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First Look: Bento app leverages iPhone features

updated 09:25 am EDT, Wed May 6, 2009

First Look: Bento iPhone

With its tiny keyboard, the iPhone might not seem like the best platform for building a database. But FileMaker says it has found a way to exploit the iPhone's interface, multi-touch gestures and Wi-Fi capabilities to make Bento for the iPhone as useful as its desktop counterpart. The result is an app that has many, but not all of the capabilities of its full-sized sibling.

Users of Bento 2 for Mac will recognize the basic elements of the database, which was first introduced last year as a consumer-level alternative to FileMaker Pro. The iPhone app comes with the same 25 templates as the desktop version, including ones for event planning, time billing, recipes and home inventory. iPhone contacts are loaded into the app automatically, but unlike the Bento 2 desktop client, iCal events and tasks are not supported.



Since FileMaker is owned by Apple, it's no surprise that the mobile Bento interface borrows from other apps included by default on an iPhone. Users will recognize several multi-touch tropes, such as the slot machine-style scroll wheels from Calendar, used to select dates. There is a touch of iTunes as well, in the form of Cover Flow-style menus. The app also makes use of touch-dialing commands.



Bento for the iPhone works with or without the desktop version, but the ability to sync with Bento 2 allows users to enter long strings of data on their Macs instead of using the more cumbersome iPhone keypad. Syncing also extends the reach of the desktop software, since iPhones can be used to take pictures or enter data in the field.

Some data can be synced to the iPhone to view, but not edited. This includes calculation fields, certain related records fields, and movie or sound files under 10MB in size. Some types of Bento content do not work at all with the app, including iCal material, file list fields, automatic counter fields, message list fields and smart collections. FileMaker mentions that the app includes an "iTunes-style search field," but it does not sport an Advanced Find feature, like the desktop version.



The company has released an updated version of Bento 2 to support mobile sync. If you've ever synced an Apple TV with iTunes, you already know what's involved in the sync process. Users enter a code number supplied by the phone, after which a small icon appears when the device is connected, along with a control panel that allows users to select which libraries to sync. Sync works through Wi-Fi, but ironically, not through the iPhone's USB sync cable. Based on a number of tests with different kinds of data, the transfer process generally takes just a few seconds. Larger files can of course bog down speed.



The iPhone's built-in camera allows users to take photos and immediately add them to a database; alternately, existing images can be uploaded. The feature is especially useful for the home inventory template, which creates a photo database of a user's valuables for insurance purposes.



There are some competing iPhone database apps including DDH Software's HanDBase and Facdatum's StoreIt, but FileMaker claims that Bento is the only app with a full desktop counterpart. The company adds that the upcoming iPhone 3.0 firmware could bring new features, such as support for cut and paste and audio notes.

Bento for iPhone is available at the App Store for $5. Bento 2.0v4 for Mac requires OS X 10.5.4 or higher, and costs $50.




by MacNN Staff

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Comments

  1. hayesk

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +3

    Some misconceptions

    "Since FileMaker is owned by Apple, it's no surprise that the mobile Bento interface borrows from other apps included by default on an iPhone. "

    Those are the standard UI elements available to all apps. This has nothing to do with FM being owned by Apple.

    "Sync works through Wi-Fi, but ironically, not through the iPhone's USB sync cable"

    This is because the iPhone SDK doesn't allow third party apps to communicate through the USB cable.

  1. sharp3d

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +1

    yep. my $0.02

    good points @hayesk - macnn please review more often a write better reviews. LOL

    Seriously single user -----
    I would love to see a Filemaker mobile app that is bento easy to setup. Imagine your custom, multiuser database with iphones able to take it to the road.... I guess we'll need over the air sync too. Anyway I digress, cool app. I Just wish it can be taken further without needing the iphone SDK though.

  1. Gazoobee

    Joined: Dec 1969

    -1

    @sharp3d

    what you're talking about are custom FileMaker solutions. This is easy to do on the iPhone right now by simply making an iPhone specific web interface.

    There's no way any app would be that configureable that it could show you many more options or interfaces than Bento can right now. You need to custom design your solution and include a webUI that will work for the phone.

  1. Inkling

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +1

    Filemaker Import

    Can you imagine Microsoft creating a version of Publisher that can't read Word files? Or Adobe keeping Elements from being able to read Photoshop files? Smart companies make their products work together seamlessly.

    Yet look at what FileMaker has done. Bento won't read FileMaker files and, if they are simple enough, create a corresponding Bento database. I imagine the reverse is true, that FileMaker won't create a database out of a Bento one.

    That make no sense. Those with old FileMaker databases should be able to upgrade to Bento if their needs are simple. Those whose needs have outgrown Bento should be able to upgrade to FileMaker without starting from scratch. And the two should be able to exchange data without a lot of export/import hassles.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969

    -3

    Re: Filemaker import

    What are you complaining about, the iPhone can't even show iWork files.

  1. FloridaPhillip

    Joined: Dec 1969

    0

    lacks 2 big features

    Not having password protection makes this app useless for anything other than the grocery list. No one is going to add the most important data (the kind that we need access to while on the road) if it can not be password protected. Secondly, I would like to see my iCal "to do" lists when I am out running errands. Hopefully these two features will be added in later versions. Otherwise I do not see this app ever being considered a serious database.

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