and the Link to DropBox feature is effective in acting as a central area for documents.

harmon.ie Mobile Client

The harmon.ie client installed easily; adding a Team Site was also simple. I touched the Plus (+ ) icon in the upper-left corner of the screen, and the Add Site window appeared (see Figure 25).

Figure 25: Adding a Site via harmon.ie Mobile
Figure 25: Adding a Site via harmon.ie Mobile 

In this window, you enter the URL. Then, under the authentication area, select a Mode (Automatic or Browser), and enter your user ID and password. The home page for the Site uses the entire page area for primary navigation, even when you click on lists and libraries (see Figure 26).

Figure 26: harmon.ie Mobile Display of Site Home Page
Figure 26: harmon.ie Mobile Display of Site Home Page 

To the bottom left, there are icons for Sites, Browsing (Sites, Lists and Libraries), Updates (All, Documents and Colleagues), People, Favorite Locations, and Settings. The interface uses a cut-and-paste feature to upload items. For example, copy an image from the image library, navigate to harmon.ie, and a pop-up window appears, stating that an item is in the Clipboard.

To view list items, touch the list or library name or the Arrow (>) icon and to display the items (see Figure 27). Another Arrow icon appears in the upper right; touch it to refresh the cache in case any updates have been made. To view an item's properties, touch the item to launch the Document Info window (see Figure 28). This window contains options to Email, Copy Link, Open With, Properties, and Check Out. To view an item, select Open With (see Figure 29). If you have installed applications that can open the item, they are listed as choices for opening items. For example, if you have installed Word, Pages is listed as an application for opening a Word document.

Figure 27: Viewing List Items with harmon.ie Mobile
Figure 27: Viewing List Items with harmon.ie Mobile 

 

Figure 28: Viewing Item Properties via harmon.ie Mobile
Figure 28: Viewing Item Properties via harmon.ie Mobile 

 

Figure 29: Viewing an Item via harmon.ie Mobile
Figure 29: Viewing an Item via harmon.ie Mobile 

 

To upload or add an item, use the iPad copy function to highlight the item, then navigate to the list or library and touch the screen. A message is displayed, stating "Image Found in Clipboard" (see Figure 30). Select Yes, and you are stepped through the process of adding the item.

Figure 30: Adding an Item with harmon.ie Mobile
Figure 30: Adding an Item with harmon.ie Mobile 

Searching for pictures with "Fairchild" in the name yielded the expected results (see Figure 31). I couldn't find a sync status option to determine the full sync time.

Figure 31: Searching for Pictures via harmon.ie Mobile
Figure 31: Searching for Pictures via harmon.ie Mobile 

 

Overall, the product was easy to use; the UI was intuitive enough but lacked the polish of its competitors. The other products that I tested all have Add Item functionality via an icon -- a more common and easy-to-use design pattern -- as well as sync status. (Keep in mind, I didn't call support and spent limited time with the manual, so this functionality might be available -- but if so, it wasn't easy to find.) However, I experienced no problems with the product functionality.

Get Comfortable

Table 1 shows a summary of my comparisons. (Want to share your experiences with these products? Contact me at [email protected].)

The continued increase in mobile workforces will influence the adoption of mobile devices. As more products (options) become available and prices drop, user adoption will continue to increase. With the increasing number of devices, the trend of mobile working increasing and more organizations adopting SharePoint, the support for iPad and like devices will continue to improve and be refined. With experience, IT will develop skills and establish a comfort level supporting devices such as the iPad.

Table 1: Comparison Summary of SharePoint for iPad Products

Product

Vendor

Memory Footprint

Pros

Cons

Rating

Recommendations

Native iPad browser

Apple

877-412-7753

N/A

No purchase of additional software necessary; known UI; text input for list items; reduced security risks (because of lack of offline capability)

Limited user experience; Office Web App quirks when typing text; reduced usability (because of lack of offline capability)

3 out of 5

Use if offline isn't required and only browsing is required.

Colligo Briefcase Pro 3.0.0

Colligo Networks

866-685-7962

13.3MB

Easy setup for Team Sites; search from anywhere; intuitive UI

Text editor lacks rich editing; issues uploading items

4 out of 5

Adopt if sync and security are higher priorities than UI and item management.

SharePlus Pro for iOS 3.2

Infragistics

800-231-8588

21.4MB

Easy setup for Team Sites; intuitive UI; rich text editor

Large client footprint

5 out of 5

Adopt if UI and item management are priorities.

Harmon.ie SharePoint Mobile Client 1.2.3

harmon.ie

800-624-6946

2.5MB

Easy setup for Team Sites

Less-polished UI; UI for uploading items not as intuitive as other apps

3 out of 5

Wait for later releases for improved UI and functionality.

Filamente 1.6.7

Aircreek

6.4MB

Easy setup for Team Sites; intuitive UI; rich text editor; link to Dropbox feature

Client footprint

4 out of 5

Adopt if UI and item management are priorities.

 

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