I have to use FileMaker Pro all the time so I was eager to see how the new FileMaker Go app for the iPad worked. It makes taking your Filemaker databases with you an easy experience providing users with a simple but robust way of accessing and modifying data. It’s a great tool for those that frequently use databases for work, but need to shed the bulk of a desktop or laptop machine in the field. I can easily imagine this app being used on an iPad by a warehouse inventory clerk on the warehouse floor to update inventory numbers or by a repair man or some other mobile business person out in the field to create invoices and email them to clients. Users can work from databases loaded onto the iPad itself or connect to remote files hosted by a FileMaker Server or shared on a FileMaker Pro client.
What It Is and Is Not
Before delving into the details, let me mention what FileMaker Go is not. It is not an app for creating or developing a FileMaker database like FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Advanced. It is designed for finished products, i.e., databases that are ready to be deployed. The app does not gives users the ability to manage the database tables, fields and relationships, modify layouts, create or modify scripts or export records. Creation and modification still requires a computer.
FileMaker Go for iPad can only be used on an iPad. There is a separate app for use on an iPod Touch or iPhone. It can only be used on devices with iOS 4 or higher. You must separately have a copy of FileMaker Pro or FileMaker Advanced/Developer to create and modify databases. The FileMaker Go app can open any database file created with FileMaker 7 or later, but FileMaker notes that FMP and FileMaker Developer 7 are already out of product support and that product support on FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Advanced 8 and 8.5 ends September 23, 2010.
When you open the app, the first screen with which you are presented is a list of the available files. Files on the iPad are on the left while remote hosts and recently used remote files are listed on the right. You can add favorite remote hosts to ease access to hosted database files. FileMaker Go comes with a sample database, an inventory database for tracking office and electronic equipment.
FileMaker Go Opening Screen
To manage your databases on the device, you must connect the iPad to a computer with iTunes and an authorized FileMaker Go app in the iTunes app library. With the iPad connected via the USB cable, select the iPad device on the left in iTunes and then choose Apps tab at the top. Below the area where you sync your apps, you will have an area called “File Sharing.” You can select FileMaker Go from the list of File Sharing apps and a list of your iPad databases will appear on the right. To add an additional database to the device, click the “Add…” button below the list of files. To save a database on the iPad to your computer, select the database on the iPad you wish to save and click the “Save to…” button next to the “Add…” button. You cannot sync databases on the device to databases on the computer. If you make different changes on the same database file on the computer and the iPad, you will have to manually sync the files by exporting changed records from one copy of the database and importing them into the other, which can of course present its own set of issues, but this is no different than having multiple copies of a database on different computers.
The best solution for this is, if possible, host the database on a FileMaker Server or on a FileMaker Pro client machine. This allows for multiple people to makes changes to a single database that does not need to be synced later, with the standard caveat that two people cannot work on the same record at the same time.
Using the database is a relatively easy task. From the initial screen, select a database, either on the device or on a remote host, and the file will be opened and presented to the user. If you have your files set to require a login, the iPad will pop up a window for username and password entry.
Tools and Toolbars
You can open multiple FileMaker databases or even multiple windows of the same FileMaker database. On the toolbar in the upper left corner, you have a button with an indicator showing the total number of open windows across all open databases. Selecting the button allows for navigation between windows and the ability to select additional files to open. You can close windows or open additional windows in the same database from here as well as close all windows (and therefore all databases).
In the upper right, you have a gear button that gives you options for the currently selected window allowing you to change layout, change layout view, and turn on or off the toolbar. If your file has scripts, this is also where they can be selected and run if you have not provided a button for doing so in the layout.
FileMaker Go Gear Button
Continuing the tour to the bottom toolbar, in the lower left corner of the display will be a button for changing layouts. Next to the button the name of the current layout will be displayed. Tapping the button brings up a nifty popup listing of visible layouts to choose from.
FileMaker Go Layout Option Button
In the middle of the lower toolbar is your record selector. You have left and right arrows for navigating forwards and backwards through your records between which is a scrubber bar where you can press and slide your finger left and right to more quickly move through the records in the database.
If you have a lot of records, however, you don’t have to rely on those navigation tools to get to the record you want. At the lower right corner are two buttons dealing with records. The right most button gives you your standard FMP search options: Show All Records, Show Omitted Records, Omit Records, Sort Records, Quick Find and Enter Find Mode. These let you confine your navigation set to just the records you want to see. Quick Find searches across all fields in all records for the matching info while Entering Find Mode gives you the powerful search tools users of FileMaker Pro are used to, complete with the ability to add additional find requests to a single search. To the left of the Find button is where other Record operations are performed, namely the ability to add a new record, duplicate a record, delete a record and delete the found set of records.
FileMaker Go Records Options Buttons
Using a Database
I found using a database to be a fairly easy task. The layouts you created in the database on your computer are visible and rendered fairly well though caution must be taken with special fields such as radio button sets or checkboxes as a long list of them can be cut off if the field’s box is not sufficiently large. I also noticed in a couple of my databases the popup list generated from value lists had a few inconsistent font sizes. On the whole, layouts are very well preserved on the iPad. Autosizing of fields works great and is very useful for designing layouts that look great in both portrait and landscape orientation on the iPad. If Autosizing it set up properly, rotating the device automatically redraws the layout just as it would if you resized the window on your computer. The inconsistencies between layouts on my computer and those displayed by the iPad were minor and/or easily fixed. For databases that will be frequently used on the iPad, it may be necessary to tailor your layouts to maximize compatibility.
As with webpages on the mobile version of Safari or with pictures in the iPad Photo app, you can zoom in and out on a layout. Double tapping on the screen will toggle between zoom in and zoom out. You can also manually zoom in and out using the standard two fingered “pinch” on the screen.
Tapping on a field allows for the editing of the field. The iPad’s keyboard will appear automatically. You can navigate from selected field to the next or previous with a pair of buttons provided above the keyboard. The keyboard also auto tailors itself based on the field type. If you enter a field whose type in Number, the keyboard switches from the alphabetic keyboard to the numeric keyboard. Dates provide their own datepicker popup letting you select the month, day and year. Fields tied to a popup list show all the value list options and if you have set the value list to be editable, you get the “Edit Values…” option at the bottom of the list.
Example of Modifying Fields in FileMaker Go
To commit a record, just tap on the layout outside of a field or press the button on the keyboard to hide the keyboard.
In testing out script compatibility, I couldn’t find any issues. They performed as they do on my computer, including the very useful ability to send an email from FileMaker based on the data in the current record.
The Bottom Line
For users who need access to databases on the go, FileMaker Go is a great solution. I would definitely recommend it, especially for those who already have a familiarity in working with the various flavors FileMaker. The ability to connect to remote databases for a multiuser environment or simply load a database onto the device for a single users opens up so many possibilities by freeing users from the bulk of a laptop or desktop machine. For an initial release, especially, FileMaker did a superb job in the features and usability.
FileMaker Go for the iPad is available in English only.