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‘FileMaker Go for the iPhone’ – a First Look


As you may have heard by now, FileMaker has finally launched portable versions of FileMaker Pro, called FileMaker Go. These two versions will run on the iPhone/iPod Touch ($19.99) and the iPad ($39.99). As FileMaker developers, we were given a glimpse of this product family last year (we didn’t know it would be a family at that point, it was before the iPad shipped). The demo was given at the FileMaker’s Developers Conference in August 2009 in San Francisco, under non-disclosure, so we couldn’t talk about it then. It is a bit of a mystery as to why it took FileMaker Inc., quite so long to release this software. After all Bento, FileMaker’s little brother database for the Mac, has been available for the iPhone since January 2008. Presumably the delays had to do with first the iPad shipping, and then the launch of i0S4. Now that they are here and widely available, many developers and FileMaker users, will, no doubt be interested in getting their hands on them.

I am going to focus on the iPhone/iTouch version, as my son has wandered off with the family iPad. I am sure the extra screen real estate on the iPad will add greatly to the usability of FileMaker Go.

Launch icon

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Once you have purchased your iPhone and synced it with your iPhone or iTouch, you will see a nicely crafted icon reflecting the color scheme of the latest version of FileMaker Pro, FileMaker 11. Touch the icon to launch into FileMaker Go.

Pick up where you left off

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If you have already logged on to a database, FileMaker Go offers to refresh your connection. I am not sure how long this ability to refresh stays alive as it could present a bit of a security risk, as users have to intentionally log out. Lost or stolen phones might provide an easy login to corporate databases. Presumably one would have to actually shut down FileMaker Go, using the iPhone’s multi-tasking route to quit the app. Alternatively closing all open database windows would probably log you out. There is also a method of erasing ‘Recent Files’ in FileMaker Go.

Delete a connection – Swipe item to delete

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Swiping your finger across the screen on a listed database brings up the Delete button. When you use this technique in the Recent Files area, you are only deleting the alias for that file, not the actual file. When you go back into the File Browser and look in Files on Device, you will still see the Sample Inventory file is still available.

File Browser

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The File Browser is the starting place for launching FileMaker Go files. There are four main areas to look for files. Regular FileMaker users will probably be familiar with these four areas.

• Files on Device – these are FileMaker files moved to your iPhone/iTouch through iTunes, email or a file sharing web service such as DropBox
• Recent Files – if you have already opened a file, have a look here, it could save you some time re-entering your login information.
• Local Network Hosts – shared FileMaker files on a wireless network will appear here.
• Favorite Hosts (Add Host) – Add a Host, allows you to enter a domain name or IP address to gain access to a FileMaker database stored on a remote server. I haven’t tested the 3G speeds, but using WIFI access, databases downtown seemed as fast as files hosted on my MacBook Pro in the next room.

Add a Host Screen

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Enter the IP address or domain name of a FileMaker Server. This is where you enter information on FileMaker databases hosted on a remote server.

Local Host

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Here we see a sample Local Host login. Tapping the available hosts will take you to the next screen where you can see any databases shared on this local host. The next two screens in this review will show you how to turn on File Sharing using FileMaker Pro on your local computer. It is also possible to access FileMaker files shared on FileMaker Server, but I will not go into configuring FM Server.

On your Mac or Windows Machine: How to Share a FileMaker Database on a Local Host

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This database is hosted on my MacBook Pro. Under the File Menu, select Sharing and FileMaker Network…

On your Mac or Windows Machine: Turn Network Sharing On

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Allow Access to All Users, or whatever specific set of users you want to limit this access to.

Back on the iPhone, you should now see the File listed under your computer’s name

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Click on the file name to begin accessing that file. If the file has security turned on, you will see a password prompt.

FIle Opens with two windows

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Notice in the top left hand corner, you will see a multi-page icon, similar to what you might see in Mobile Safari. This indicates either that you have two databases open, or two windows of the same file. In this case, I have set the file to open with two windows, a splash screen and the actual work window. I will change this later, using a very useful feature that FileMaker has added, which allows programmers to determine if a user has logged in on an iPhone.

