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Bento for iPad Takes the Dull Out of Data Management

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 19, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Bento, Filemaker's personal information manager for the Mac, took the chore out of working with relational databases and made them more fun to use. That attitude imbued the versions of the program created for the iPhone, iPod touch, and now, the iPad.

Bento for iPad Takes the Dull Out of Data Management

Bento for iPad
Bento for iPad
(click image to enlarge)

If the term "relational database" sends an icy impulse down your spine, don't worry. One way Bento for the iPad (US$4.99) makes itself friendly is by excising database jargon from its glossary. Databases, for example, are "libraries." Libraries are more loveable than databases, right?

To see all the libraries created in Bento, you poke a big library button. The button remains at the top of the screen at all times so you can quickly move from library to library.

With the library window open, you create new libraries by tapping a plus (+) button; rename or delete them by poking "edit."

Stress Induced by IT Speak

Within the libraries are records. Records contain information you want organized. For example, if you're independent contractor, you could create a record for each project you're working on.

What's more, records can be grouped by collections. Collections is another one of those words designed to avoid stress induced by IT speak. With collections, you could group your projects by collections of clients to better keep track of what jobs you need to deliver to whom.

In the list of libraries, the number of records in each library and in each collection is displayed with the name of the library. Poking a button by the library name will show the names of the collections in the library.

In portrait mode, if you want to move rapidly through the records in a library, you can do so by tapping the navigation keys at the top of the screen, as well as "swiping" a record or double tapping the left or right side of the record.

In landscape mode, library items are displayed in a list. Poking an item on the list will display it immediately on the screen.

Getting-Started Funk

How records in the list appear on the screen can be controlled by tapping a button. You can choose which items in the record are displayed, how they're sorted (by start date, due date, budget and such) and their sort order (ascending or descending).

You can also perform text searches of the library from a search field that appears at the top of the list. Text searches in Bento are dynamic. As you type a letter, matches immediately appear on the screen.

Records can be added or deleted from a library by pressing a plus key or trash can icon. Tapping another button lets you swiftly add a record to any collections contained in the library.

One of the most difficult things about organizing personal information is getting started. You may know a few things you'll want in your library, but you're not quite sure you've got all your bases covered. Or maybe you can't even find the bases.

Recognizing that many Bento users may find themselves in a getting-started funk, Filemaker includes some helpful library templates with Bento for iPad. There's an Address Book library as well as To Do, Projects, Inventory, Notes, Expenses and Recipes libraries.

Better yet, Filemaker has an online template exchange where additional templates -- some created by Filemaker, some by users - -addressing many purposes can be downloaded.

Drag-and-Drop Record Creation

Next to getting started, creating or modifying records in a database can be an annoying labor. That's not the case with Bento for the iPad.

To create a new field, you simply drag a plus icon where you want the field to appear in the record. Instantly, a revolving menu will appear. Sliding your finger across the menu rolls choices for field types into view.

Choices include text, numbers, a menu with choices, checkboxes, media, time, date, duration, currency, rating, address, phone number, email address, URL and IM account.

Defining a field as a certain type enhances its power. For example, with an email field, you can tap an envelope icon beside an address in the field and the iPad's email program will pop up ready for you to compose a message to addressee.

In addition to creating a new field from scratch, some common field types, like date created and date modified, form a toolbar across the top of a record in edit mode and can be dragged and dropped into placed.

Bento for the iPad's marriage of simplicity and power, coupled with an attractive interface design, makes it a joy to use. If you need to organize information beyond contacts and calendar items, Bento is a nifty and easy way to do it.

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