Microsoft BI customers have been rolling out third-party solutions such as DataZen or Forerunner for years now for delivering mobile BI reporting solutions.  These partner solutions are still excellent choices depending on your deployment scenario.

In December 2014, a new native iPad app for the HTML5-friendly Microsoft Power BI Preview was released.  It is freely available for download today in the Apple App Store if you want to explore and start using it.  The Mobile BI iPad app provides fully responsive, live, touch-enabled mobile access to published Power BI Preview dashboards and reports.  There also is a native iPhone app with fantastic alerting features that I will cover in a future article.  The Mobile BI apps empower users to get insights while on the go, annotate and share them with their colleagues in email or text messages for immediate action.

Getting Started

To get a better feeling for the new Mobile BI app capabilities, I recommend watching the Mobile BI video overview and then testing the app with your own BI content.  Although there are several samples that you can view, the samples are restricted in functionality. For instance, you won’t be able to explore the underlying reports like you could if you browse your own content.    

You can quickly create a free account at PowerBI.com and create your own dashboard in a matter of a few minutes.  Then after installing Power BI app on your iPad, you can log in by tapping the Sign In menu to see and explore your own content with the current fully released iPad features.  Note that currently the engineering team is delivering updates a few times a month.

Viewing iPad Dashboards

To view your dashboard, open the Power BI app and tap the Dashboards menu item on the bottom bar.  Thumbnails of available dashboards will be displayed.  When you see the specific dashboard you want to explore, simply tap on it to open it up.  At this point you should see a fully responsive view of the dashboard tiles meaning the tiles will shift automatically to properly display even if you tilt the iPad to a vertical view.    

Tiles are live snapshots of your data that were pinned to a dashboard. Their values change as the data changes. Thus if you are using a live connection to an SaaS data source such as Salesforce, on-premises Analysis Services or real near-time analytics with the Power BI Developer API, your field staff will see the latest and greatest data when and where they need it most.  Currently offline dashboard viewing is not available in the preview release without taking a screen shot.   

The Mobile BI app also supports interaction with tiles and drill-down into reports.  To explore a specific tile, tap on it. A larger, touch optimized, mobile view will be displayed. In this larger view you can drag the bar to view the values for specific parts of a line, bar, or column chart visualization.  Pie charts also support interactive, exploration.

If you’d like to share findings with another member on your team, you can tap the share snapshot camera icon in the lower-left corner of the enlarged tile.  You can optionally add annotations to the view with the pencil icon, text balloon or emoticons to point out an area of interest or concern for action. Once you are done adding annotations, merely tap the green checkmark in the upper-right corner and then tap the mail icon to send your message. 

Exploring Reports on iPad

To drill-down into the details of a tile, tap Open Report.  If Open Report option is not available, most likely the tile was not created from a report but rather Q&A or another data source.  With your report open, you can tap the chart to select, sort, drill and filter results.  If you want to quickly navigate to a different page of a mobile report, swipe down from the top menu and a slide view of available report page thumbnail images will be shown for selection.

Creating Favorites

In the real-world, dashboards are often used to monitor the pulse of a business across different operational business processes and data sources.  If you want a quick glance of your favorite metrics without having to skim through dashboards, tiles and reports, the favorites feature should delight you!  To choose a view to add to your favorites, tap the Favorites menu at the top right.  Now the next time you log into the Power BI Mobile BI app, you can view your selected items in a rapid glance by tapping the Favorites on the bottom menu.

What about Android and Windows Devices?

If you like what you’ve seen for Mobile BI on iPad, Microsoft announced on January 27, 2015 that these features are also coming later this year for Android and Windows devices.  Finally we are seeing cross-platform mobile native apps for Microsoft BI created and delivered by Microsoft.  It looks like 2015 is going to be a great year for gadget fans.