Navigating between files and windows

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Clicking the multi-window/multi-file icon takes you into a view of the windows that you can move between by using finger swipes. This is similar behavior to what you would see in the Mobile Safari web browser.

Click on a window or file to open it

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Use the small X to close a window or file.

You also have the option of bailing out and going back to the ‘Open File Browser’, ‘Close All’ or click ‘Done’ to go to this screen.

Start FileMaking…

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Most standard FileMaker navigation script steps seem to work and iPhone touches that you would expect to do certain things do them.

Working with Records

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FileMaker Go’s Help pages explains the icons to do the standard navigation within FileMaker Go. Tap to add records, move between records, Find, Sort, change layouts, enter data etc. All the basic capabilities are there. If you have used FileMaker on the desktop, you know the basics of FileMaker Go.

Entering Data

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Click in a field to enter or edit data. This feels somewhat like using Instant Web Publishing (IWP) to access FileMaker Pro from the web.

Click the down arrow to leave the field, saving your changes.

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Since the Return key is in use for longer text field entries, FileMaker Go uses a down arrow to leave the field. This was a little confusing the first time. You can also click on another field to leave the field you are in, saving the changes. This is where it differs from IWP, in that there is no ‘submit’ button to save changes. Any time you make changes and leave a field, they are saved, so be careful.

Moving through records.

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It is possible to click on a list of records to select a particular record. Probably better is to use the left/right arrows to move through a series of records. This works in both Form and List views. Clicking the little circle in the middle of the navigation bar brings up another navigation tool

Scroll through larger numbers of records

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With your finger, you can tap along the slider to move through larger numbers of records in a quick movement. For example, clicking midway on the line would take you to roughly record number 1500. Use the small arrows to fine tune your record selection.

Quick Find and Find Mode

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Quick Find is a nice feature introduced in FileMaker 11. In an effort to make FileMaker behave more like a standard Google Search, it is now possible to search through a whole raft of fields with one command. For instance typing ‘CA’ in the Quick Find would bring up people from California, as well as people with the first name ‘Calvin’ or the last name ‘Cadbury’ etc. It is a bit of a shotgun approach, but can be very useful when you are not sure which field to start looking in.

Find Mode

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Most FileMaker users are familiar with Find Mode. You click the Find button and then click into the field you want to search on . In this case, I want to search for all the ‘Joe’s in the database. I enter ‘Joe’ and then click the ‘Go’ button.

FileMaker feedback

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FileMaker returns 9 records with the name ‘Joe’ in the First Name field. Click ‘OK’ to browse these records.

Record indicator

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Note the small black line to the left of the record. This indicates the selected record.

Moving through records

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If I click on the next record, it becomes the selected record. The selected record can become important if you are performing specific actions on a record, such as Delete record or running a script from the record.

Add, Duplicate, Delete Record

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The +/- icon in the lower left of the screen will bring up the options to:

Add New Record – adds a new blank record for you to fill in.
Duplicate Record – duplicates the current record, everything will be the same, except things like record id and creation time/date information.
Delete Record – deletes a single record
Delete Found Records – I would use this if I wanted to delete the 9 records I found above with the name ‘Joe’ in them. If for some reason I didn’t like guys named ‘Joe’ being in the database.

Actions Menu – Top Right

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Click the little gear icon to bring up the Menu of options

Layouts, View As, Perform Script, Settings

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This Menu has lots of useful things in it, so it is a good one to remember where it is.

• Layouts – move between available layouts
• View As – Form/List or Table views of your data
• Show Toolbar – hides the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen
• Refresh Window – sometimes your data will lag what is on the server, so refreshing the window can be useful, although I did not find a use for this in my experiments.
• Perform Script – takes you to the available scripts for your database. You may not see anything in the scripts menu.

Scripts hidden

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Although this database has plenty of scripts, they are hidden from view. I have kept my scripts primarily accessible from buttons on the main interface screen, so you see nothing here. Other database may have lots of scripts that you can run from here.

Select Layout

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Any layouts listed in your menu will appear here. It is possible to hide layouts from view in FileMaker Pro, so you will only see what the developer wants you to see here. FileMaker Go respects all the security settings of FileMaker Pro.

