Last week FileMaker launched a new campaign to encourage businesses to adopt the company’s flagship database product line as an app development platform for the iPhone and iPad. The move is unique and the idea of FileMaker as an enterprise development solution does have its appeal – creating FileMaker apps requires no software development knowledge or experience and it can deliver native performance and functionality that HTML 5 web apps can’t.
The new campaign includes a white paper about the development life-cycle for FileMaker iOS apps as well as a 41 minute webinar that is available on-demand from Filmmaker’s website. The company also offers businesses or individual developers an iOS development kit that includes trial versions of the required FileMaker products as well as technical details and guides.
On its surface, the idea is extremely compelling. Although FileMaker is a powerful and scalable database solution, it’s also much easier to learn than to many other database options. Part of that is because FileMaker development is a very visual process – and one that offers a range of templates out of the box (additional templates and complete apps are also available from FileMaker developers). The result is that even non-technical users can create simple real-world databases with minimal training.
That’s a far cry from learning to create native iOS apps, which requires a solid understanding of the Objective-C programming language and Apple’s Xcode development environment.
FileMaker iOS apps let users access iOS device features including things like digital signatures and cameras that are beyond what web apps can offer. At the same time, however, FileMaker apps aren’t true native iOS apps. They are databases with dashboards and interfaces that run within the FileMaker Go app on an iOS device.
That approach actually has advantages, particularly when it comes to deployment and updates. With the iOS FileMaker Go app installed, iPhone/iPad users connect to a FileMaker Server that delivers the apps. New apps can be rolled out simply by adding them to the server and updates to existing apps are rolled out automatically as iOS users connect to the server. That’s a pretty simple and straightforward solution to the broader issue of mobile app management.
FileMaker ships iOS-specific templates that can be used to design apps that adhere to Apple’s design guidelines, which helps present a consistent native app style. FileMaker can also integrate with other database and enterprise systems and can securely encrypt data.
This solution is a great for small and mid-size business that need iOS apps for various tasks but don’t want to expend the resources to develop native apps in-house or by hiring an outside developer. It can also serve in larger organizations, though many large companies may prefer a more traditional app development model.
FileMaker apps aren’t a good fit for customer-facing solutions because they aren’t native or web apps and require users to have access to a FileMaker Server infrastructure. For internal apps or business-to-business apps, however, they are certainly worth considering and exploring.