You read that correctly. I said…

“FileMaker Database Development with iPad”

It’s difficult to convey the idea that I’m about to describe because the natural assumption after a quick glance at the title of this article is that FileMaker apps can run on iPad. Big deal, right? FileMaker Go has been around for a while and it’s generally understood that indeed, FileMaker database apps can be developed and deployed on iOS devices with FileMaker Go.

But this is a different topic – FileMaker database development with iPad; literally using iPad as a development lens. The best way to establish how I’ve increasingly come to use iPad for FileMaker development is a brief story which is not only true, but becoming common-place for me.

The Story

I build data visualization apps for clients. Sometimes I use FileMaker as the last mile of the data visualization solution. And while FileMaker provides a fairly good set of graphical tools to render and visualize business data, it also provides some great opportunites for expressing performance and results using color, data formatting, and even custom CSS5-based information views. To steal an adjective from engineering counterparts one third my age, combining data in on-the-fly web objects inside a database app is the bomb. However, using integrated CSS for data visualizations in FileMaker is a topic for a later time.

Last night I was finishing up the day with a little Colorado Rockies baseball and some Zite reading. I had recently designed and developed a FileMaker app for a client and I thought I would give it a quick test before calling it a day. I fired up Go on iPad and launched the app. This app retrieves SEO performance updates through an XML web service, so I tapped the refresh button and waited. The data set was empty. Not good.

Since I was pretty wrapped up in the ball game, rather than hit the pause button on the DVR and head to the office to debug the app, I decided to remote into my Mac desktop two floors above me.

With iPad and my remote desktop solution (Jump Desktop), I was able to launch FileMaker Pro, locate the source of the bug pictured below, and provide the necessary corrections. At first glance, this looks like a tiny and difficult environment to work in. But Jump Desktop, like most mobile desktop remote apps, provides seriously good gesture controls. You can pinch, zoom, and navigate easily. Once you use FileMaker Pro with your fingers, it grows on you. Many tasks become effortless.

Debugging with iPad is not the same as developing with iPad, and here’s where the story has repeatedly become more interesting.

Don’t be Fearful of Developing with iPad

While fixing this particular issue, an idea bubbled up for a more complete diagnostics approach for debugging data access issues. This happens to me a lot and there are times when I simply can’t set these notions aside – I need to tackle them on the spot. So I dove right into this new development task on iPad. I had done stuff like this before, and it proved once again to be surprisingly productive.

Best described as a new debugging layout, this new feature would afford me an easy approach to test web services on the client’s app regardless of my locale. I simply needed to review web services requests and result documents without necessarily using FileMaker Pro and the complete contingent of development tools. In just a few minutes of tapping I created a new layout complete with navigation buttons and data fields necessary to provide a web services inspector. I even integrated it into the app in a way that would give me a back door to the inspector without disturbing the simplicity of the UI for the client. This, in and of itself, is child’s play for FileMaker Pro; creating it on iPad while watching a baseball game is what’s so interesting.

In all, it took about 15 monutes to add the inspector, a task which would have taken about the same amount of time on my big cinema displays.

iPad is a development lens that is certainly not ideal for every task, but is increasingly useful given time, device, and location constraints.

Give it a try. You might like it.