Zoom and stretch

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Pinching with two fingers zooms out and placing your fingers together and then moving them outward will zoom in. If you have played with the touch interface and looked at photos on an iPhone you will be familiar with this technique.

Settings

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One of the options off the Menu page is ‘Settings’. This screen allows you to turn on and off the status bar, auto correction and gives you the version number of FileMaker Go.

Launching a web page from FileMaker Go

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The Open URL script step works nicely from FileMaker Go. Here is a sample link from my database that opens a Web Viewer, not quite in Safari, but fine for moving around on a single web site.

Web Pages inside FileMaker Go

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You can surf the web from within FileMaker Go. Notice the ‘Open in Safari’ button at the bottom of the screen, which will take you into Safari for a more comprehensive browser experience. Still within FileMaker Go, you can do most things you would in Safari, no bookmarks or history though. Clicking Done takes you back to the previous FileMaker Go screen.

‘FileMaker Go’ Help Files are online

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The Help files or FileMaker Go are stored online, presumably allowing for dynamic updating by FileMaker Inc., as they add features. If you want to preview the Help Files for FileMaker Go before you dive in and make the purchase, they are here: Help Files

FileMaker Go help files in Safari on a Mac

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The help files are a good starting place to get familiar with the iPhone version of FileMaker Pro.

Getting Files on and off your iPhone/iTouch

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In iTunes, when you plugin your iPhone, in the Apps tab, you will see, if you scroll down below the App organizer area, a place for File Sharing. This is where apps that support iPhone sharing can send files back and forth. You can drag and drop files into this area.

Unsupported Features – Script Steps that will bring up errors

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According to FileMaker Go’s documentation, FileMaker Go does not support the following FileMaker Pro features:

• creating databases on the device
• modifying database schema such as tables, fields, relationships, data sources, and privileges
• modifying database structure such as layouts, scripts, value lists, and custom menus
• importing or exporting
• printing
• charting
• spell checking
• saving a copy
• saving and sending records as Excel, PDF, Snapshot Link
• external functions
• plug-ins
• hosting files
• Instant Web Publishing

It also supports only a limited font set and type styles, those native to the iPhone world.

No Alert warning is given for some script steps

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There is a long list of missing features, but there is still plenty that you can do with FileMaker Go. If the iPad was launched with the idea of consuming media, then FileMaker Go is a consumer of databases. Anyone wanting to create or edit the structure of a FileMaker database on an iPad will have to wait a while, or try a VNC client to access a copy of FileMaker Pro Advanced running on their main computer for now.

Planning for ‘FileMaker Go’ with Layouts

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FileMaker has awarded FileMaker Go its own designation, so you could write a script that trapped for Get(SystemPlatform) = 3 when performed on the mobile device. If you detected this platform in your login script, you could direct the mobile user to a specific layout optimized for the small screen.

Custom iPhone Layout

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If the Platform detected is 3, then users can then be directed to a screen optimized for a small computer screen.

FileMaker vs Bento

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Bento is a fairly new database application created by FileMaker Inc., to fill the low end of the database market. Many users view it as the missing database component for the iWork suite. FileMaker Pro is much more powerful than Bento and it is priced accordingly. If you already have a FileMaker database running with mission critical data, FileMaker Go is a great way to quickly get into your data from a mobile platform. If you just want to track recipes or a home inventory, Bento is worth considering. Bento lacks many of the higher end features, like scripting and truly relational data.

Conclusion

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There are plenty of features missing in FileMaker Go, but it is a good start.  It would have been nice to see some innovations that take specific advantage of the iPhone’s features—one comment I saw in another article on FileMaker Go suggested the ability to import photos into container fields directly from the iPhone’s camera. I just tried to copy and paste from the Camera Roll into a container field and this works fine, it is just quite a few steps to do it. Open the Camera Roll, copy a photo, switch to FIleMaker Go, reconnect to your local database, click into the container field and paste. I could imagine how much simpler this might be if double clicking into a container field brought up a media browser from which one could select a photo in the Camera Roll.

