Optimizing a FileMaker database for iPad or iPhone

Today's tip comes from Hal Gumbert, lead developer and owner of CampSoftware.com

If you use a FileMaker Pro database on your iPad or iPhone using FileMaker Go, chances are it doesn’t work as well as it could. Here are a few simple optimizations that will boost your productivity.

Back to basics

Remember when you used a computer monitor with a tube? Back then, most displays supported 1024 x 768 pixels. Now, desktop and laptop computers now have around twice as many pixels available. When optimizing a database, you need to consider that every device has different screen space constraints. The iPad has the space of an small laptop and the iPhone has about one fourth the pixels of the iPad. Using layout techniques similar to those you used years ago will be very helpful in optimizing for iOS!

Build to the device

The three visual items that are different between Mac, Windows, iPad, and iPhone are the available pixels on the screen, the status toolbar height, and click accuracy. Combined, these work together to determine how well the solution integrates with a human. In a desktop app, you can pack in a very large number of objects on the screen and have the solution work well since people are very accurate when they click with a mouse. This makes Mac and Windows very similar except that the status toolbar heights differ slightly and the Windows application window uses some additional space. On iOS, the toolbar takes 44 pixels (34 pixels on iPhone in landscape mode) from the bottom of the screen if it is visible. While the toolbar takes up additional space it’s a good idea to keep it visible so users can easily navigate layouts and records as well as add, duplicate, omit, sort, or find records. Even more important, click accuracy is lower because people’s fingers are much larger than a computer mouse arrow. This means your fields, buttons, and other objects must be larger to reduce accidental clicking of the wrong object.

Optimization tips

Layout - If your interface is landscape and can fit into 1024 x 623 pixels, you could design one layout for Mac, Windows, and iPad. A separate layout will be needed for iPhone to make it work well. You can use the iPad layout for the iPhone if access on the iPhone will be infrequent, but zooming will be required.

List - The iPhone has much less screen area so choose the most important information to be included in no more than three columns. We use a calculation field called ’DisplayList’ which includes a few bits of information concatenated by spaces with the most important information sent to bold and a color a bit lighter than the other information.

Objects - Buttons and similar objects like tabs in tab controls should be larger than what you would use on a desktop computer so fingers can tap them. Consider making these objects at least 30 x 30 pixels.

Fields and Labels - Fonts should be larger. Field labels should be set to a lighter color than the field color so that the field data is more prominent than the label. Set the field left and right indent set to 3 to make reading and selection easier. Fields work well using Helvetica 14 point with field height of 32 pixels. Stop the distracting field zooming by turning on field scroll bars which will disable field zooming. Finally, make the current field standout by setting the field background to a light pastel color of your choosing and add conditional formatting with a calculation equal to 1 with the fill color of white. When you click in the field, the conditional formatting will be disabled showing your light pastel color. All other fields will be white which will make the selected field standout.

Screen Rotation - While the iOS can be rotated, we suggest designing for landscape. Designing for both landscape and portrait really means designing for portrait since layouts can stretch to the width of the landscape screen but not the other way around. Use the autosizing anchors to set objects to pin or stretch.

Accidental zooming - FileMaker Go will zoom if you double tap by mistake. You can turn this off by using the script step Set Zoom Level [ Lock, 100% ].

As you can see, is not very difficult to optimize your FileMaker Pro database to work with FileMaker Go on iOS. Just few small changes will result in a dramatic increase in performance.

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