Go Paperless with Tap Forms

12 03 2014

My last blog post was about going paperless with a document keeping app. This post is about a much more powerful solution using a database app.

About databases …

It’s out of question that databases on mobiles are the most efficient way to manage large amount of data.

The strong benefit of a database is the synopsis of otherwise widely spread information. Apple’s App Store offers a lot of apps suitable for productive operations but all the informations saved by these apps are cut into pieces saved in app-specific folders. Database management tools summarize all the different types of information in just one app.

If you create structured data (e.g. contacts, where every contact consists of a set of fields (e.g. name, email-address, phone number, account, bank) with different contents and save them as a file you have a very simple database. Its just a container in which similar data are stored like in a spreadsheet.

Lets call the set of FIELDS a TABLE (Form, Library) and the contents of one set of fields a RECORD and a subset of all records a QUERY (collection) and one or more tables and queries a DATABASE

20131209-065716.jpg

An improved version of a database contains many tables, stores your data securely, lets you collaborate simultaneously with other people and gives you fast information about people, stocks, insurances, words in other languages and beyond. But the pure data won’t let you do the jobs. It would be like searching in a very bulky phone book where data are not sorted.
So you need database management software (DBMS) to support your curiosity.

A Database Management System (DBMS) is a set of algorithms that enables you to store, modify, and extract information from a database, it also provides users with tools to add, delete, access, modify, and analyze data stored in one location. A group can access the data by using query and reporting tools that are part of the DBMS or by using applications specifically written to access the data. A DBMS also provides the method for maintaining the integrity of stored data, running security and users access, and recovering information if the system fails.

An powerful feature of databases comes up, if you connect data in different tables. If a record is about a device you might want to attach the receipt and a certificate of warranty. So the first table is about the device itself and the second table contains file attachments e.g. In PDF file format. Records of the two tables are linked together via a common key which could be the serial number of the device. When looking at the main table ‘Devices’ your DBMS retrieves the file attachments from the second table and shows it to you.

A database solves many problems with your otherwise widely spread data.
Where is the “egg-laying, milk-bearing woolly sow app” that makes it all easy to manage?

The short answer is: nowhere except with a database app.

Tap Forms by Tap Zapp Software is by far the best mobile database app for iOS devices and the company offers a desktop companion app which is fully compatible with the iOS version. So there is one and only one data pool accessible from all you Apple devices and syncing via iCloud.

Creating the form …

Within Tap Forms tables are called ‘forms’. So let us create the form to manage the personal repository. To do so just tap on the ‘+’ icon in the main screen, enter a name for your form and add fields by selecting them from the field list. Enter names for the fields and, if necessary, edit the field options.

20131209-065808.jpg

Notes …

  • Missing fields
    Don’t worry, you can add them later and remove fields you don’t need.
  • Pick List
    Use pick lists to choose text from predefined lists. It saves time and prevents from using different terms or different spellings. Use a pick list for the field ‘Keyword’ to quickly find related records with a query.
  • URL
    Add the field URL to a record to quickly access the website with further information from within the app.
  • Note
    Always add the field ‘Note’ to a form to enter annotations which otherwise don’t fit in any other field.
  • Alert
    Alerts are shown in the notification center and as a counter on the apps icon e.g. to remind you of an important maturity.
  • Audio
    An Audio field offers the ability to quickly comment on a record.
  • Layout
    After finishing the field creation procedure you can adjust the layout of the form: rearrange the order of fields, set colors and fonts for labels and values, decide which fields should be shown in the navigation area on the left side of the screen.

Attach files …

In my first blog post ‘Go Paperless’ I already mentioned that the PDF file format should be used for scanned documents. So now we have to decide how to attach the files generated by an All-In-One printer with the app AiO Remote by HP or with the help of Scanner Pro by Readdle with which a photo of the document is converted into a PDF file and transferred to Tap Forms.

Basically you can add multiple fields of type ‘File Attachment’ to a record so that several documents can be attached to a record. When creating the form you do not know how many files must be attached later. It can be just one or many updates of documents you get from your insurance company over time. So the best solution is to create a second form ‘MyRepositoryFiles’ which contains the files and is linked to the basic form ‘MyRepository’. In my example I used both fields, a field of the type ‘File Attachment’ and a field of type ‘Link to Form’ which sets the connection to files in the linked form.

Linking a second form to the main form is explained in my article DBMS on iOS devices (2).

Secure the data …

A personal repository contains sensitive data which should be secured by a password for the app as well as an encryption of the database. Tap Forms then encrypts backups of your database on Dropbox and iCloud with 256-Bit AES algorithms.

20131209-070203.jpg

Sync …

To update the whole database on all your devices activate iCloud Sync. If you use your iPhone for taking a picture of a document or scanning it with the app Scanner Pro by Readdle you usually create a new record, add the document, and want to have it on all other devices when coming home. iCloud Sync does it for you.

