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
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
Interface Guidelines for iOS (HIG).
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
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.
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.
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