PowerPivot on the iPad: Best Practices

[original post by Russell blog]

Mobile BI is getting hotter and hotter by the second. Microsoft hasn’t exactly been quick off the mark in this space as we have no mobile BI apps of our own and have pretty much ceded the space to partners. That’s OK I guess, because some of our partners like Extended Results have created some pretty amazing stuff.

If you’re interested in a little bit of “out of the box Mobile BI” and don’t want to buy 3rd party products, you can always view your published Excel Services & PowerPivot workbooks on the iPad.

Designing and/or re-factoring your reports for the device does take a bit of thought and planning, however. This post is a brain dump on things you should consider with some hints and tips. Most of what I’m going to give you falls into the “no duh” category, but I think you’ll pick up some useful nuggets.

Size Matters

Truth. Your biggest challenge will be building a report which relates a meaningful amount of information in the limited amount of screen real estate you’ll have to work with. You thought it was tough artfully cramming things into a PPS dashboard? Meh! Take the training wheels off!

Develop and Test Small

You may have an iPad to begin with, and even if you do it’s a pain in the rear to constantly refresh your changes on the device to see how things are looking. Develop and test as much as you can on your desktop/laptop.

Install Safari on your desktop and configure it to act like Safari-on-iPad:

  1. Open Safari’s Options dialog.
  2. Click Advanced on the Options dialog’s toolbar.
  3. Select Show Develop menu in the menu bar.
  4. if you want to go all out, click Security on the Options dialog, and de-select Enable plug-ins and Enable Java. This isn’t strictly necessary, but the items don’t work by default on some iOS Safari installations as far as I know.
  5. Close the Options dialog. If the Menu Bar isn’t showing in Safari (File, Edit View, History, Bookmarks, etc.) Choose the Options drop down, and de-select Hide Menu Bar.
  6. On the Options drop-down, select Hide Bookmark Bar.
  7. On the Develop menu, choose User Agent, then Safari iOS x.xx – iPad
  8. Hide the the Menu Bar again.
  9. Here’s the painful part: Go 1024 x 768 on your screen resolution. I know, it’s horrible. Do it, and maximize Safari.

After Safari is on your machine and you’re running in 1024 x 768, you can begin developing,

Basic Guidance

Remember, no Silverlight. The fancy PowerPivot Gallery visualizations like Theater, Carousel, etc. don’t work on the iPad since iOS doesn’t support Silverlight and Flash. Make sure you set the default view of the gallery to “All Documents”. If you don’t want to go this route, you can create a Web Part page for each workbook and add an Excel Web Access Web Part to display the workbook.

Assume that users don’t know iPad navigation tricks. That’s right, believe it or not some of your users may be dumb. They have an iPad, but they don’t know how to use it. I know, I know – could never happen. If it does happen, they’ll get hopelessly lost trying to navigate your report, and just give up. So throw ‘em a bone with some quick movement tips.

Consider adding a new worksheet to the front of your workbook which explains the two-finger scroll gesture. Some sample text:

To navigate the reports in this workbook:

  • Use the worksheet tabs at the bottom of the browser to move from worksheet to worksheet
  • To view different parts of a worksheet, press and hold two fingers to the iPad screen, then scroll while keeping your fingers on the screen

Move slicers to the bottom of each worksheet. Horizontal slicers use up valuable screen space and will nearly always force your users to scroll. First, shrink these suckers up so they use less vertical space. Next step, move them to the bottom of the sheet unless it’s absolutely necessary you keep them at the top.

Remove logos and artwork in the report header. Artwork and/or a logo in the header of a report adds a dash of class. However, on the iPad, it makes it less likely you’ll see all the information you need on one screen without a scroll.

Expand row-level groupings in your PivotTables. I like to collapse all the grouped rows in my PivotTables to save on vertical space. While this generally is a good design decision, it doesn’t take into account a mantra that is critical for you to understand in iPad-land. Repeat after me:

The iPad soft keyboard is evil. Do everything you can to prevent it from getting in the way of your user

Keyboard Up

Each time your user has to interact with a + or – symbol to expand or collapse a grouping of rows, iPad’s keyboard will appear. This gets really old after about the first 10 seconds. Before you save the workbook to SharePoint, expand all your row groupings so users only have to scroll the workbook to view the information it contains rather than do a scroll + “tap” (on the row).

You might also want to add another “navigation note” about row groups to your “how to navigate” cheat sheet:

  • To expand or collapse a group of rows or columns, tap and briefly hold the + or – symbol. The web report will re-paint 2-3 seconds later

Consider replacing slicers altogether . When one interacts with a slicer in any way, the blasted soft keyboard will make an appearance. In addition, there are no iPad gestures you can use to easily select multiple slicer items like one can by CTRL and SHIFT clicking in Windows. The “old-fashioned” Report Filters aren’t as pretty or smart as Slicers, but one can select multiple items inside them and they only pop the soft keyboard once when one opens the filter dialog page. In some cases, you’re just going to need to bite the bullet and use them instead of slicers.


Other Ideas

Turn off the Excel Toolbar: The Excel toolbar becomes something of an appendix when your PowerPivot workbook is viewed on the iPad. Why not remove it and get a few extra rows in your worksheet displayed? You can do so by displaying the workbook inside an Excel Web Access web part, and then turning off the toolbar:

SharePoint Properties

Modify your Master Page: Even a basic SharePoint site generally uses (wastes?) vertical space with header logos, breadcrumb trails, and alike. If you have the CSS chops, why not get into the master page and modify some of this to free up more room?

[original post by Russell blog]