20131209-070315.jpg

Backup …

Because of the relevance of a personal repository it’s indispensable to regularly backup your data on an external storage. With Tap Forms you backup to Dropbox. So there are three copies of your database: on your device, on iCloud, and on Dropbox. This redundancy never let’s you loose your data.

20131209-070404.jpg

The workflow …

Here is the complete workflow visualized in a concept map.

20131209-135411.jpg

Summary …

In contrast to a document manager like Docunents by Readdle a database is definitely the better choice for managing your personal repository. It adds many useful features not available in pure file managers. To just save PDFs often is not suitable to keep all necessary information together and to complete a record over time with further data e.g. alerts, notes, or files like renewal certificates.

20131209-075735.jpg

Don’t worry about using databases. With Tap Forms it’s really easy to build your own ‘application’ for managing secured information in one place with accessibility on all your other Apple devices.

Related links …

About the company…

Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada

About the desktop companion of Tap Forms …

Tap Forms for Mac

About the usage of databases …

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

DBMS on iOS devices (3)

DBMS on iOS devices (4)

DBMS on iOS devices (5)

Importing Data

Form Access To Tap Forms

zBase vs Tap Forms

Thanks a lot for visiting my blog.





zBase vs Tap Forms

15 10 2013

FileMaker discontinues it’s product Bento as reported by Macworld in late July 2013 because of focussing on their main products. If I’m right withdrawing an app by a big company is a unique event in the App Store’s history and pretty bad news for users of Bento 4 on mobile devices.

On my point of view it’s a consequence of bad success caused by ignoring indispensable features for databases on iOS devices. For example you cannot create your own database without using the desktop companion application. Establishing a connection to a cloud storage for importing or backing up data is not possible.

So all the missing key features of databases for mobiles maybe the real cause for withdrawing Bento 4 from the market. All along developers fail if a precise analysis of user requirements doesn’t take place.

It’s out of question that databases on mobiles are the most efficient way to manage large amount of data.

The strong benefit of a database is the synopsis of otherwise widely spread information. Apple’s App Store offers a lot of apps suitable for productive operations but all the informations saved by these apps are cut into pieces saved in app-specific folders. Database management tools summarize all the different types of information in just one app.

About zBase …

This post is about a newcomer in the market of mobile database management. It’s zBase by SourceGear, LLC, USA.

Eric Sink, one of the owners of SourceGear sent me an E-Mail in July 2013 in which he presented the new product (version 1.0.1).

Eric
zBase is a very new product, but we think it is a strong offering for small business users. Your feedback or suggestions would be much appreciated.

So I gave it a try.

The app is universal (runs on iPhone and iPad and fits in with the iPad’s form factor) and free but only if it runs in the so-called Demo Mode.

All features which require server access are disabled, including syncing across devices (zBase is built on Zumero, a database sync platform for mobile apps), user authentication, user management, and encryption of data.

20130803-165121.jpg

At the time even a migration of already -in demo-mode- stored data to a full version with Zumero platform subscription is not supported!

Shock!

After reviewing more than a 100 apps I crafted some shock-absorbing policies for myself and simply ask:

Is this the right strategy to get new customers or convert others to this new product?

I mentioned this problem in an E-Mail and argued that I already pay for an upgraded iCloud account. So why should I subscribe for an additional storage at Zumero’s platform?
My favorite app Tap Forms uses iCloud and syncing it’s SQLite database is a seamless and flawless task.

After a one week trial with zBase my favorite app still remains TapForms by Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada because zBase is still in a developing phase with too many flaws and missing features.

It might be not fair to compare a new app with an app continuously upgraded over years since the launch of the first iPad in 2010.

But from the users side it’s good to know the pros and cons.

Both apps are based on an SQLite database engine and claim to serve businesses. So zBase has to face up to the comparison.

Here is a mind map with a description of all features of zBase.

20130803-183554.jpg

Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts HD for iPad (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

To compare zBase with Tap Forms HD here is the mind map visualizing all features of Tap Forms.

20130803-121935.jpg

Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts HD for iPad (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

Comparison …

Tap Forms sets the standard for databases on mobile devices. So I created a mind map summarizing the key features of databases on tablets and smartphones. All the other database tools have to compete with these features.

This gallery shows zoomed parts of the mind map.

Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

Because of the different design concepts regarding external storage and data view it’s hard to compare zBase with the key features visualized in this mind map.

The app zBase comes along with a table named ‘Mobile Database Comparison’ which compates zBase, Tap Forms, Bento, and HanDBase. I took off Bento (discontinued after Sep 30, 2013) and HanDBase (no experience with this from my side), reduced the list to some relevant points, added missing information about Tap Forms.

