FileMaker is one of the oldest and most established database applications available for Mac OS X. FileMaker Go is a recently released product, allowing you to take your existing FileMaker database applications and use them on Apple's iPad. Read on to learn how well it works and its limitations.
FileMaker is one of the oldest and most established database applications available for Mac OS X. Each new release has brought increased functionality while maintaining, in large part, compatibility with databases created in a previous version. While early versions of the application had more of a stand-alone focus, recent releases have included the ability to migrate a database up to FileMaker Server for multi-user access. Version 11 is the latest and greatest and supports both OS X and Windows. FileMaker Go is a recently released product, allowing you to take your existing FileMaker database applications and use them on Apple's iPad.
Using existing database applications on a platform like the iPad is a huge advantage to a product like FileMaker Go. The question then becomes "How well does it work on the small screen"? For many routine database applications, the answer will be it works well. There are some stated limitations to the scripting capabilities, and super busy screens using lots of fields might not be as readable. We'll look at some tips and tricks to using FileMaker Go in a follow-up article.
We tested version 1.0.3 of Go_iPad on a 16 GB WiFi-only device. It's available in the app store for $39.99. While that might seem like a high price for an iPad app, it's really not, compared to the cost of the desktop version ($299 for FileMaker Pro 11). FileMaker Go functions as both a stand-alone application with local databases and as a client with FileMaker Pro files available over the network. You'll need a copy of the desktop or server version running to connect to a shared database.
Installing the application on the iPad couldn't be simpler. Simply open the App Store application and search for FileMaker. Once installed you'll need to configure a host computer if you plan on connecting to a network database. The easiest way is to simply enter the IP address of the computer hosting the database. You have several options when it comes to transferring files to the iPad. For large files you can use iTunes with your iPad connected via USB cable. All you have to do for this option is select your iPad device on the left-hand side and then the Apps tab up near the top of the window. You'll find the File Sharing section down near the bottom of the page with all available applications listed. Click on FileMaker Go and you can add as many new files as you like.
Once you have the database files loaded on your iPad, they should show up as options under "Files on Device" when you first start the program. Touching one of the files will open the database to the default screen. At this point you have a number of options including changing the current view, navigating through records using either a slider or forward / back arrows, add a record or search. One of the things we miss here is the ability to navigate through records with natural swipe motions. Two-finger zooming does work along with single-finger panning. Zooming also works for data entry, making it much easier to see what you're typing into a field on crowded forms.
The release notes for FileMaker Go do list a number of limitations with this release. While the list is relatively short, there are a few things you should take note of. Exporting data to Excel or PDF is not supported in this release, neither are inserting from an Index, a picture, a QuickTime movie or any other type of file. You also can't print, create a new file or save a copy as from a script.
FileMaker Go does not support special text effects like highlighting, strike through, small caps, superscript and subscript as these are not supported by iOS. Auto-complete is also not supported on FileMaker Go. Support for external keyboards does not include some of the familiar shortcut actions of the desktop version such as Control-Down Arrow to move between records.
FileMaker has provided a FileMaker Go Development Guide to help developers move existing database applications over to the iPad and to provide information on how they can create new layouts tailored specifically to the iPad's screen size and input methods. There's also a free toolkit available from Soliant Consulting with a number of example applications designed specifically for the iPad. The toolkit shows you how to create database applications with larger icons and an appealing user interface that works well on the iPad.
FileMaker Go is definitely worth the money if you're an existing FileMaker Pro user and you want to take your data with you on an iPad. It's also worth considering if you have a need to view or modify FileMaker Pro databases from another source. Though it might not be the best choice for someone looking for an easy-to-use recipe database program or a contacts database, for long-time FileMaker Pro users, it takes their favorite database to one more platform.