capsule review

FileMaker Go 12 for iPad and iPhone

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder FileMaker Go 12 for iPad

  • Generic Company Place Holder FileMaker Go 12 for iPhone

FileMaker Go 12 is the best thing to happen in the FileMaker world in a long time—certainly since FileMaker Mobile was put out of its misery in 2007. While Mobile was flawed, I’m having trouble finding something to dislike about Go. With FileMaker Go 12, you can now take your FileMaker Pro database with you everywhere—down the hallway, across town, or even out-of-town—and you can interact with the database almost exactly as you would if you were using it on your desktop computer back in the office. Not to mention that FileMaker Go 12 is free: its predecessor sets you back $20.

For this review, I tested FileMaker Go 12 on an iPhone 4S, an iPod touch, an iPad 2 and a new third-generation iPad. FileMaker Go 12 is compatible with any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or higher.

Go and Pro

FileMaker Go has two versions for iOS—Go for iPhone (or iPod touch) and Go for iPad. These two are identical in functionality, differing only in their expectations about the hardware they run on (mainly, the screen size).

The FileMaker Go app runs FileMaker Pro databases on your iOS device. You cannot create a database in FileMaker Go or modify its layouts, scripts, or data structure. So, Go needs Pro—or at least a Go user needs to get databases from someone who created them with FileMaker Pro.

Export: FileMaker Go 12 supports half a dozen export formats, including Excel and tab-delimited. I was able to export a financial data set to .xlsx format and open it on my iPad in Numbers.

Go 12 looks and acts like its predecessor, FileMaker Go 1.2, but with two noteworthy improvements. FileMaker Go 12 can export data to half a dozen file formats including tab-delimited, .csv, and .xlsx. (As a cool example, I exported a data set from FileMaker Go 12 in .xlsx format and opened it in Numbers on my new iPad.) And printing from Go is greatly improved. You can print straight to your AirPrint-enabled printer or use a third-party utility like Printopia (which is what I do).

And did I mention that FileMaker Go 12 is free?With the release of this new version, FileMaker Go on an iPad looks more and more like a viable replacement for FileMaker Pro on a laptop computer. Additionally, FileMaker Pro 12—Go 12’s parent software—makes it easy to create great looking databases optimized for iOS devices.

Accessing databases

There are three common ways to access a FileMaker Pro database using FileMaker Go. If you don’t need to share the database, you can just use iTunes to copy the database to your iOS device.

If you do need to share, host the database on a desktop computer running FileMaker Server. Users will then connect to the database over a Wi-Fi network. This will easily work inside your home or office LAN, but it can work outside the LAN—say, from the airport, the public library, or your favorite café’s Wi-Fi hot spot—if you configure FileMaker Server for remote access.

Finally, with an iPhone or cellular-enabled iPad, you can connect over your network from your tent in Yellowstone National Park, from your car or anywhere else on the fly. While cellular access may be a bit less responsive than Wi-Fi access, it’s certainly liberating.

Small is beautiful (but takes a little work)

There are a few inevitable differences in the behavior of databases on iOS devices (especially on the iPhone) and on desktop computers, arising from the differences in physical design, for example, the fact that the iPhone display is so much smaller than the display of a desktop computer.

Makeover: This is what the to-do list layout looks like on the iPad after the makeover for FileMaker Go, and after a second recent makeover in FileMaker Pro 12.

FileMaker claims that you can open any FileMaker Pro database in FileMaker Go and expect it to work, and I found this to be mostly true. But using it can be compared to opening a website in Safari for iOS that hasn’t been optimized for mobile access. At first, layouts will be too small to be readable or useful, and after you expand the page, you’ll have to scroll in all directions to see the whole thing.

To fix this, you can design special layouts for iOS devices—at least for the iPhone or iPod touch—and use FileMaker Pro 12’s scripting tools to take mobile users to the optimized screens. Layouts originally designed to take advantage of an iMac’s wide and tall 1920x1080 screen resolution will want to be redesigned to fit in the iPad 2’s 1024x673 screen, or the iPhone’s 320x385 screen in portrait orientation. You’ll also want to make fields and buttons a bit bigger and more carefully spaced in order to work better with a touch interface.

Bit of a challenge? Yep. But FileMaker Pro 12 provides a lot of help. Go 12 supports Pro 12’s new themes technology, which includes a number of themes designed specifically for iOS. Another option is to use Pro 12’s new “stencils” feature, which shows developers the size of the displays on the iPad and iPhone.

Fit to Screen: FileMaker Pro 12 adds a new "stencil" feature that marks the precise boundaries of different devices at different resolutions and, for iOS devices, in different orientations.

Finally, FileMaker Pro 12 has changed its basic measurement unit from pixels to the resolution-independent points. This means that a layout designed for an iPad works and looks the same on a new iPad as it does on an original iPad or an iPad 2, despite the new iPad’s much higher pixel resolution.

Skip the menus, go à la carte

The second big difference between Go and Pro is that Go doesn’t have menus in the desktop sense, so a database that relies on old-fashioned menus (whether FileMaker Pro’s standard menus or a custom menu set) will be handicapped in Go. The solution here lies with using buttons (and the occasional script trigger, if you speak geek).

Menu-Free: There are no menus in FileMaker Go, not in the desktop sense. Instead, you get a limited menu dialog.

Watch out for ad-libs

The final issue that FileMaker Go developers should keep in mind is the possibility that the user of the device might ad lib—that is, do something unexpected while a script is being executed. If a complex script is, say, importing the new price list from the Internet, and the user hits the device’s Home key or an iPhone receives an incoming call, the script might be interrupted. I’ve been developing for Go since 2010 and this hasn’t been a problem in my databases very often, but it is something to keep in mind.

There are a number of other limitations in FileMaker Go, but there aren’t very many and the limitations are minor. For example, autocomplete doesn’t work in FileMaker Go, so users will have to type out “Knickelhausen-Ortiz” in full. Life is hard.

All in all, Go 12 is great. And it’s free. Jeez, I almost forgot to mention that.

[William Porter is an independent software developer, writer, and event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.]

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder FileMaker Go 12 for iPad

  • Generic Company Place Holder FileMaker Go 12 for iPhone

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