By Harry McCracken | Friday, April 2, 2010 at 6:00 am
This is definitely a minority opinion. But when I sat in the audience at Apple’s iPad launch back in January, the single thing that got me most excited was the demos of iPad versions of Apple’s iWork office-suite apps. Computer manufacturers have been trying to sell tablets as productivity devices for eons, but Apple actually reimagined its programs’ user interfaces for tablet use, rather than slapping a few touch features on otherwise mundane desktop software.
Filemaker–the Apple subsidiary that specializes in database applications–has taken a similar approach with the iPad version of its Bento consumer database, which should be available when the iPad goes on sale tomorrow. It’s neither a clone version of the iPhone edition or a precise equivalent of the OS X one. Instead–in the spirit of the iPad’s new form factor–it feels like it’s trying to be a sort of digital super-clipboard.
I haven’t used the program on an iPad yet, but I received a demo from Filemaker and have experimented with the software (both via the iPad Simulator). It’s got a fair amount of power, including 26 customizable templates (from a to-do list to an expense manager to a recipe file), the ability to incorporate digital media into records. Like the Mac version, it includes some integration with other programs, including access to the iPad’s contact list and the ability to include URLs in records that let you view Web pages without i Bento.
But what’s neatest about the software is that it’s an iPad app first and foremost: you can rearrange fields by shuffling them around with your finger, and everything’s sized so tapping your way around the interface shouldn’t be tough. New iPad design elements like Popovers–which are kind of a hybrid of a drop-down menu and a dialog box–are used to good effect. And as with the iWork apps, rotating the iPad into landscape mode gives you an advanced view that puts more stuff on the screen at once (you get a list view of your database on the left as well as the main record view).
There’s plenty of potential for future versions of this Bento to get richer: For instance, you can bring photos into records, but it lacks the desktop Bento’s ability to serve as an extremely customizable front-end for your existing photo albums. Also, the three themes you can choose–a clipboard, a Filofax-style paper organizer, and a shiny glass look–are cute, but they might get old over time. It would be nice to have the option of a less attention-grabbing theme, or no theme at all.
Rumor has it that some iPad apps will be pricier than their iPhone counterparts. Not true here: Bento for the iPad is $4.99, the same price as the iPhone edition. It looks like it’s going to be a lot of database app for the money, and a very logical compliment to the iWorks word processor, spreadsheet, and database.
A few screen shots: