By Harry McCracken | Monday, July 19, 2010 at 11:41 pm
Apple’s FileMaker subsidiary offers two database applications: Its namesake, FileMaker Pro (aimed mostly at business users) and Bento (meant mostly for consumers). Bento showed up on the iPhone in 2009 and was one of the first iPad apps. But FileMaker itself hasn’t been available for either of Apple’s iDevices until now.
Enter FileMaker Go, a new flavor of FileMaker’s flagship app that’s now available in versions for both the iPhone and iPad. I got demos of them from FileMaker executives on Monday, a bit before they went live on the iTunes App Store.
Unlike the mobile versions of Bento, which don’t require a desktop copy of the software, FileMaker Go isn’t a full-blown standalone version of FileMaker Pro. You can view, add, edit, and otherwise manipulate records, but can’t build new databases. And while most databases that were designed on a Windows PC or a Mac should work fine on the iPhone and iPad without conversion or rejiggering, a few scripts that work in the Windows and Mac editions aren’t compatible with the iPhone and iPad, mostly because they try to do things which those devices can’t do at all, such as print.
Both versions can access shared databases over a local network or the Internet; as you make changes, they’re instantly reflected everywhere the database is open. Or you can transfer a database onto the phone or iPad itself via iTunes, e-mail attachment, or Web-based services such as Dropbox and Box.net. Transferring database files off of the iPhone or iPad can only be done via iTunes, and FileMaker doesn’t provide any way to sync multiple versions of a database.
On both the iPhone and iPad, FileMaker Go has an interface designed with touch in mind. For instance, you use the spinning-cylinder interface to select dates. Judging from what I saw, though, the interfaces are more straightforward and functional than inventive–they resemble traditional FileMaker more than the iPhone and iPad versions of Bento and Apple’s iWork apps look like their traditional counterparts.
On the iPad, form layouts that were created for Windows or the Mac should translate over well. On the iPhone’s much smaller screen, you need to zoom and pan, as you would with a Web page in Safari; FileMaker Go doesn’t try to automatically reformat layouts to make them iPhone-friendly. But you can always add a layout to your database that’s meant specifically for the iPhone.
FileMaker Go’s iPhone and iPad are separate apps (the iPhone one requires iOS 4.0 and won’t run on the iPad). The iPhone version is $19.99 and the iPad one is $39.99. Those prices are relatively high by iApp standards–Bento is $4.99–but don’t seem unreasonable, especially since FileMaker Pro itself costs $299.
Would FileMaker ever release a version of its database for the iPhone and iPad that lets you build databases from scratch right on the device? Ryan Rosenberg, the company’s VP of marketing and services, didn’t rule out the idea when I asked him. But he says it would be a challenge to design a truly effective database-building interface, and that FileMaker thinks that most of the FileMaker customers who have been clamoring for iPhone and iPad versions will be happy with Go. And they do look well thought-out and useful.