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TUAW Review: Filemaker Go for iPad

Filemaker has brought its flagship product to a whole new level of portability with Filemaker Go for iPad (US$39.99) and iPhone/iPod touch ($19.99). Years ago I used Filemaker Mobile with a Palm, and this is a far cry from those early days. Here's what I found while testing Filemaker Go on the iPad.

Design

When FileMaker Go is first launched, you're presented with two columns: stored files on the left and remote files and hosts on the right. Configuring a remote host is easy and will be immediately familiar to anyone who's done it before with the desktop version of FileMaker Pro. In the upper right-hand corner you'll find two familiar icons: add a host and search for a host.

If you choose to add a host, a slip will flip into view (nice bit of eye candy there) and ask for its IP address or domain name. Optionally, you can enter the host's name, which is helpful if you have multiple servers to keep track of ("Corporate Office" and "School Building," for example). Note that FileMaker Go connects to databases hosted by FileMaker Server/Server Advanced 11 and 10 and FileMaker Pro/Pro Advanced 11 and 10.





Next to that is Local Network Hosts, which searches for hosts on the network when tapped. As soon as it finds one, just tap, enter your credentials and you're off. Another convenience is the app's settings which are accessible from within the app and not the iPad Settings app. It lets you change your username, enable auto-correction and lists useful information like available storage, data received and data sent.

Additionally, I've got to mention the help section. In the upper left-hand corner of the start screen you'll find a "?" icon. Tap it to bring up a thorough and well laid-out help section right within the app. It's just as helpful as the desktop version I've relied upon for years, and super convenient in that you needn't leave the app to find the answer to a question.

Finally, having access to your database on the iPad's large screen, in full color, is tremendous. Filemaker Mobile on my old Palm IIIe was frustrating at best back in the 90's. The iPad makes your layouts and reports legible and usable. No more typing into tiny fields or scrolling like crazy to read a report.

Use


First off, Filemaker Go is for accessing and interacting with your database. In other words, you won't be editing layouts, scripts or going into preview mode. But honestly, in my opinion those are tasks best suited for a desktop or laptop. When I'm fiddling around in Filemaker, I know I'm going to be at my desk for a while and jumping between the mouse and keyboard. I imagine that designing a layout or writing a script would be aggregating best with the iPad.

Here's what you can do...just about everything else. Your layouts look just as you expect them to. I had a sample to play with but also visited a former colleague who has some databases running on a version of Server and supplied me with access to them. The remote access was snappy over Wi-Fi and I was able to edit fields, move between layouts and run reports with ease.

Layouts

You put a lot of time and thought into your layout designs, and it'd be a shame for the iPad to mudge them up. The UI is quite nice. A great feature lets you open an instance of a database in multiple windows, similar to Mobile Safari's solution. A slider lets you move between records and a pop-up window lets you search, enter or exit a found set, and sort. Additionally, adding a new record, duplicating a record, and deleting a record (or a found set) is just as easy. Again, the iPad's screen size really shines here by giving the UI a lot of breathing room. Nothing feels crowded or cluttered.

My only complaint is that layouts are sometimes slow to render. I saw the checkerboard background more than a few times. It's not painfully slow, but enough for me to mention here.

Fields

Interacting with fields works just as you'd expect: tap one to bring up the keyboard. Value lists pop up or drop down as you determined in your initial design, and edit-able value lists show the "Edit value" option. Click it to bring up a small window to add the value of your choice.

Scripts

Ah, scripts. The fun of Filemaker! While it's true that you can't create or edit scripts with Filemaker Go, you can run them for the most part (for example, you obviously can't print from Filemaker Go with the iPad, so print scripts are out). To run a script that isn't triggered by a field, etc. tap the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner and select "run script" for a list of available scripts.

Once nice touch I wanted to mention is that, if you quit Filemaker Go with a file open, you'll be asked if you want to return to it the next time you launch. In fact, it will put you right back in the very field you had previously selected.


Conclusion

As I said, this is a far cry from that old version of Filemaker Mobile I used way back when. I can see so many applications: check inventories remotely, client meetings, sales, etc. It really shines on the iPad's display and connects to remote hosts with minimal fuss. If you're serious about remote access to your data, Filemaker Go is worth your consideration.

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