FileMaker expands reach with new HTML 5 solution builder

FileMaker Version 13 will let pros and novices alike build sophisticated browser-side apps for desktop browsers today and Android in the future.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

Apple subsidiary FileMaker this week released FileMaker 13, the latest version of its "business productivity platform," expanding its previous Windows, Mac and iOS database tool to encompass mostly everything else. The major upgrade lets professional FileMaker developers and even novice users create powerful and elegant custom solutions for desktop and mobile clients.

In the previous Version 12, FileMaker focused on support for iOS clients. With Filemaker 13, the database solution builder expands its reach with FileMaker WebDirect, a database tool that will allow users to create custom HTML 5, browser-based solutions. For a number of years, the software support Web services via PHP tools. However, these were primarily for viewing data, rather than a rich, bi-directional solution. That changes with FileMaker WebDirect.

Senior Product Manager Eric Jacobson said in a briefing that "WebDirect brings everything that customers love in FileMaker, but with the accessibility of a browser." The software offer what Jacobson called "desktop style" interaction; on a desktop browser, users will be able to drag an image into a field, which will then be pushed out to all users.

"So, [customers] won't need to learn PHP, or JavaScript, or how to write a CSS style sheet. But in fact, everything is browser technology, there are no plug-ins or add-ons. Everything will run in the browser," he said.

In the initial release, FileMaker 13 will support desktop browsers. Jacobson said the company is actively working on bringing the technology to mobile browsers. This latter support would open FileMaker mobility solutions to non-Apple tablets and phones. Can we say: Android?

"It's definitely part of our roadmap to extend [WebDirect] to all the types of devices that you would expect that customers would want it to run on."

Of course, FileMaker will offer native clients for Windows tablets and desktops, Apple Macs and iOS devices (iPhones and iPads). If that doesn't suffice, then customers will be able to run the database solutions in the browser.

However, FileMaker as an Apple subsidiary isn't standing still on its rich iOS client apps. Jacobson said there were more than 800K downloads of the iOS app. The app will continue to be a free download.

The new iOS version is upgraded and support more iOS behaviors such as gesture navigation, popovers and slide controls. It also understands rotation and can automatically adjust the layout for different aspects.

This database record uses a special keypad specifically for telephone number entry.
This record shows the special phone number keypad in the FileMaker Go app.

In addition, users can use their iPad to scan bar codes or capture photos for inclusion in records. It also supports a wider range of virtual keyboards, a novel feature in FileMaker.

"A lot of our users are using iOS devices to replace paper forms," Jacobson said. "At the same time, data capture can be challenging on these devices. We've brought bar code scanning to the devices and then new keyboard types depending on the kind of data you're entering. For example, a familiar phone dial-pad for a phone number."

This phone keypad is different from the standard numeric entry pad and unique to FileMaker.

In a nod to the company's now orphaned Bento for Mac, FileMaker 13 will come with a wider range of themes and users will be able to create their own custom themes and control the look and action of buttons, fields or any object. Users can make changes to entire classes of objects at once. The design layout tool offers an easy to use a Bento-style field picker and preprogrammed layouts for iPads and iPhones with rotation intelligence programmed in.

I was interested in a new capability of the program called Conditional Object Show/Hide, which lets developers control what buttons and fields are available to the client in the layout depending upon what task is being done or some other calculation. They call this "business logic."

During a demonstration, Jacobson ran an interactive theme with integrated context programming, where users could change the style and colors of frames around images, a capability more familiar to home design applications. Depending upon an inventory calculation, the theme presented alternate images automatically, without having to navigate to another theme or set of records.

"[This immersive experience] is accessible to a small business. They didn't have to hire a team of developers to spend two months and tens of thousands of dollars to build this. This is a custom app. It doesn't exist in the App Store. But they can build it in FileMaker," Jacobson said.

Meanwhile, the update simplifies FileMaker Server administration, and offers a new HTML 5 management console.

According to Jacobson, there are more than 20 million Filemaker clients worldwide, with half the company's sales coming from businesses outside North America.

All FileMaker 13 Platform software is available immediately. Monthly prices start at US$9 for FileMaker Pro; US$15 for FileMaker Pro Advanced, and US$29 for FileMaker Server under the FileMaker Annual Volume License Agreement, which is billed annually (minimum quantities apply).

Traditional software licenses are also available starting at US$329 for new FileMaker Pro 13 licenses and US$179 for FileMaker Pro 13 upgrades.

The FileMaker Go for iPad and iPhone App is free from the iTunes App Store™. Server concurrent connections for FileMaker Go or FileMaker WebDirect are priced at US$25 per 5-pack per month, and are available from FileMaker and software resellers.

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