FileMaker (an Apple subsidiary) recently launched FileMaker 13. If you're like me, you probably remember FileMaker as a flat file database for the Mac. However, over the last few versions, I've come to rank FileMaker as a growing mobility player, because they offer tools for non-programmers to create a wide range of solutions for iPad and iPhone users in their corporate workforce.
FileMaker was kind enough to give me access to FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced. I spent some time testing it, and I can envision FileMaker as a potential solution for organizations that need to create database- and forms-driven applications for iPad and iPhone users without the need of a programmer.
FileMaker 13 for mobile development
FileMaker 13 is available for Windows and Mac, but I tested the Mac version of FileMaker Pro Advanced 13 for this post. You have the option to start a FileMaker 13 project by creating a new database or using a Starter Solution. I recommend using a Starter Solution for at least your first couple FileMaker 13 projects. Figure A shows the FileMaker 13 Quick Start option:
FileMaker 13 Quick Start option.
When you select Use a Starter Solution, there are a wide selection of templates available (Figure B):
Starter Solution templates.
When you choose a Starter Solution template, FileMaker 13 opens a template that appears similar to the Resource Scheduling template (Figure C):
Resource Scheduling Template.
FileMaker 13 includes documentation and tutorials that even a semi-technical user can understand. There are also improvements to design capabilities that are easy for non-designers to put to work, support for shareable custom themes and styles, and drag-and-drop data fields in design layouts. If you aren't a programmer by trade, you have the ability to hide or display objects on a screen based on business logic to make it easier to integrate with web applications.
FileMaker 13 as an iPad development solution
FileMaker 13 includes tools for creating iPad and iPhone apps with slide controls, popovers, and the ability to scan records using gestures. It even lets you up your game with single-click capture of bar codes using on-device cameras and custom keyboards for specialized data entry.
FileMaker 13 comes in two versions:
- FileMaker Pro ($9.00/month)
- FileMaker Pro Advanced ($15.00/month)
Connecting to databases hosted on FileMaker Server 13 (29.00/month) with FileMaker Go 13 may require the additional purchase of concurrent connections.
Deploying FileMaker 13 solutions to a mobile workforce
Deploying a FileMaker 13 solution to your iPad and iPhone users requires FileMaker Server 13, which is wrapped in HTML 5 goodness for simplified server administration. However, this is one element of FileMaker 13 where it's hard to skirt around IT support, especially if you want to run FileMaker Server 13 on an external server.
FileMaker Go 13
FileMaker Go 13 is the free iPad and iPhone app that mobile users can use to access and create FileMaker 13-based solutions. The app brings together the hallmark iPad and FileMaker usability and supports online forms, signature capture, and even executive dashboard summaries. I've tested the app on both an iPad with Retina screen and an iPhone 5. With the appropriate learning and preparation time, it's possible to develop and deploy a range of back office applications for an organization. Figure D shows the FileMaker Go 13 app open to the Starter Solutions:
Starter solutions on FileMaker Go 13.
When you make the upgrade to FileMaker Go 13, it's compatible with databases created by the following:
- FileMaker Pro 13
- FileMaker Pro 12
- FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced
- FileMaker Pro 12 Advanced
You can add photos, videos, and audio from your device directly to your solution with a few taps.
Sharing with FileMaker Go 13
You have the option to copy files to FileMaker Go 13 using iTunes, but I recommend emailing files to the iPad for offline access — unless your organization has FileMaker Server running on a web server for real-time access. This method requires Wi-Fi or LTE access on the iPad. Figure E shows the Resource Scheduling database running in FileMaker Go 13:
Resource Scheduling database running in FileMaker Go 13.
FileMaker 13 doesn't support two-way sync natively, but you can implement it through additional development.
While I'm not one to recommend that organization's deploy apps without some security expertise on staff (you don't want lots of mini healthcare.gov sites going online), FileMaker Pro Advanced 13 supports AES 256 encryption to lock down your corporate data, whether it resides on an iPad, iPhone, or a server running FileMaker Server.
FileMaker 13 offers some powerful yet non-programmatic tools for organizations to access and create internal processes, applications, or forms on mobile devices. Is your mobile workforce using FileMaker Go 13? Share your experience in the comments below.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.