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Mac Planet: Feast your eyes on Bento 4 for iPad

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Bento has been described as 'fun' - graphic to look at and intuitive to use. Photo / Supplied
Bento has been described as 'fun' - graphic to look at and intuitive to use. Photo / Supplied

FileMaker's engineers always seem to be busy, having recently released a new version of Bento for Mac (it's up to 4.1). Now we know why - a rewritten iPad version is available from June 20, also called 'Bento 4'. While FileMaker is a fully Apple-owned subsidiary with its namesake software in both Mac and PC forms, Bento is FileMaker's Apple-only database - you can only get it for Macs and iDevices. Compared to fileMaker, Bento is 'fun' - very graphic to look at and intuitive to use, and aimed at the small business, collector and home user.

Sydney-based FileMaker Systems Engineer David Head told me people wanted Bento on iPad to be more like the full version of Bento for Mac, making it handy as a completely useful, standalone app. So that's what FileMaker has done.

Bento is a personal database, whereas FileMaker is for professionals, institutions and business. FileMaker Go and Bento are the two top-selling databases on the Apple App Store.

You can also start from scratch if you insist, from the Blank template - but the 25 included templates are starting points for most tasks that you can customise to your heart's content, I noticed the Recipes template on iPad actually comes with a few usable recipes. But if your needs aren't covered or you want something more specific, head over to the template file exchange.

For Bento lets users build templates specific to tasks - business, education, collections - and upload them to FileMaker's Template Exchange. This now has over 1000 templates and has resulted in over a million downloads. These were only available to Bento for the Mac. There is access from inside Bento 4 for iPad to the template exchange, and selected templates download straight into Bento.

Within Bento there are also 40 themes, combining typefaces matched to colour schemes and styles, so in no time at all your template can look the way you want.

People used to joke that it was hard to make something attractive with FileMaker (certainly no longer the case with FileMaker 12) but the converse was true of Bento: you had to struggle to make something ugly. (No, that's not a challenge.)

New features include sorting in multiple fields in table view, highlighted search results, send and share data via email, and there's a new Records slider that shows what's in the record. A new Calculations field uses a built in maths engine, echoing that of FileMaker, and allows number-crunching inside the field. Data can be encrypted, it supports location tracking and spreadsheet-like lists can be set up inside fields.

It's a completely self-contained database application. A lot of attention has been paid to how to customise and modify - considering you only have your fingertips to work with, this is important.

With Capture Media, you can employ your iPad's camera directly to snap a picture - imagine this for a book or CD database. Also, you can grab images from the picture library on the device.

With Bento 4 for iPad being a much more serious database app than the previous version, it comes closer to the functionality of the fully fledged FileMaker, but you can't share it with a workgroup. So it's not a full-on business tool, but David Heads calls it "a serious database". It can even export .csv files via email you can open as spreadsheets.

Bento 4 for iPad is a standalone relational database (every database inside Bento can link to each other) if you don't have a Mac - if you do, you can sync it to and fro, within size limitations (I think it's 10MB). That works when you are on the same wireless network, if Bento is running on the Mac. You just tap a button on Bento 4 on the iPad and it syncs. That might be handy for one person with Bento 4 for Mac and Bento 4 for iPad - for a small business, though, you can imagine a representative out on the road with Bento on their iPad, syncing it back to the Mac in the office with someone using it on the desktop. Basically, the Bento 4.1 for Mac features have been pushed across to the new iPad version, with some nifty touch-functionality built in.

Even the pre-release I tried with Bento 4 on an 'old' iPad 1 proved to be a very nicely designed and functional app. Efficient, too - my 3253 contacts in Address Book loaded into Bento on this old iPad in about 25 seconds. David notes the new iPad's camera is sensational, and its Retina Display makes Bento 4 look even better, so you'll be better served with an iPad with a camera (2 or 3).

The previous Bento for iPad was NZ$13.99. The new one comes out at the iPhone price of $6.49, and goes back up to the frighteningly high (I'm joking) price of $13.99 on July 31st.

The iPhone version will stick at $6.49.

(Bento 4.1 for Mac, which will sync with Bento 4 for iPad, is currently under NZ$40 in the App Store of the FileMaker online store, but will go up to NZ$59 in August.) Bento for Mac was NZ$64.99 before the special price came in.

What I'd like now is a future version of FileMaker that spits out a file in a Bento form for casual use on iPads ... Now, that would be cool.

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