Feature Tap Forms zBase
iCloud Y N
Import CSV Y *
Export CSV Y Y
Full text search Y Y
Filter Y *
Single view Y N
Calculated fields Y N
Attachments Y N
Desktop app Y N
Charts N Y
Monthly costs N Y
Forms Designer N N
Encryption Y Y
Usability + -

Regarding usability let me explain why Tap Forms gets a positive and zBase a negative rating.

20130803-201729.jpg

This is just one example for low-level usability but it’s basically valid for nearly all features of zBase. Releasing apps in an early stage of development is always a risk. Users generally should use these apps just for a field test. Nobody can be sure that indispensable updates will follow in a narrow timeframe.

Some impressions of the UI …

20130803-122939.jpg

Different philosophies …

Entering data is one task when working with databases.
Retrieving information, navigating through a table are the more frequent applications. I compared many database apps and found two different philosophies. Microsoft Access for Windows basically offers two views on the data:

Datasheet View
Records are shown in rows and columns like in a spreadsheet

This view is used by zBase.

20130803-115957.jpg

Form View
Each record is shown in a form which can be created up to the needs
Different kinds of navigators can be used to go through the data:
Combo box, List box, GoTo record control

This view is used by Tap Forms. The form itself can only be modified by using different colors or fonts for field names and content and by setting the order of fields. Fields are always positioned one below the other and cannot be positioned in a free-floating layout.
A useful feature of Tap Forms is the choice of field content shown in the navigation list (up to 5 fields). Additionally there are GoTo controls for navigating through records (first, next, previous, last) available in the iPad version.

20130803-120242.jpg

The benefits …

  • Adjust the column width
    Long-press on the field name (column header). When you release the long-press, the column header will become highlighted with a different color. This signifies that the pinch gesture will now resize the width of that column instead of the row height.
  • Change the height of rows
    Use the pinch gesture.
  • Sort by a field
    In the datasheet view, if you tap on the field name (the column header), it will sort the records by that field.
  • Show statistics about the fields in a table
    Sum, average, min, max
  • Help text well-worded and understandable

Only available with a subscription …

  • Prevent a column from being changed by non-Admin users
  • Prevent a table from being changed by non-Admin users
  • Permanent syncing between devices

The main disadvantages …

  • No backup of databases
    Complete backups of the device via iTunes or iCloud is by far no appropriate solution.
    When backing up databases by exporting tables as CSV files all contents in fields with type ‘image’ get lost.
  • No import options like 1st line contains field names, encoding, delimiter, and formats of date and time
    This limits the usage of the import function in an unacceptable way and it took additional rework on all of my many sample files. None of them used the unusual comma for separating fields.
    The company promised to fix this flaw.
  • Search
    Quoting the developer as a reply to my mail:
    There are several ways this could be going wrong. The current search is a keyword search. It matches whole words. So, if a data value is “send more beer to the king”, and you search on the word “beer”, it will match. Also, the search feature currently only searches field of type ‘text’ (not ‘web’), so if your URLs were in a field of type ‘web’, the search would not find them. We will work to make this feature friendlier. I agree that the behavior you are seeing is not very intuitive.
  • Colors/Fonts cannot be set for fields
    This is useful to separate important from less important contents.
  • Fields cannot be locked to prevent unwanted changes
  • Filtering data is not supported by a selection of a field name or an operator.
    The expression has to be entered manually.
  • Formatting of fields (e.g. a field with type ‘real’ showing 2 decimal places (currency) ) must be done by entering an appropriate single character (c) in a format dialog
  • User management is only available with a fee-based account
  • Help text not outlined, full-text search not available, and help not available in dialogs for creating fields

Application stability …

I recognized some crashes of the app while tapping on controls.
An app crash also occurred after importing 65,000 records from a CSV file.
I informed the company about these issues.

Summary …

At the time zBase -in contrast to the developer’s announcement- is far away from being a business oriented database application for mobiles.
Some good ideas go along with a definitely not acceptable support of data entry (e.g. using a single determined character to set the field format).

In some cases with simple tables and less fields a datasheet view might meet the requirements. In many other cases it’s not a suitable solution especially if a table contains a field of type ‘image’.

If you compare the features of Tap Forms with those of zBase there is much work for the developers to bridge the gap.

Last but not least the pricing will not be accepted by private users. It might be accepted by business users but there is no desktop companion available. I’m in serious doubt about the success of this application in the mobile app market.

Related links …

About the companies …

SourceGear LLC, USA

Tap Zapp Software Inc, Canada

TapForms Blog

About the desktop companion of Tap Forms …

Tap Forms for Mac

About the usage of databases …

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

DBMS on iOS devices (3)

DBMS on iOS devices (4)

DBMS on iOS devices (5)

Importing Data

Form Access To Tap Forms

Databases and Mind Maps

Thanks a lot for visiting my blog.