Another commenter noted that although there are a variety of ways to get a database onto the iPhone, (email, iTunes, DropBox etc.) there is only one way back, via iTunes. I haven’t confirmed this yet, but on first glance, this appears to be true. It would be useful to have more options for two-way traffic. True data syncing would be lovely, but syncing is hard, so I get why they didn’t attempt this on the first go round.

FileMaker Go is not bullet proof yet, I managed to crash the app, by leaving a database open, wandering off to another app, then returning and clicking the Yes when asked if I wanted to resume my connection. Still, FileMaker Inc., has created a worthwhile product in FileMaker Go. I can imagine many users jumping to get access to their remote corporate databases via their iPhones/iPads. At $20 for the iPhone version, it is almost a no-brainer to buy this right out of the gate. FileMaker Go will no doubt mature over the coming months and years into a more robust offering.

P.S. Some important caveats to review before deploying your FileMaker Go database in a production environment. Shout out to Stephen Blackwell for pointing them out.

Related Articles:
Where Am I? Using FileMaker Go 12 to track your Location
Getting FileMaker Go databases onto an iOS device using Dropbox
“FileMaker Go” demonstrates Apple’s double standard on Flash

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13 Responses to “‘FileMaker Go for the iPhone’ – a First Look”

  1. Wow! They actually brought the Mac OS 7.6 UI widgets (scroll bars etc.) over to the iPhone! Amazing!

    SLAP!

  2. Thanks for this comprehensive review, Doug. What happens if a record is altered on the host computer while it is being displayed’edited on the mobile device? I’m guessing there’s no “record locking” in this context.

    • homebasesoftware Reply July 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      Yikes! Good point Lorne, I would have thought that record locking would be in place for this first release, but I just tested it and it appears to not prevent locking when you are clicked into a record on your computer and then start editing from FileMaker Go. That is a bit scary. To quote Russell Peters, ‘Somebody gonna get hurt’.

      Update: 2010-07-24 After reading Todd Geist’s informative post on FM Go and Transactions, I queried him as to whether he had seen a problem with Record Locking. He reminded me that you actually have to edit some text in a record before record locking is invoked. My bad, I thought it was just clicking into the field that did it, because this seemed to stop scripts from running properly in the past. But presumably this was because the data has actually been changed, not just having the record clicked into. I got stuck on this thinking from FM 6 and prior days…

  3. Before working on another lobotimized database app, why don’t they dedicate programmers to giving Bento for iPhone/iPad the ability to create relationships between tables?

    Caveat Emptor.

    • homebasesoftware Reply July 20, 2010 at 8:01 pm

      While I can sympathize with your desire to have a more full-fledged Bento app, I am not sure I agree with your characterization of FileMaker Go as a ‘lobotomized’ database app. It is actually pretty impressive for a first time out app. For the right user, it is a very solid window into data on your server.

      • I don’t agree this is a “first time out” there was FileMaker Mobile, today the Bento experience, and 200,000 other applications out there to look at. My comments while silly on the face was to point out that while much as been done to the FileMaker application, with the exception of tabs, we’ve had VERY LITTLE attention paid to the developer UI tools. We have interface widgets that are truly from Mac OS 7.6. Even with a Cocoa version we have this horrible horrible UI while Bento shines. We need the Bento UI tools in FileMaker we don’t need FileMaker UI, built in 1992, on a phone built in 2010. IMHO!

  4. homebasesoftware Reply July 21, 2010 at 12:03 am

    NotTellinYou — I am with you on the UI comments. It is pretty amazing that those scroll bars made it into the Cocoa version of FM 11. I am guessing backward compatibility would be the answer. Most developers don’t want to face another FM 7 like jump.

    FileMaker suffers from the lowest common denominator syndrome that all cross-platform apps face. This is the one of the reasons Steve Jobs says he doesn’t want Flash on the iPhone. Developers will be free to bring over their beautiful solutions but also their butt ugly, not-upgraded-since-FM-4-look solutions onto Steve’s beautiful operating system.

    Someone remind me again, how is running a FileMaker file on the iPhone that different than having a Flash runtime app running a Flash file? Oh yes, FileMaker Inc. is owned by Apple…

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