TechRepublic blogger Erik Eckel recently wrote about the mobile benefits of FileMaker Go. The latest tools in FileMaker Pro Starter Solutions could really be an empowering mobile strategy for SMBs, or even a department inside a larger organization, that want to launch their first internal mobile app.

Within this post, we’ll take a look at how you can use the Starter Solutions to create a simple database app that you can run from your iPad. Starter Solutions is a great equalizer in budget-conscious times when mobile app requirements can easily overwhelm resources and budgets. You can even tap into high-end features, such as charting, report generation, PDF creation, signature support, and camera support.

Mobile app planning basics with FileMaker Pro

If you want to create your first iPad app with FileMaker Pro, you have two options:

  • Use Starter Solutions as a guideline (these are like templates that you can modify)
  • Create a database from scratch as a custom solution

These options don’t excuse you from planning your app though. Poll your users to find out their needs (formally or informally), and if you’re new to FileMaker Pro, use your learning time to mock up some potential mobile app solutions to show your users.

Starter Solutions basics

Using Starter Solutions is all point and click. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Open FileMaker Pro
  2. Select File
  3. Click New from Starter Solutions, which will display a range of database types for starting a mobile database (Figure A)
  4. Figure A

    Click one of the database types from the Starter Solutions dialog box.
  5. From the left side navigation, you can find Starter Solutions for both business and education applications. Let’s say you want to create a simple project management application. Select Business – General, and then select Projects.
  6. When you click Choose, the Save As dialog box will appear (Figure B)
  7. Figure B

    The Save As dialog box.
  8. Type in a name for your database project, and click Save. Starter Solutions will open in the main FileMaker window (Figure C).
  9. Figure C

    Starter Solutions is ready for modification.
  10. Since Starter Solutions is bare bones, click the Aa icon in the right-hand corner to open the FileMaker Pro Formatting Bar, which includes the usual formatting tools for modifying text layout, font, and font size.
  11. Click Edit Layout to begin editing and modifying the layout of your database. Figure D shows an example of the Edit Layout view and the additional features available to you.
  12. Figure D

    Click Edit Layout to begin editing or modifying your database.
  13. From Edit Layout, you have full access to the following tools:
    • Use the Layout slidebar to adjust the layout of the fields and other form attributes. Each Starter Solution includes a number of preset layouts.
    • Use the Layout toolbar to add graphical shapes, fields, and buttons to the layout. It also includes a portal, chart, web viewer, and other tools to enhance data interactivity within the layout.
    • Select UI text to edit or delete as needed.
    • Use the Inspector for finer control over layout element positioning plus graphic, text, paragraph, and tabs appearance.

These are just some of the things you can do with Starter Solutions. With these tools, you can parcel out simple iPad app development to the right employees, provided they have time to get up to speed on FileMaker Pro. You’ll use the same tools to create a custom solution, but from the clean canvas of a blank screen.

Changing views

When you select iPad from the Layout drop-down, you’ll have the option to view the database as it appears on an iPad (Figure E). This feature is very useful, and I tried it out quite a bit when I was working with FileMaker Pro, because I didn’t have any idea how it would look on an iPad (remember, I’m a writer not a developer).

Figure E

A preview of the Task Details | iPad layout in the Projects Starter Solution.

Mobile app deployment basics

Having worked in some database-heavy environments, like federal agencies, the requirement I have for mobile database apps is whether the database runs in other environments with little or no reprogramming.

Deploying a FileMaker Pro database requires the following:

Deploying your mobile app to FileMaker Server offers the following benefits:

  • Updates in real time so mobile users can always access the latest app and data using FileMaker Go
  • Synchronization between mobile users and FileMaker Server as another level of insurance for intermittent mobile connectivity
  • Point and click deployment that doesn’t require a certified sys admin — users just upload the app files to FileMaker Server, mobile users connect to the server with FileMaker Go, the apps are live, and data is active

Mobile apps with FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Go

FileMaker Pro is worth checking out if you’re making your first move into iPad app development for your organization, because it doesn’t require extensive resources. If a team inside your larger organization spends some time upfront to learn the FileMaker tools, you can develop and deploy apps without taxing already stretched IT resources.

What is your experience with FileMaker products? Let us know in the discussion thread below.