DBMS on iOS-Devices (5)

25 05 2013

There are three apps for managing databases I focussed on in this and my previous articles.

Tap Forms HD (Tap Zapp Software Inc, Canada)
Bento (FileMaker Inc, USA)
Microsoft Access Mobile Database Client (Impathic LLc, USA).

This article is about the features of Bento and contains a final assessment of all three products.

The developers of Tap Forms and Bento use different terms for the same objects.
Here is a translation of the standard terms used by Microsoft:

Standard Tap Forms Bento
Table Forms Library
Query Search Collection

The features …

I took these screenshots to emphasize the highlights of Bento Mobile Database.
The library ‘WordPress’ contains informations about my blog. I manage these informations with my favorite app Tap Forms. In Tap Forms I exported the data as a CSV file and imported the records in Bento. Here are some basic informations about Bento.

All options for viewing the data also allow the editing of records.

20130323-151238.jpg

Additionally to the table view records can be viewed in forms.
Forms can be designed by the user by arranging the fields to the needs.

20130323-151631.jpg

Bento offers no traditional queries (SQL like expressions for selecting data) but a full text search.
This might be a disadvantage if you want to select records e.g. with numerical values less than 500.

20130323-152414.jpg

On the other hand Bento allows concatenating text fields which is not supported by Tap Forms.
So the capabilities of calculated fields leave nothing to be desired.

20130323-152817.jpg

Full feature description of Bento …

20130323-153814.jpg

The mind map created with the app iThoughts for iOS contains all features of the app Bento Mobile Database for iPad. It can be downloaded here:

Bento Mobile Database for iPad

Map as a PDF

Map in ITMZ file format (iThoughts)

Map in MMAP file format (MindManager)

Map in XMIND file format (XMind)

Support …

On my iPhone Bento did THOMAS appear in the apps menu of the ‘Open in’ command. So I contacted Bento’s support and described the problem. Here is the very poor answer:

Discussion Thread
Response Via Email (…) Apr 04, 2013 02:54 AM PDT

Hello Thomas,

Thank you for contacting FileMaker Customer Support.
Regarding your question about Bento, when you open the email with the CSV file attached, does a window open showing Bento as an app when you touch the CSV attachment with your finger for a couple of seconds
If you have any questions, please contact Customer Support on: 0845 603 9100 (United Kingdom) or 01 4073432 (Ireland), Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (excluding holidays)., and reference case number: 130403-000002.
Thank you,
Customer Support

Nothing more to say.

The main problem is that FileMaker provides no other way to fill the database except with a CSV file by using the ‘Open in’ command. This is a definitely poor strategy of a big company!

Summary …

Three competitors …
Tap Forms HD, Bento, Access Mobile Database Client

Two winners …
Tap Forms HD, Bento

It’s not easy to give a final assessment and it’s obviously subjective because different users have different requirements. However, my preferred app is Tap Forms HD by Tap Zapp Software Inc, Canada.

Decisive for me are the following features …

  • Syncing via iCloud across all devices
  • Backup as ZIP file and Restore on other devices
  • Building SQL-like queries
  • Direct Import/Export to Dropbox
  • Perfect, fast, and understandable support

The main disadvantage of Bento is that it solely offers CSV files for transferring data.
This file type, as implemented by FileMaker, is not appropriate for exchanging data between devices. UnlikeTap Forms Bento does not include the field type in it’s CSV file. So relevant information drops away. After importing URLs Bento interprets the contents of this field as simple text and so it’s no longer associated with the functionality of opening a browser when tapping on it.

Note …
In contrast to Bento Tap Forms HD includes field-type tags in the header row to tell an importing app which fields are numbers and which are text, dates, URLs, or other field types.
While backing up Tap Forms creates a ZIP file which consists of a normal CSV file as well as all other ‘not-text’ data like images or audio recordings. Restoring this kind of a CSV file with additional information about filed types enables the importing app to reassign field-type specific functionality.

20130324-154149.jpg

So there is no chance to transfer libraries of Bento from one iOS device to another and to further sync the data. Even File Sharing via iTunes is not offered.

Nevertheless Bento is a serious competitor and offers some impressive features which I miss in Tap Forms HD. These are:

  • Creating of Forms for editing and displaying data
  • Displaying data in spreadsheet-like lists
  • App controlled managing of ‘Date Modified/Created’ fields
  • Calculations can also be done with text fields by concatenating text
  • Useful Help System with short but understandable descriptions

It’s hard to comprehend that features are missing which users perceive within a minute when they start an application the first time. Many longstanding features known of comparable apps for computers are not carried over to iPad. It seems to me that companies developing software for mobile devices are not yet ready to accept the needs of the market. It’s not explicable that, for example, Dropbox in it’s mobile client still doesn’t offer a setting for the sort order of files.

