It's been several months since I made my decision to stop doing FileMaker development. Since then, a number of people - from novice users, to Bento hold-outs, to seasoned FileMaker developers - have asked me about alternatives to FileMaker.
I'm not aware of anything that replaces FileMaker in terms of features. However, depending on your needs, there are alternatives to consider. I've spent time exploring and working with many of them, and thought I'd share my experiences with six of them here.
If you are truly in need of a database - and just a database - then you have quite a few options to consider. I'm going to give you three of my favorites.
I fell in love with Airtable when I first happened upon it this past February - so much so that in July I became Airtable's Developer Evangelist.
Airtable is "a modern database created for everyone." With it's simple, elegant, and intuitive spreadsheet-like interface, it's very easy to jump in and start creating databases with it. It also provides a number of database templates that you can use as is or modify to meet your specific needs.
Airtable is entirely cloud-based. There's no need to invest in a server or signup for a database hosting service. It also means that you get multi-user support right out of the box. It also means that you can access your Airtable databases from mobile devices.
But my favorite feature is Airtable's API. Every Airtable database includes its own custom API, fully documented and ready to go.
Airtable is available in various pricing tiers - from a Free tier to a Pro tier. An Enterprise tier is coming soon.
I've also had the pleasure of working with TapForms. The Mac version of TapForms is very Bento-like - so if you're an old Bento user, you'll likely feel very comfortable with it. (Also, you can easily import Bento data into it.)
TapForms is also available for iPhones, iPads, and even the Apple Watch. In fact, TapForms was the first app where I truly saw the potential of the Apple Watch in terms of business-oriented apps. It's very well thought out, and it doesn't feel as though the Watch support was an afterthought. Data can be synced across devices using iCloud or Dropbox, and in my testing, I found the sync to be very reliable.
The downside to TapForms is that it can only be used to create single-user databases. There is no way to setup shared databases. For those of us who work "solo," this might not be a problem. But for those who work as a team, TapForms might not be an option.
The retail price for the Mac version of TapForms is $34.99 and can be purchased on the Mac App Store. The iPhone version is $8.99, while the iPad version is $8.99 - and both versions can be purchased on the App Store.
If your needs are extremely basic, then Records by Push Popcorn might be an option for you. This database app was released in February of 2015 and caused a bit of a stir, primarily because of how elegant and modern its user interface is.
Records is only available for Mac OS X. There is no iOS version - and that might be a problem for some users. In addition, like TapForms, Records is for a single user only. And at $29.99, it's a bit on the expensive side.
In any case, I would keep an eye on Records. I'm hoping that it will continue to evolve, adding new features and iOS support at some point.
If your needs are more advanced, and what you're really looking for is a tool for developing true native apps, then you have a number of great options to choose from.
The thing to keep in mind when considering these development tools is that they are not bound to any one database in particular. Therefore, to develop database-driven apps, you're going to have to learn to develop the apps themselves and learn how to integrate them with backend databases. That very likely means that you'll also have get familiar with developing and/or consuming APIs.
I've written quite a bit about Xojo over the past several months. Xojo is a powerful multi-platform development tool which you can use to create native desktop, web, mobile and most recently, Raspberry Pi apps. On the desktop, Xojo supports targets that include OS X, Windows, and Linux. In terms of mobile, you can use Xojo to create native iOS apps. And while nothing has been announced officially, Xojo hasn't ruled out the possibility of supporting Android at some point as well. So in terms of targets, Xojo's got you covered.
But what appeals most to me is Xojo's language and IDE. Developing apps in Xojo simply "feels right." The IDE is very well thought out and easy to use. The object-oriented language is powerful while not being overly complicated. Combine all of that with a helpful and welcoming user community, and you can begin to see Xojo's appeal.
My current focus is on developing native iOS apps. For projects that require rapid development, Xojo's a perfect fit. And with developer licenses that start as low as $99 / year, it's extremely affordable as well. (And by the way, there are no user license fees to worry about. Create your apps, and you're ready to go!)
Xcode / Swift
When it comes to developing iOS apps that need full access to the device's capabilities (push notifications, location services, etc), I've been turning to Apple's Xcode IDE and Swift programming language. The learning curve for this powerful combination is quite steep. You'll likely have to spend time digging into the language before you fully grasp it - regardless of whether or not you have experience with Objective-C. And while Xcode can be a intimidating, it is starting to grow on me.
But the time spent working your way through Swift and getting comfortable with Xcode can really payoff quickly. If you need to develop professional, full featured iOS apps, and have the luxury of taking your time working on them, then I think this is your best bet.
Other than the steep learning curve, the obvious drawback to Xcode / Swift is that it can only be used to develop apps for Apple's ecosystem. At least for the moment, anyway. With Apple's announcement that Swift will be open source, it's entirely possible that we'll see tools that use the language to compile to other targets (Windows, Android, etc).
Xcode is available for free from the Mac App Store. You'll need an Apple Developer Account ($99 / year) to submit apps to Apple's stores.
Last December, when I was evaluating a number of development options, I wrote that "there is something about LiveCode that resonates with me." I suspect it was its HyperCard roots and the promise of being able to develop apps for a wide range of targets (including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, and even Android).
I had all but decided on going with LiveCode, and then I started to run into issues with it. I found the language a bit awkward to work with, and regardless of how much time I spent working in it, it just never clicked for me. But the bigger issue is that the apps it generated, while "native," didn't truly feel like native apps. It's an opinion that I have a hard time explaining, and I suspect it's just something you have to experience yourself to understand what I'm describing.
In any case, LiveCode just didn't work out for me. But it does seem to work well for others - and LiveCode continues to evolve. So if you are looking for a multi-platform development tool, you really should check it out for yourself.
Pricing for LiveCode starts at $49 / month, and details can be found here.
So there you go - six FileMaker alternatives to consider. Again, your best choice will depend on whether you need to create databases or develop native apps.
If you have any questions - or if you have other options to suggest - please leave a comment below.