The updated mobile client creates PDFs from records and adds sharing features.
Mobile applications that are derived from existing desktop or server
software face the challenge of being viewed as mere adjuncts to the product,
rather than as tools that stand on their own. That's understandable in the case
of a 1.0 release of a mobile app, but the challenge the software vendor then
faces is deciding what to prioritize in the first few updates, to ensure that
the mobile version of the application catches up to its counterpart in features
For an example of how to do this correctly, one can look to FileMaker Go
1.1, the first upgrade to its namesake company's database client for iOS
devices. The update, released in late September, adds PDF creation features,
database sharing via e-mail, and the ability to insert images into database
records of both the iPhone and the iPad versions of the app.
This release also allows users to import records from a FileMaker database
using scripts created for FileMaker Pro-the desktop version of the database
software-and predefined parameters. This works with local as well as hosted
databases to provide numerous ways to extend a mobile database with features
such as bar code scanning, by embedding these scripts in a URL to call other
applications and pass data back to FileMaker Go.
Of course, FileMaker Go remains a "little brother" in some ways. It cannot
itself host a database for sharing, nor can a user create a new database on an
iPad or iPhone, or modify a database schema or appearance. The Layout and
Preview modes of FileMaker Pro and some of its table-viewing features are not
available in FileMaker Go, as they are only useful when creating a database, or
editing its appearance and design.
One useful feature of FileMaker Pro that is inexplicably missing from
FileMaker Go is the ability to save and send records in Microsoft Excel format,
for use with Excel itself or with Apple's Numbers for iPad. Other limitations
inherent to the iOS platform exist as well, and they are documented in a
technical brief available on the FileMaker Website.
FileMaker Go can connect to databases that are hosted by releases 10 and 11
of FileMaker Pro and Pro Advanced, or those releases of FileMaker Server and
Server Advanced; the databases must have been created using FileMaker release 7
or a later version. The External SQL Sources features of FileMaker Pro and FileMaker
Server can be used to connect FileMaker Go to data that would otherwise be
inaccessible due to the lack of an ODBC driver for iOS. Although FileMaker Go's
language support is limited to English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and
Spanish, this applies only to menu lists and commands; databases created in
FileMaker Pro will appear in the language of their creation.
FileMaker Go for iPhone costs $19.99, and FileMaker Go for iPad sells for
$39.99; both are available from Apple's iTunes App Store. Updates from the
initial release of the apps are free. The iPhone version of the app requires
iOS 4.x, but the iPad version will run on the iPad's (current as of early
November) 3.2 release of iOS.
For my testing, I used a canned database that FileMaker supplied, and hosted
it over WiFi from a FileMaker Pro instance. Installing FileMaker Go is of
course a simple matter, and connecting to a published database is a matter of
whether it's available through a public network or a private one. The network
connection must be WiFi or 3G, and FileMaker Go can't discover hosts that are
published through LDAP.
I found it very easy to use the hosted database with both an iPhone 4 and an
iPad, and I used iTunes to push a copy of the database to the iPhone and e-mail
to push another copy to the iPad. The result in both cases was a replica that I
could use even when the host was unavailable.
Developers will have to think carefully about how the constraints of a
mobile device will affect their applications. Data-driven applications that
have been adapted for use over a WAN may already be fit for use on an iOS
device, but processor-intensive tasks can be a problem in the relatively
constrained environment of an iPad or iPhone. As FileMaker's technical notes
indicate, "Committing and creating records over a 3G network can take longer
than expected." Although some iOS touch-interface elements are not available in
FileMaker Go, a number of useful ones are implemented; these include double-tap
zooming and swiping to move around a screen.
Perhaps the touchiest point of using a hosted database with FileMaker Go is
the natural tendency of mobile users to switch away from the app while still in
the database, to answer a phone call or view a new e-mail. This will leave the
database open, and FileMaker's recommendation to its developers is to add user
interface elements that encourage users to exit in a more graceful fashion. If
the hosted database has to be closed for some reason, connected users are sent
a message prompting them to close the file; if this message is not acknowledged
within 30 seconds, FileMaker Go will close the file on its own.
Although FileMaker Go could benefit from some additional functions that
would bring it up to par with its desktop counterpart, it's a good example of
how to adapt software originally created for a traditional PC or Mac to mobile
use. It takes advantage of appropriate user interface features, while working
with the inherent limitations of a mobile device, and the result is a useful
and powerful tool.