Related Links …

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

DBMS on iOS devices (3)

DBMS on iOS devices (4)

DBMS on iOS devices (5)

Importing Data

Form Access To Tap Forms

Databases and Mind Maps

I appreciate your Comments and Likes.
I you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me via comment or contact form on the About page.
Thanks for visiting http://iNotes4You.com.





DBMS on iOS-Devices (4)

22 05 2013

Microsoft Access is the worldwide most powerful system for developing database applications with forms, reports, queries and VBA modules. An acceptable performance is ensured for databases up to 2 GB and a number of records up to 100,000 per table when using a state-of-the-art PC.

Microsoft Access 2010 Specifications
I myself develop databases in a Frontend-Backend design mainly for auditors since about 25 years with more than 2,500 licensed users. My experiences are that no other system allows you to develop applications, add features, and fix bugs as efficiently as with Microsoft Access.

So let’s have a look at a client which allows to use Microsoft’s proprietary database file format (.accdb or .mdb) on Apple’s iOS devices.

Impathic LLc, USA offers the Microsoft Access Mobile Database Client at Apple’s App Store.

Microsoft Access databases are Stand-Alone Files, and so the database file must be transferred to your iOS device in order to open it in the Access Mobile Database Client. This is in contrast to many other databases, which connect over a network in ‘Client-Server’ mode. While having your database file on your device prevents the ability to work on the data concurrently with other users, it also allows you to work with your database in a disconnected environment, such as on an airplane.

Transfer to an iOS device …

How to transfer a Microsoft Access database to an iOS device …

Transferring an Access Database via iTunes File Sharing

  • (1) On your desktop, locate your “.accdb” or “.mdb” database file.
  • (2) Plug your iOS device into your desktop or laptop using the USB cable and open iTunes.
  • (3) In the left panel of iTunes, locate and click on your iOS device name.
  • (4) At the top of the screen for the device, select the “Apps” tab.
  • (5) Scroll down to the “File Sharing” section at the bottom of the screen.
  • (6) Select “Access” from the list of apps.
  • (7) Drag your Access database from your computer into the file list.
  • (8) When you next launch Access Mobile Database Client, you will see your database in the list of available databases.

You may also transfer a database from a cloud provider offering a client app for iOS devices which supports the ‘Open in’ command or you can send the database as an E-Mail attachment.

Transferring an Access Database from the cloud

  • (1) Sign up for a free account at http://www.dropbox.com if you don’t already have one.
  • (2)Upload your “.mdb” or “.accdb” file to your dropbox account using their desktop integration program.
  • (3) Download the free “Dropbox” app from the Apple iTunes App Store, launch it, and log in.
  • (4) Browse to your database file and tap the forward button , then select “Access” as the application to open the database with.

    Notes
    When you first select your database in Dropbox, the app may say “Unable to view file”, but you should still be able to tap the forward button to open it in Access Mobile Database Client.

    Modifications made to your database will not be saved back to your Dropbox account, but instead will be saved locally on your iOS device. To get your modified database back to your desktop, you need to transfer it back using the iTunes File Sharing method, or by tapping “Edit” from the database list, selecting your database, and then mailing your database back to yourself, or opening it another application (such as the official ‘Dropbox’ app).

Transferring an Access Database via E-Mail attachment

  • (1) Tap on the E-Mail attachment (an accdb or mdb file).
  • (2) From the ‘Open in’ menu choose ‘Access’.

The full feature description …

20130320-171028.jpg

The mind map created with the app iThoughts for iOS contains all features of the app Microsoft Access Mobile Database Client. It can be downloaded here:

Microsoft Access Mobile Database Client

Map as a PDF

Map in ITMZ file format (iThoughts)

Map in MMAP file format (MindManager)

Map in XMIND file format (XMind)

Impressions of the application …

See this annotated slideshow to get an impression of the user interface.
Tap on an image to see the navigation bar.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The pros …

  • Support for Microsoft Access 97, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2010
  • Support for relationships between tables
  • Export of tables or queries as CSV file to other apps like Apple’s iWork app ‘Numbers’
  • Ability to adjust the font size for listings
  • Simple UI

The cons …

  • Creation of databases not supported
  • Changing of tables (add fields, etc.) not supported
  • Adjusting the column width not supported
  • Backup and Restore not supported
  • Printing of tables not supported
  • Saving changed databases back to a cloud storage not supported
    iTunes File Sharing is the only way to transfer edited databases back to other devices or cloud storages
  • No integrated browser for opening Hyperlinks
  • Display of images not supported
    Images located in the system table MSysResources or other tables are not displayed.
  • Errors when executing queries with string operations
    Error executing query: Syntax Error: Stopped parse at …
  • No feature updates or bug fixes since 18 months
    This usually is an unmistakable hint for a frozen app.

