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FileMaker Go Tips and Tricks

September 24, 2010

Learn how to develop database applications specifically for the iPad. Paul Ferrill offers some tips you'll want to consider, when targeting the iPad, to ensure you create something appealing for your users.

This article is part two of a series on FileMaker Go for the iPad. Part one reviewed the product, looking at the basic functionality using both local (on the device) and remote databases. In this article we’ll take a look at developing database applications specifically for the iPad. There are definitely some things you want to consider when targeting the iPad both from a visual and an execution perspective.

FileMaker has a Technical Brief document available on their website with a good overview of the product along with a good discussion of the limitations you could run into on a mobile device. You’ll also need a copy of FileMaker Pro for either Mac or Windows to do the actual database development. For starters, you can’t create or modify a database schema on the iPad, making it impossible to do any real development on the device. The tech brief includes links to external documents such as Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for iOS (HIG).

Resources

The first thing you want to download and read after the tech brief is the FileMaker Go Developer Guide. This document leads you through everything you need to know to get started developing for all the iOS platforms. Soliant Consulting authored the FileMaker Go tech brief and also offers a free FileMaker Go Toolkit to help get you going. This is a great tool full of sample screen layouts, icons and a screen simulation function to help you with building your data entry screens. Soliant Consulting also offers training resources for the full FileMaker product line.

Another good source of information is the FileMaker Go forum website. You’ll find lots of good tips there including one on how to size a background image so that it fits on the iPad screen without clipping. If you’re a complete newbie to databases, you could start with FileMakers’s database basics web page. It has a good overview with references to FileMaker to help get you started creating your very own custom database. The desktop version of FileMaker Pro includes a number of starter solutions addressing things like contact management, personnel records, performance / people management and more. Many of these will work without changes using FileMaker Go.

Size and Orientation

One of the things you must take into consideration when developing for the iPad is the screen size and the possibility of either landscape or portrait orientation. FileMaker Go will automatically rotate your form depending on how you hold the iPad, so you don’t have to worry about that part. You should be concerned with how your screen layout looks in both orientations. The FileMaker Go Toolkit includes a screen size simulation tool and a mobile device sizing reference. You’ll want to use to the sizing reference if you plan on including a background image or displaying photos within your app.

Font size is another part of the visual equation. Apple’s HIG document specifies fonts between 17- and 22-pixels. This translates into roughly 15- to 20-point fonts. Another point to consider with font size concerns specific user interaction points. Therefore, you want to make sure your font size and spacing give the user plenty of room to select things like check boxes or buttons on a drop-down list. While FileMaker Go does support the pinch-to-zoom action, you want to avoid having to use that feature just to select the right option.

Development Tips

The quickest way to test your work on the device is to turn on the sharing feature within FileMaker Pro. The FileMaker Go Developer Guide has clear instructions in Chapter 1 on how to set this up. Make sure you follow the steps completely, or you won’t see the file on the iPad. Once you have file sharing configured you’ll be able to make changes on the workstation to the database and screen layouts and then view them almost instantaneously on the iPad.

One of the biggest concerns for database purists is the fact that a user can basically close the FileMaker Go app at any time by pressing the home button. You could be in the middle of editing a record when the user essentially exits the program. FileMaker tries to help with this by prompting with “Some files were still open when you last quit. Do you want to continue where you left off in these files?” Choosing yes will take you right back to where you left off when you close the program.

The other big concern is data merging. FileMaker will handle this for you using the desktop version’s import records option. This should make it relatively simple to bring the latest version of the database over from the iPad and merge it with a master copy. It’s not totally seamless, but it should work. The other option would be to use FileMaker Server and always connect to a server version of the database.

Wrapping Up

FileMaker Go has addressed some of the most pressing user requests with the 1.1 update of the product. While it still has some of the same limitations on scripting it does add things like save to PDF, send a database via e-mail, and the ability to insert photos directly into a database field. This feature should be really handy for use on the iPhone.

FileMaker Go brings the power of the database to mobile devices. Now all you have to do is make sure you create something appealing to your users.








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