Personal Databases

This is a bit of a departure from my usual (term used loosely) beer-related posts. Though I realize that this may not be a huge market, it’s important to me and lots of others. FileMaker announced that they were killing off Bento, effective Sept. 30. Bento is a “personal database” for storing and organizing your things. I initially used Bento when I got tired of pre-packaged beer tracking apps for the iPhone, so I sought out a database app where I could make my own, organized how I wanted it. At the time, Bento seemed to serve my needs best. There was a self-contained iPhone app for easily setting up databases from a blank or one of many included templates. It was pretty simple and very native iOS-like. Then again, I would hope for this since FileMaker is owned by Apple. I eventually also started using the Bento application for Mac. Although pretty, and you could set up graphical layouts for your databases, I rarely touched it, mostly just using it to back up my data from the iPhone app. The iPhone app, however, never supported the graphical layout of the Mac application; just a list of fields for each record. More and more, I started to feel Bento’s limitations, and its development was very slow. Every new release seems to bring more fluff to the applications, rather than increased functionality. This led me to a search for a better solution for my data, where I ended up with HanDBase, which has worked out really well for me. But FileMaker’s announcement has revealed a space that I think needs to be filled. In FileMaker terms, something way more powerful than Bento, but way less complex and expensive as FileMaker Pro. FileMaker Pro 12, even at its promotional $175 price, along with the free FileMaker Go iOS app, is way too expensive. Plus you can’t even create or modify databases in Go, just deal with records. What we need is the Pixelmator of personal databases.

This is what I see as the current odd assortment of contenders, from which there seems to be no perfect solution yet.



HanDBase is my choice for database for my beer tracking, as well as bands I’ve seen (currently 294, but I know I’m missing some), and races I’ve run. HanDBase is a powerful relational database. For my particular uses, what I really like is the forms and views. Forms allow a customized graphical layout for your records, like the Bento desktop application allowed, but the iOS app never did. Views are pretty standard database views, allowing you to view a subset of your data based on whatever criteria you like. In my beer database, views I often use are to see sorted by the most recently added records and another by most recently edited. In my races database, I can limit to just the marathons I’ve run, etc. What HanDBase does not have, however, is a viable Mac application. I own the Mac application, but it’s not good for much other than backing up database and adding and editing records. This limitation doesn’t bother me much, since I pretty much manage all my database on my iPhone. A more robust desktop application with forms would be really nice, though. In the meantime, for Mac users who really need to use the desktop, DDH provides the more fully-featured Windows version wrapped in an emulator so you can run it on Mac OS X. Pretty kludgy, but it works. The main problem people seem to have with HanDBase is aesthetics. I know it’s moving in a more iOS 7-like direction.  You can see parts of that in the newly-released HanDBase for Education iPad app.



Tapforms I’ll admit to not having much experience with, but on paper it has a lot. Mac and iOS apps and iCloud syncing. I’ve tried the iPhone app but could never warm up to it. It has no graphical layout for data, which HanDBase ironically calls forms, and I don’t see anything akin to views. So the layout for records in the iPhone app is much like Bento’s, but for some reason, Tapforms’ fields seem to emphasize more the field label than the data itself.


Records for Mac

Records for Mac, “a personal database ‘for the rest of us'”, looks to be beautiful, but it’s as of yet vaporware. Push Popcorn posts elements in the application that they seem very proud of, and there are some details on the site at how it will work, but the info is sparse. I really look forward to seeing what they come up with. They mention that there will be iOS apps, but I get the feeling all development is as of yet being put towards the Mac. If the Mac application is as nice as they make it sound, in a perfect world I would be able to make it sync with HanDBase. Who knows, maybe between Mac applications such as Hazel and Keyboard Maestro, it will be possible.


This is an interesting time for personal databases and I really look forward to seeing how it all works out. Maybe it will spawn some great stuff, as the Google Reader fallout is doing, but of course on a much smaller scale. Thoughts, comments, and corrections are highly encouraged. Thanks for reading!


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