iPad: FileMaker is Go!

Anthony Caruana
14 November, 2010
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I’ve spent plenty of time banging on recently about how the iPad is a serious business tool. There are a bunch of office productivity suites available, lots of clever apps for specific business tasks and even applications that let you manage files – even though Apple has decided that access to the iOS file system is not to be granted to mere mortals.

However, one of the most popular Mac applications, FileMaker Pro, has not had an iPad compatriot. Until now.

FileMaker Go for iPad may be one of the dearer iPad apps around at $47.99 but it’s also one of the most powerful. Many businesses have made significant investments in the creation of bespoke applications using FileMaker, and FileMaker Go for iPad makes it possible to take those applications on the road either by copying the FileMaker project file on to the iPad through iTunes or by accessing the FileMaker application remotely, over a network.

We tested it with both a new application – a work tracking system – that we created and with an older application that’s been through several upgrades. Our iMac was running FileMaker Pro 11.0v2.

Remotely accessing our work tracking application from the iPad was easy. Once we’d enabled sharing over the FileMaker network, the application appeared on the iPad as a remote host. It looked almost identical on the iPad as the iMac.

Data entry was very straightforward with FileMaker Go automatically adapting the forms and views, without any effort on our part, to the iPad’s input methods. For example, in date fields, the iPad’s date chooser was shown. In number fields, the numeric keypad, not the QWERTY keyboard, appeared.

At the time of writing, our iPad was running iOS 3.2.2. Although multi-tasking wasn’t supported, Filemaker Go let us open multiple FileMaker applications at the same time and toggle between them easily – a very useful feature.

If you’re hitting the road and remote access is an issue, then you can copy your FileMaker app directly to your iPad through iTunes.

This is not a file synchronisation – it is a copy. So, when you get back to the office you need to drag the file back and overwrite the one on your Mac. That limitation can be worked around by creating scripts that synchronise the changed data.

There are some limitations with more complex applications. For example, one of our databases had actions for creating PDF reports. As iOS lacks a printing system this script didn’t work. However, others, such as a script that creates an email, worked perfectly. The trick here is that if iOS supports the function, then you should be able to use it from your Filemaker application without modification.

For enterprise users, FileMaker Go offers a killer opportunity. Although the development effort may be significant, it’s possible to create FileMaker applications that access the data held in ERP, CRM and other business systems. Those applications can now be run on the iPad.

For example, it should be possible to create online reporting systems that look at corporate data and allow you to query, or potentially change it, through FileMaker. Given that it’s possible to create a VPN connection from the iPad into the corporate network, that data could now be accessed remotely from the iPad. Even a query-only FileMaker application would be a huge value to many professionals.

FileMaker Go is available in different versions for the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone version costs $23.99 – half the iPad version cost.

This article originally appeared in the October issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

[Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_caruana]

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