May 31, 2023 Software Development

Canvas vs Model-Driven Apps: Which is Right For You

Businesses are using the Microsoft Power Platform for building a wide range of different applications. The Power Platform is a group of products that enable rapid, low code application development, business process automation, data analysis and more. It empowers businesses to build and roll out complex, enterprise grade applications quicker.  

Power Apps are at the core of the Power Platform suite of products, enabling this rapid development of applications. 

Power Apps are a suite of services, apps and connectors that help businesses build applications that connect to data stored in the Dataverse or from other cloud or on prem sources. These apps allow developers to create rich business logic and workflows that allow us to transform manual business operations into digital, automated processes. 

There are two main types of Power Apps: Canvas Apps and Model-Driven Apps. 

Making the App Determination 

Canvas and Model-Driven apps each have distinct utilizations and advantages. Upon reviewing customer requirements, we can determine which type is the best fit. Like with any project, the first place to start is with an analysis of the business processes and needs. We walk through the proposed application and review the immediate and future requirements. 

During that analysis – and in about 95% of cases – we can immediately determine which type of app is the best fit. It usually comes down to three main criteria: 

  • Technical limitations like the number and type of data sources 
  • User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) requirements 
  • Budgetary and time constraints 

It’s also during this review that we may conclude that the customer would be better served with a complete custom application. Custom applications can make more sense when a customer is: 

  • Not using out of the box features 
  • Making major customizations 
  • Has complex workflows or specific business processes they’re mapping 

You can get more details on how to decide if custom software development makes sense for your business in our comprehensive guide to custom software development. 

The Canvas, Model-Driven App Difference  

Data is core to the first step in our analysis. Where does the data reside and how complex are the relationships between data elements?  Canvas apps can pull data from many sources, while Model-Driven apps are designed to work with the Dataverse. 

If the client has complex data modelling requirements from a single source, the Dataverse, a Model-Driven app makes the most sense. If there are multiple data sources outside the Dataverse, a Canvas app is a better fit. 

Additionally, if UI and UX design are a priority, a Canvas app will give us the flexibility we need to create a more customized look and feel. However, Model-Driven apps provide a user interface consistent with other Microsoft apps, which can be beneficial for users already familiar with these tools. 

Here’s a simple comparison to help you conceptualize the difference:  


Canvas Apps Model-Driven Apps
  • UI-first Approach. Start with the UI and move down to the data. 
  • Any/many data source(s), including Dataverse. 
  • Blank canvas with expansive design possibilities. 
  • Multiple pages and greater design flexibility. 
  • Can be more time consuming and costly to design and implement. 
  • Accessibility and responsiveness need to be designed into the app. 
  • Data First Approach. Start with the data and move up to the UI. 
  • More complex data processing from Dataverse only. 
  • Set templates with limited customization, consistent with Microsoft apps. 
  • Limited ability to expand design beyond single page. 
  • Faster, less costly implementation, but requires more user training. 
  • Accessibility and responsiveness are built in. 


The decision as to which approach makes the most sense is not always cut and dried. Careful consideration and analysis before starting is critical because once you start using one approach, you can’t simply switch to the other app type mid-stride. You’d need to start the development over. 

It’s equally important to realize that many solutions use both Canvas and Model-Driven apps to provide a comprehensive and flexible solution for our clients. 

For example, a common approach is to use a Model-Driven app for the main business process and then use Canvas apps for specific tasks or workflows that require a more customized user interface.  

In practice, this could look like a client needing to enter data into tables for administration, but they also have people in the field that need a simple, easy to use mobile application. For this solution, we’d use a Model-Driven app for administration and a Canvas app for the field. 

A Canvas app can be embedded into a Model-Driven app, or they can run side by side. 

A Look at the Microsoft 365 Copilot Potential 

Microsoft 365 Copilot brings next generation AI to the Power Platform and app development. It allows developers to build an app, including the data behind it, just by describing what you need through multiple steps of conversation. 

It promises to allow developers to build Canvas apps more rapidly. While this is certainly going to be a game changer, like all the AI solutions currently trending, they are in the early stages and will continue to improve over time. 

Which is Right for Your Business Requirement? 

Model-Driven and Canvas apps are powerful tools for developing Power Platform solutions. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. Need help determining the best fit for your needs? Let’s chat.