It’s obvious, and no disadvantage of the app, that

  • linked tables in a Frontend-Backend configuration are not supported
  • sharing the Frontend is a senseless act as forms, reports, and VBA modules are not supported on iOS devices

The test results …

I imported the following databases via iTunes File Sharing

  • My simple WordPress database WordPress.accdb
  • The Microsoft sample database Northwind.accdb
  • A database containing a table with 100,000 and one with 3,666,731 records

Does the client app or the iPad behave disgracefully when using large amount of data?

Here are some stats:

  • Table with 12 fields:
    Number of records = 100,000
    File size on a PC = 320 MB
  • Loading of records into the list view:
    500 records within 11 sec
  • Query with the WHERE condition ‘Begins With’ for a text field and descending sort order:
    215 records selected within 38 sec
  • Full text search over 12 fields:
    448 records selected within 370 sec

Repeating the tests with 3,666,731 records came to a nearly linear increasing processing time.

And … Neither the app nor the iPad crashed!

Summary …

I cannot recommend Microsoft Access Mobile Database Client because of the limited sharing options and missing sync functionalities when using more than one device.
It might be useful for looking up records on an iOS device for databases containing more static content like product lists with stable prices or other tables similar in kind.

The competitors, Tap Forms HD by Tap Zap Software and FileMaker’s Bento, are light years ahead.

Related links …

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

DBMS on iOS devices (3)

Importing Data

Databases and Mind Maps

From Access to Tap Forms

I appreciate your Comments and Likes.
I you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me via comment or the contact form on my About page.
Thanks for visiting http://iNotes4You.com.





DBMS on iOS-Devices (3)

19 05 2013

Using a database is the only appropriate way to store large amount of data.
As tablet and smartphone purchases are booming it stands to reason to have a look at some apps for iOS devices.

Allow me to point out some previous articles about databases here on iNotes4You

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

Importing Data

Databases and Mind Maps

From Access to Tap Forms

20130317-125716.jpg

First of all it’s useful to have a look on what customers use databases for:

  • Personal information management
    This field of activity means the “classical” applications for PDA or organizers. Mostly, there is no cooperative work with other users on the same piece of data. The amount of data on the mobile device is usually small, and is at most edited on the mobile device itself. The main challenges for developers of mobile databases for personal information management are

    • Flexibility
      regarding changes of tables and fields
    • Independency
      of stationary devices
    • Easy to use
      even for non-professionals
    • Reliability
      of the developer constantly upgrading and adapting the app to changing operating systems and devices
  • Replication of large databases
    The replication of large databases or parts of them – large in the context of mobile, lightweight appliances, e.g. not more than 2 GB – is characterized by the cooperative use of the same data by numerous users. Data are mainly managed and manipulated by the DBMS on a stationary server, only a few or no changes are performed on the mobile device. Business applications, geographic information systems or multimedia are typical applications. The most important challenges for mobile databases in this field are syncing, performance, storage capacity, and the way to display data on a small screen.

The differences between stationary and mobile devices can be described by the following issues:

  • Amount of data
    Due to the restrictions of CPU performance and storage capacities applications for mobile devices are suitable for about, let me say, 10,000 records. Larger amounts of data cause performance problems when it comes to import, export, and sync data with other devices.
  • Hardware resources
    Stationary devices are customizable for the needs of their applications with a broad range of exchangeable hardware components. In contrast Apple’s mobile devices are not upgradable. So the later usage of the device has already to be considered when it’s purchased.
  • Form factor
    Screen sizes like that of the iPad are not suitable for databases containing tables with a large amount of fields. Even in landscape mode it’s hard to view tables with many fields and different field types. Usually views of tables are not customizable by defining suitable forms, subforms for related tables, data sheets, and reports like it is possible e.g. in Microsoft Access.

As we are talking about applications for the actual iOS devices the key feature list assumes an iPad and an iPhone as mobile devices optionally supported by a Mac as the big brother to do some tasks mobile devices are not designed for.

The key features …

Here are some key features for apps managing databases on mobile devices.
When expanding the branches of this map you will see many details reflecting my comprehensive experiences with database tools.

20130317-154541.jpg

The mind map created with the app iThoughts for iOS contains many detailed informations when expanding the branches. It can be downloaded here:

Key Features of Mobile Databases

Map as a PDF

Map in ITMZ file format (iThoughts)

Map in MMAP file format (MindManager)

Map in XMIND file format (XMind)

Classification of apps …

The apps available at Apple’s App Store I would like to describe are distinguished from each other by

  • Creating and customizing a database on the mobile device
    examples are Tap Forms (Tap Zap Software Inc., Canada) and Bento (FileMaker Inc., USA)
  • Creating the database on a stationary device and editing data on the mobile device
    an example is Microsoft Access Database Client, My SQL Mobile Database Client, (Impathic LLc. USA) and the mobile database clients for Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, Sybase, PostGreSQL, and DB2 also developed by Impathic.
  • Access to databases located on webservers
    an example is MySQL Database (Software Solutions + Technologies AG, Switzerland)
    These solutions are not discussed here because of the dependency of an external data source managed on a webserver.

