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4/4/2012
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Filemaker Gets iPad-Inspired Makeover

Filemaker 12 database software tilts the scales toward Apple's iOS devices in both design and features, makes mobile Go apps free.

New iPad Teardown: Inside Apple's New Tablet
New iPad Teardown: Inside Apple's New Tablet
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The newest version of Filemaker takes plenty of cues from another, younger member of the Apple family: the iPad.

A wide range of new features in the database software's latest release includes 16 "Starter Solutions," or ready-made templates for a variety of business uses such as content management and invoicing. The update also includes 40 new "themes" that enable users to instantly update the look-and-feel of their databases. The menu offers "touch" themes based on various iOS design elements, built with the iPad and iPhone in mind. FileMaker is a subsidiary of Apple.

"The iPad is really influencing people's view of what design should be," said Ryan Rosenberg, Filemaker's VP of marketing and services, in an interview. "People think that you should tap on an icon and get this beautiful app that's really easy [to use]. Those same requirements are drifting over to Windows and Mac desktops."

[ SMBs are juggling a lot of tech challenges. Read 4 Disaster Recovery Tips For SMBs. ]

Themes can't be customized, but the database itself can. Rosenberg demonstrated an example involving a simple button. If a manager or administrator wanted to make the button turn red when the user hovers over it because it's a $20,000 inventory item--and an expensive mistake-in-waiting--they can do that. But "red" is so last decade; now Filemaker supports gradients for those glassy, industrial looking shades common in iOS designs. Rounded corners are another iOS staple now available as a Filemaker user-interface choice. Version 12 also includes "stencils" to ensure you're building for the right screen size--heaven forbid you don't have the iPad's resolution committed to memory.

The iPad influence extends beyond the UI, too. Filemaker 12 continues the evolution from "just" database software to an ad-hoc development tool for iPad and iPhone apps. None of the above requires any actual development or design skills, instead relying on a what-you-see-is-what-you-get interface. The starter solutions and themes reduce the level of effort that much more for users with simple needs.

Rosenberg said that's particularly appealing to Filemaker's large base of small and midsize business (SMB) users; smaller companies continue to make up the single-largest Filemaker customer segment, somewhere between 40% and 50% of all users.

"We have this entire platform that helps people create these custom iOS apps and then deploy and manage them," Rosenberg said. "It's a great alternative to programming environments."

Perhaps the clearest sign of Filemaker's conscious move beyond the desktop: the updated versions of its Filemaker Go applications for iOS devices are now free. Previously, the iPad app cost $40 while the iPhone version ran $20--pricey by general app standards. Multiply that by X number of users, and some SMBs will see real cost savings in their deployments.

The Go apps essentially enable Filemaker admins to make their databases mobile without rebuilding them from scratch. "It's the same business logic, same fields of information, same scripts, but different looks that are appropriate for each device," Rosenberg said. As in the past, database and design changes made on a desktop version of Filemaker will automatically appear on the Go version--no new download or user action required. "It's the easiest way to ensure everyone on an iPad is using the same version of your app," he said.

Other changes in version 12 include a new file format. While legacy files can be converted to work with Filemaker 12, the new format won't run on old versions of the software. Filemaker Server 12 and Filemaker Server 12 Advanced now feature 64-bit architecture, "progressive backups" that only copy data that you've modified, and improved WAN performance. The latter, again, was added particularly for databases supporting lots of remote connections via--you guessed it--iPhones and iPads.

"We've really focused heavily on iOS," Rosenberg said.

As businesses rely increasingly on tablets for the productivity benefits they provide, IT must address the security challenges the devices present. Find out more in our Security Pro's Guide To Tablet PCs report. (Free registration required.)

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