Up against emerging but intensifying competition from Android, RIM and Windows 7 tablets, FileMaker, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple, Wednesday is rolling out FileMaker Go 1.2, a new update to mobile database software that is already helping to strengthen the iPad’s current lead in the business tablets arena.
FileMaker Go 1.2 is a key ingredient in Apple’s strategy to move the iPad beyond mere “information display” uses such as showing X-rays to patients and photos of real estate to prospective home buyers, contended Ryan Rosenberg, VP of marketing and services for FileMaker, in a briefing for TabletPCReview on a New York City press tour.
Small businesses and enterprises have already used earlier editions of Apple’s software to let their employees access, search and update customer and decision-making information from their mobile devices, whether this data is stored directly on the iPad or iPhone, on a Windows- or MacOS-based PC, or on a back-end SQL server.
FileMaker Go 1.2 – a product available in separate editions for iPad and iPhones — adds three new capabilities aimed at furthering Apple’s mobile business strategy: on-the-go signature capture; printouts through Apple’s AirPrint technology; and the ability to both view and update pie, line, bar and area charts on a mobile gadget, for apps ranging from inventory control and project management to medical records administration and beyond.
Real Database Apps
Buttressing claims made by Apple brass in financial analyst calls and elsewhere, Rosenberg gave specific example of how iPads are already being implemented by businesses.
Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., for instance, has now used FileMaker Go to extend a company-created dictionary of some 5,000 pharmaceutical terms to salespeople outfitted with iPads and iPhones.
Acorn Rentals, a nationwide car rental agency in Australia, is using FileMarket Go in an interactive “clipboard replacement” app, he told me. Specifically, Acorn specializes in delivering rental cars to drivers involved in car accidents.
Acorn has long used FileMaker Pro – a software product for Windows and Mac PCs – to store customer information, insurance and car delivery details, and time-stamped file notes and documentation. Traditionally, field delivery agents working out of 250 offices throughout Australia filled out insurance reports on paper-based forms and then returned to the office to manually rekey the data. Now, though, the agents are inputting the information directly on to iPads. The iPad app also adds GPS location capabilities for figuring out how far a car delivery driver is from a waiting customer.
FileMaker Go is also getting use from much smaller companies — and from solo entrepreneurs — for storing, organizing, and sharing contacts, documents, and other information. For example, David Galson, a ski patrol veteran, has deployed FileMaker Go on iPhones to teach first responders about life-saving techniques.
Instant Info Updates
Information entered into a FileMaker Go mobile database app can be instantaneously synchronized to other iPads and iPhones running those apps, as well as to PCs and Macs operating FileMaker Pro software, FileMaker servers, and back-end Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and MySQL databases, Rosenberg said.
In a hands-on demo of an inventory app, the VP showed me how you can make a change on the iPad to the number of items in stock. The change will show up within seconds on both an iPhone and a MacBook, both in a numbers column and on a chart.
I also checked out the new signature capture feature in FileMaker Go 1.2 on an iPad. When I wrote my name in the signature “container field,” it reappeared right away on both of the other two devices on the table in the demo room.
Timely Product Intro
The introduction of Go 1.2 this week is particularly timely given the BlackBerry PlayBook launch, another tablet targeted at both businesses and consumers.
Yet despite any business advantages that RIM’s PlayBook might ultimately offer in terms of security and management, nearly all of that tablet’s first 2,000 to 3,000 apps are geared to consumers.
Meanwhile, more Android tablets – including Motorola’s Xoom – are now joining Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. So far, though, the numbers of Android apps optimized for the tablet form factor pales in comparison to the numbers of Android smartphone apps.
FileMaker Pro also runs on Windows 7, including Windows 7 tablets. On the other hand, there’s no version of FileMaker for Windows Phone 7, making Apple’s iPhone the only existing smartphone to support FileMaker database apps.
Business developers are certainly taking a variety of approaches to developing custom apps – including database apps – for all of these various tablet and smartphone platforms.
However, FileMaker Pro’s huge installed base already includes 70 enterprises in the Fortune 100; the 50 largest US universities, and tens of thousands of small businesses, for instance, the VP noted.
Any Down Sides?
Are there any down sides to FileMaker Go? Development expenses could be one of them, depending on what kinds of apps you want to produce.
Yet according to Rosenberg, FileMaker app development requires a “less costly skill set” than other database app development techniques. Moreover, users can experience a variety of offsetting productivity benefits, such as lowered paper costs and reduced travel time.
FileMaker Pro apps will display just fine in FileMaker Go, he said. However, Merck, for one, has decided to tweak the interface of its FileMaker Pro app, to make the buttons and text fields bigger and easier to use on the iPad’s touch interface.
FileMaker Go includes its own rather copious database, anyway, so integration with PCs, Macs and servers isn’t always necessary, Rosenberg maintained.
Yet he also pointed to security advantages for storing info elsewhere than on a mobile device. If you lose your iPad or iPhone at an airport or train station, for example, you won’t lose your company’s sensitive information, too.
There are three ways to create custom solutions, which are not FileMaker apps, for iOS: Objective C, Web solutions or FileMaker Pro.
If a customer doesn’t have the right type of expertise in house, FileMaker offers referrals to paid consulting services from FileMaker third-party development partners.
Printer support – for printouts of everything from database reports, forms and charts to sales receipts and name tags – is still a potential bugaboo of sorts with FileMaker Go 1.2. Although Go 1.2 does add this kind of support, it is limited to AirPrint printers.
This restriction, however, is a function of Apple’s iOS software. Companies that don’t have AirPrint printers at all their sites might work around the printout dilemma by installing FileMaker Pro on a Windows PC and printing from there.
Also with FileMaker 1.2, you can save documents as ready-to-print PDFs and send the PDF files by e-mail.
As I see it, however, it would be much handier to be able to print from a mobile database app to whatever printers happen to be located wherever you happen to be.
FileMaker Go 1.2 is available starting Wednesday at pricing of $39.99 for the iPad version and $19.99 for iPhone. Existing users of FileMaker Go can get free upgrades through Apple’s iTunes App Store.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to FileMaker as “Apple’s FileMaker.” FileMaker is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple, not Apple.