Some features in details …

I want to talk about an appropriate usage of databases on Apple’s iOS devices. So the focus is on private and small business applications, the usage of more than one device without the necessity of a stationary device, and the independency of external data sources.

So the key features are

  • Creating the database on the mobile device
    e.g. On an iPad or by importing a CSV file which automatically generates a table with the correct field types
  • Creating the fields by selecting from various filed types which are particularly useful for mobile devices
    e.g. location data
  • Syncing across multiple devices
    e.g. syncing via Apple’s iCloud
  • Importing data from previous systems
    e.g. via a CSV file from Microsoft Access
  • Exporting data to other apps for further usage
    e.g. to Apple’s spreadsheet app Numbers to create graphs or editing data for print outs or presentations

Please visit iNotes4You to read the upcoming article DBMS on iOS-Devices (4) with a description of the Mobile Microsoft Access Database Client by Impathic LLc, USA.
This article will be published on May 22.

Thanks a lot for visiting iNotes4You.
Comments and Likes are appreciated.





From Access to Tap Forms

8 04 2013

iNotes4You is hosted by Automattic’s WordPress.com. As it is a free blogging platform some useful features for managing the articles are not available, e.g. there is no compact full-screen list showing the titles, the date published and the link of each article.

To get a plain overview of all articles I already saved some information on a Windows 7 PC in a Microsoft Access 2010 database. Each record contains the title, the permalink and the short link of an article. The date published can be extracted from the permalink.

20130208-131130.jpg

As I blog on an iPad I want to keep all the information together on one and only one device. So I decided to organize the information about my articles with the help of Tap Forms database (by Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada).

This article describes how I migrated from Microsoft Access database on a Windows 7 PC to Tap Forms database on the iPad.
Even if this very special workaround does not apply to your tasks you will find some interesting notes regarding the application of Tap Forms.

Summary of steps …

  • 1 Create import-friendly field names in Microsoft Access
  • 2 Create a query in Microsoft Access providing the main fields for the import
  • 3 Export the Microsoft Access table to a CSV file
  • 4 Import the CSV file into Tap Forms
  • 5 Add a field for attaching files to each record
  • 6 Add the source code files of the WordPress articles from Dropbox to the folder Imports in Tap Forms for linking them to the records
  • 7 Linking the source code files

Note

What is a CSV file?
A CSV file (comma separated values) contains the records, one line for each record, where field values are separated by a comma. Since decades the CSV file format is a standard for exchanging data between applications.

Step 1 …
Create import-friendly field names in Microsoft Access

There is a feature provided by Tap Forms that allows to include field-type tags in the header row of a CSV file to tell the app which fields are text, numbers, dates or hyperlinks.
If you use this feature when importing into the app the table will contain the right field names with the appropriate field types.

Although [text] is the default if it’s not specified in the column. When importing dates the Tap Forms date import format must match the format of the date in the CSV file.

Here is a list of all field-type tags for Tap Forms HD.

Note

WordPress deletes all pointed brackets from blogs so I used square brackets; the square brackets must be replaced by pointed brackets.

Text… [text]
Number… [number]
Date… [date]
Time… [time]
Date + Time… [date_time]
Audio Recording…
Calculation… [calc]
Check Mark… [check_mark]
Contact… [contact]
Drawing… [draw]
Email… [email]
File Attachment… [file]
Link to Form… [form]
Location… [location_address]
Location… [location_latitude]
Location… [location_longitude]
Location… [location]
Note… [note]
Phone Number… [phone]
Photo… [photo]
Rating… [rating]
Section Heading… [section]
Web Site… [web_site]

Here are the modified field names in Microsoft Access.

20130208-133146.jpg

Note

What is a permalink?
A permalink is an URL that points to a specific article of a blog. A permalink remains unchanged indefinitely. Permalinks are often simply stated so as to be human-readable.
What is a short link?
WordPress.com has its own URL shortening feature, wp.me.
These URLs are also permanent. The URL shorteners are useful for inserting them in Tweets as Twitter limits the text length to 140 characters.

Step 2 …
Create a query in Microsoft Access providing the main fields for the import

The database on my iPad should use the publishing date of an article as the primary field. Here is the query which provides this field by extracting the publishing date from the permalink of each article.

20130208-133245.jpg

Step 3 …
Export the Microsoft Access table to a CSV file

The records are exported to a CSV file using the above mentioned query and a Dropbox folder as the destination location (because Tap Forms allows access to Dropbox).
Here are the right settings for the export.

20130208-185114.jpg

Step 4 …
Import the CSV file into Tap Forms

Now we come to Tap Forms.
We add a new FORM which, in the notation of Tap Forms is a view on the table containing the imported records.

