Using your own products and services to advance your business is often talked about, but rarely put into practice. I’ve encountered so many iPad apps and tools that are not really used by their creators in meaningful ways to help their own cause and to demonstrate how powerful their solution is. This seems really short-sighted.

FileMaker, Inc., the creators of Bento for simple databases (mobile and otherwise) and FileMaker Pro (and Go for mobile apps), surprised me today with a Filemaker Go app designed specifically for their upcoming developer conference in Miami. Attendees to Breakthrough 2012 each receive a copy of this FileMaker app and it is profoundly simple, yet ideally suited for planning and getting the most value from the conference. It even has an integrated note-taking feature which fundamentally serves to cross the boundary from a “resource” to a sustainable knowledge base that will provide benefit long after the conferences has ended.

And because iOS is laced with social and collaborative features, this database app blends nicely into a professional’s toolchest affording attendees the ability to share session notes and other pertinent information with colleagues. Smart.

DevCon2Go is a realtively simple app, but it demonstrates the power of write-once (on Mac or Windows) and deploy everywhere rapidly and without effort. And by “everywhere”, I mean Mac OS, Windows, and iOS platforms. DevCon2Go includes a comprehensive list of sessions, speakers, and conference information about the venue, hotel, events, and exhibitors all neatly bundled into a single FileMaker Go app. They also provide a desktop/laptop version for those who have, at minimum, FileMaker Pro for Mac or Windows.

This is a smart use of FileMaker’s own technology and designed in a way to showcase many of the benefits of a this database development platform. I’ve often felt that there are no boundaries per-se concerning FileMaker Go apps – they don’t really have to be database apps in the traditional sense, and DevCon2Go is a perfect example of a non-traditional use of a database system. It’s 60% publishing app, 20% knowledge base, 10% planning tool, and 10% collaborative tool adding up to a whole lotta convenience and insight on your iPhone or iPad.

I’ve experimented extensively building apps that rely on atypical data sources. Indeed, I see FileMaker as an app development platform in the broadest sense.

Future FileMaker (opinion rant)

I often wonder why FileMaker Go isn’t offered as a brandable framework for app developers; literally a runtime-minus would have potentially huge market value. The ability to remove the database selector step from the Go app and allow iOS to natively deal with launching an fmp12 file via iOS’s mime-type mechanism would be wonderful. Certainly, Go has some integrated server and other configuration elements, but these can continue to function as is in the context of any given fmp12 database instance.

The benefit of opening up the mobile deployment framework (i.e., Go) to developers, consultants, and users would be significant. Users could launch fmp12 apps directly from the iOS home screen and avoid the intermediate Go/select database step. I believe FileMaker developers would gladly sign up to have this ability and pay an extra hundred bucks for the privalege of using it as mobile app development and deployment platform. It would be no different than becoming an XCode developer except without all the code of course.

The idea of transforming FileMaker and Go into an app development and mobile run-time platform (as opposed to tilting heavily towards a database app development platform) is intriguing to me. On a professional level, I would like to design and build less-data-centric apps in FileMaker and deploy them like any other native XCode app. This makes a lot of sense to me and why I’ve been so vocal about ways to use data elements and resources (i.e., via XML web services) that may not be needed in a FileMaker database, nor for that matter, any need to involve FileMaker Server at all in many app contexts.

I believe there are some great apps waiting to be developed that aren’t specifically in the database class, but which could be created rapidly with FileMaker Pro and by business domain experts. In my view, this expands the role of FileMaker Pro, positioning it as a close compliment to XCode, thus optimizing FileMaker Pro’s revenue streams. Imagine a business intelligence app designed and built in FM-Pro, but whose data sources all come from Google Docs spreadsheets which are interactively being updated through other BI processes.

FileMaker Pro is on the brink of being able to deliver custom, branded, sellable apps for iOS. They just need a push.

See you at Breakthrough 2012 next week!