By Craig Saunders, 30 November 2010
We've just built our first solution for the iPad, a "Farm Diary" which allows a farmer to work from a map of the farm, tap on a paddock and see a history of what's happened - what fertiliser has been applied, how many stock are (supposed to be) in there, when it was cultivated, and so on. Another tap adds an action and captures details.
The diary will replace years of tatty old notebooks that the farmer has kept - while the notebooks are a vital tool on the farm, they're not able to be shared between staff (3 in this case), can't be searched or summarised (how many acres of maize have we got this year?), and are at risk of getting lost or soaked - one of the guys told us how he was repairing a flood pump when the gate opened and dowsed him in water flowing at something like a "44 gallon drum every few seconds" - of course that wouldn't be much good for an iPhone either but the difference is that the iPhone would be backed up and is easily reinstated.
It's early days yet - we've sent v1 out for field trials (so to speak!) One thing that's pretty obvious already is that details of workflow, such as minimising typing, having a back button, and having just enough information but not too much are vital in a mobile application.
We've designed each screen to be very big and clear without too much information so it's quick and easy at a glance to read. Likewise buttons and fields are oversized compared to a desktop database making it easy to tap with a finger.
The farm diary is built using FileMaker Go, a version of FileMaker for the iOS devices as they're collectively known (i.e. the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad). What's most amazing about FileMaker Go from a technical perspective is that it is very close to a full replica of FileMaker on the desktop - in other words, it's a very powerful database that can be highly customised.
At the moment the database is designed for the iPad screen size, but since FileMaker Go works on iPhone too and iPhones are a lot easier to carry around in your pocket I can see that we'll need to create screens for the iPhone too very soon - that's easy enough to do with FileMaker Go; likewise for landscape and portrait views, but you end up with 4 versions of each screen. The catch then is that any change you make has to be made across all 4 versions of each screen, so for now we're just focussed on getting it right in one screensize and orientation (iPad / Portrait).
We'll keep you posted on how it Goes...