How to Make SharePoint 2013 More Mobile

Microsoft's SharePoint 2013 offers improved mobile features, however, enterprises need stronger capabilities and may need to turn to third-party applications to make SharePoint fill those growing mobile needs.

By Juan Carlos Perez
Thu, June 20, 2013

CIO

Microsoft SharePoint 2013
SharePoint, Microsoft's all-purpose collaboration server, has never had strong native functionality for mobile access to its features and content.

First launched in 2001, SharePoint wasn't built for a world in which smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous both at home and at work.

However, CIOs and IT directors whose companies are heavy SharePoint users are increasingly fielding requests from employees who want to tap the product from mobile devices.

That's what happened at AAA Mid-Atlantic, which uses SharePoint 2010. The only way to access SharePoint 2010 documents from outside of the firewall was via a VPN system on employees' laptops.

"It was inconvenient for our executives when they traveled because they'd have to bring both their tablets and laptops," says Ed Klichinsky, IT manager of mobile development at AAA Mid-Atlantic, the AAA motor club that serves Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Like many peers in companies around the world, Klichinsky and his team embarked on a process of evaluating alternatives for expanding and enhancing mobile access to SharePoint.

"SharePoint wasn't built for mobile. Microsoft has been responding to mobile on SharePoint, but the response has been sluggish overall," says Mark Gilbert, a Gartner analyst.

So what's an enterprise IT leader to do?

According to Gilbert, don't necessarily assume that the solution to the problem will be expensive and complicated.

"You don't jump into cost and complexity unless you have to," he says.

That means a first step is to evaluate the new and improved mobile features in SharePoint 2013, the latest version of the product released a few months ago, according to Gilbert.

SharePoint Bible: Your Complete Guide to Microsoft's Collaboration Software ]

While mobile features in the two previous versions--SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010--are clearly insufficient, SharePoint 2013 offers significant improvements.

"Get one of your developers to test the native mobile tools in SharePoint 2013, and if that's good enough for your use case, you're done," Gilbert says.

He estimates that SharePoint 2013 mobile features will meet the current requirements of about half of organizations. Of course, this involves upgrading to SharePoint 2013, which many companies may not be planning to do right away.

If you plan to adopt SharePoint 2013, these are some of the new and improved mobile features you'll encounter:

  • A better mobile browsing experience thanks to a new "contemporary view" which renders sites in HTML5 and works with the most recent mobile IE, Safari and Android browsers. It is designed for touch-screen interaction and optimized for tasks like accessing document libraries, lists, wikis and Web parts. The "classic view" for older mobile browsers remains, rendering sites in HTML, as well as the option to display a full desktop view of the site.
  • New backend mobile "channels" that automatically rearrange the rendering of a SharePoint site for different mobile devices, augmenting the single default mobile view in SharePoint 2010 that was cumbersome to customize.
  • A new capability for SharePoint sites to push notifications out to mobile devices, alerting users about changes, like the addition or modification of content.
  • Two new native mobile apps. The SharePoint Newsfeed app gives users access to the people and documents they follow. It's available for Windows Phone and iOS and will be available on Windows 8 by the end of June. An Android version will be available later. The SkyDrive Pro app gives users access to this cloud storage and file sharing service on Windows 8 and iOS. It's due for release before the end of June. A version for Windows Phone 8 is already out.

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