A stylish database for iPad? First impressions of FileMaker 12

April 6, 2012

FileMaker 12 promises attractive database designs for presentation on Macs, PCs, iPads and iPhones, and essentially builds on FileMaker 11 with a plethora of new layouts, 40 different color themes, and the ability to create and edit database forms in the space of a couple of minutes.

Prior to yesterday's launch, TabTimes met with FileMaker system engineer Kieran Saunders and Tony Speakman, who heads up the company in northern Europe, to see the new software in action.

The demo showed that the firm has made significant strides with design, which while unlikely to win any serious art awards, is pleasing on the eye and seemingly very easy to manage. Here's a quick run-down of the new features;

  • New design tools and color themes
  • You'll need to upgrade if you're running an older version of FileMaker
  • (Almost) real-time editing
  • A ‘better way’ to handle multimedia files
  • FileMaker Go for iPad is now free

Things on the back-end seem to have generally stayed the same (in terms of scripting), but FileMaker has changed the file format from fm7 to fm12, meaning that this latest version can only be used by those PCs, Macs, iPads and iPhones running FileMaker 12.

So, what does that mean in terms of installation and set-up from the end user perspective? Well, probably not a lot if you’re a new customer, on a FileMaker maintenance program, or if you rent FileMaker on a contractual basis. Basically, it means that the latter two will have to have their systems upgraded, but this is a process (uninstall your previous version, get FileMaker 12 embedded behind the company firewall) which can take as little as an hour depending on the size of the deployment, according to Saunders.  

Above and beyond installation however, there's a lot to like here. 

Design is key in FileMaker 12

The first thing which struck us about the demo was the speed and relative simplicity of designing reasonably attractive database sheets. As opposed to prior versions of FileMaker and other database apps with mobile extensions, you don’t have to be an expert to get things up and running, and the ability to get the latest information onto a network-connected iPad within a few seconds is likely to be of interest to organizations who rely upon workers in the field.

“FileMaker developers have to have skills in programming, database theory, programming language, marketing and business skills, so asking them to be designers as well is quite a hard task”, said Saunders. “They can now design these pages with limited or no skill.”

Kieran Saunders admitted that the design capabilities are a fair amount better than before, and said that FileMaker 11 was more of a desktop publishing tool, which offered up a blank canvas for design. He also said that the design themes ‘weren’t up to much’ and there were only a few colors to choose from.

That’s definitely not the case this time. We saw an array of different color schemes, but crucially, much more flexibility surrounding form customization. For instance, with FileMaker 12 you can adjust the size of individual fields, decide whether or not to round off the edges, add audio and company logos, or just add a digital signature or graph charts based on company data. Our demonstration showed that all of these could be added to forms in just a few minutes, using either your desktop or laptop PC.

FileMaker said that the new software also has some intelligence on guessing what device you’re running, with script triggers able to discover your device, and to offer the best database layout based on whether you're running FileMaker on PC, Mac, iPad or iPhone.

FileMaker 12 lightens the load on the database for a faster experience

FileMaker claims to have made some improvements on the back-end too, particularly surrounding control over the size of various forms. FileMaker staff explained that, with FileMaker 11, developers would have to group individual singular entry boxes together, usually via Photoshop (a technique called conditional formatting of data) which would result in a standard database file size ballooning from 5MB to 2GB.

That’s changed with FileMaker 12. Whereas before every file went through the database folder, it can now make things a lot more nimble through enhanced ‘container’ files, which offers drag-and-drop functionality for files, videos, photos and documents to be pushed straight to the server, rather than clogging up the database folder.

FileMaker 12 also automatically organizes files on disk and can encrypt them for security should you so choose. Another good point about the new version is that FileMaker says that it can connect to any back-end, good news if you're running Oracle.

FileMaker Go is now free

There’s some big news regarding FileMaker Go too, for while you’ll need FileMaker 12 Go to access the desktop system, the app (available for iPad and iPhone) is now free for the first time. Tony Speakman reckons this could open up a host of opportunities to FileMaker business partners. “There’s now no barrier to access, which creates some interesting possibilities for some of those customers who have FileMaker, and who want to shows customer and stock information, for example, to clients on iPads and iPhones.”

FileMaker explained that graphics and the iPad, were keen drivers in changing and moving on with the new software, and also added that it’s hoping to change its public perception.

“We’re trying to change from a desktop database into a platform, and the iPad is one of the things doing that," Saunders aid. "The iPad generation doesn’t do DOS-based systems. The iPad is driving everything we’re doing.”

FileMaker 12 is available now across all platforms. FileMaker Pro 12 is $299 if a new customer, or $179 if upgrading, and FileMaker Pro 12 Advanced is $499 to buy new or $299 to upgrade. The normal and advanced versions of FileMaker Server sell for $999/599 and $2,999/$1,799 respectively.


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