FileMaker Go 12 for iPad full review

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 way back 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.

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.

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

There are a few inevitable differences in the behaviour 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.

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.

Finally, FileMaker Pro 12 has changed its basic measurement unit frompixels 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.

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).

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