As we already used import-friendly field names we just have to use the function IMPORT RECORDS. That’s all.

20130208-192734.jpg

Step 5 …
Add a field for attaching files to each record

I want to have access to the source code of each article.
So I created an additional field for accessing the source code with field type FILE ATTACHMENT.

Step 6 …
Add the source code files of the WordPress articles from Dropbox to the folder Imports in Tap Forms for linking them to the records

For importing source code files into the imports folder of Tap Forms I used the demo version of iExplorer by Macroplant.
After installing the application on a Windows PC it allows you to access the app specific folders on the iPad especially the import folder of Tap Forms.
To import all the textfiles just drag them into the appropriate folder.

20130208-203008.jpg

Step 7 ….
Linking the source code files

Linking the field FILE ATTACHMENT to the source code files is a painstaking task because you have to do it manually.

Viewing the data …

This is the result of the migration process from Microsoft Access to Tap Forms.
I added an additional field ALERT to last review the article one day before publishing.

20130208-204718.jpg

What are the benefits …

If I use Tap Forms on the iPad all information about my articles are accessible on one device.

  • The alert reminds me about an upcoming publishing.
  • For Tweets on Twitter or other purposes I can take the relevant data from a Tap Forms record into the clipboard.
  • Using the export function of Tap Forms I can generate an updated blog list in Apple’s iWork app Numbers to print it out or use it for other purposes.

20130208-205951.jpg

Associated links …

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

Importing data





Blog Summarizer

20 03 2013

The radiation intensity is growing up.
The reason is not only a hole in the ozone layer.

Today we are more and more faced with a new kind of radiation, the information radiation. Sources of this kind of radiation are Radio and TV stations, Print Media, Newsletters, Social Networks, E-Mails, etc.

The solution is not to build up a protective shield but to find out the right filter mechanism which brings the needed information directly to us and suppresses information which cannot be absorbed due to a limited retentiveness.

Streetdirectory.com
Searching is one of the most frequent activities people do on the web, yet a great many web sites deal with their search engines in a haphazard way. This is a sorry state of affairs that a great deal of people has been traumatized with poorly organized websites, and a lot others has begun to perceive browsing as a nerve-racking experience.

Your website may be a paragon of elegance, and design but whether it facilitates the browsing of its visitors is a crucial dimension of your success on the web. Nothing else counts more to your website than the incorporation of a good search tool, and quality search results users so earnestly look for.

An important step to use information effectively is to first summarize them and then, if needed, go into the details.

BlogSummarizer Blog
Blogs are invaluable information resources and great communication tools. They allow you to share and learn as you go and reach out to interested people outside your regular circles.

As useful as blogs are, a great deal of accumulated information is lost in the growing archives.

Blogs are structured to provide only the most recent information. It is far less convenient to find what you need when you have to dig back for information from older posts. This is especially significant when you have authored hundreds of posts over a period of time. In this case, having a tool to organize your information into a handy knowledge base will give you easy access to all of your blog posts in the context of your search.

A company providing summarized contents is Content Discovery Inc., Canada represented by Henry Lewkowicz whom I got to know via LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago.

This article describes a new approach to summarize content of blogs by using the technique of Mind Mapping supported by a computer generated database.

The visualization process …

  • Register a blog at WebSummarizer
  • Enter your credentials for allowing BlogSummarizer to access the contents.
  • Tap on ‘Add blog’.
    The creation process starts and analyzes the blog.
    After a few minutes a knowledge base is created which serves as the basis for content visualization.
    BlogSummarizer uses tags, categories, and part of the content of each article to build up the knowledge base.

Here is the result for my blog http://iNotes4You.com.

Summarization of iNotes4You

There are different options to retrieve information.
Here are the results after entering the keyword ‘Bluetooth’:

  • Blog Knowledge Base
  • Visual Knowledge Map
  • Blog Index

20130311-073138.jpg

Display options …

Content summarization can be displayed as a visual map, a tree view, or a keyword cloud.

20130311-074014.jpg

Export options …

Data are exportable for later use on other platforms (Windows, OSX, LINUX, UNIX, etc.) and on any kind of device (PCs, Macs, Tablets, Smartphones). File formats for the export are:

  • HTML
  • RTF
  • Different formats of well-known mind mapping software tools
    MindManager (.mmap), XMind (.xmind), iThoughts (.itmz)

The image shows the summarization result in HTML and RTF file format.

20130311-073746.jpg

This is the mind map automatically created by BlogSummarizer after entering the keyword ‘Bluetooth’ and exporting the result to the iPad mind mapping tool iThoughts HD by Craig Scott, UK.
Look at the branches of the map. In the upper right corner you find globes which indicate links to the corresponding blog websites. To open the website just Tap and Hold. This is an excellent feature of BlogSummarizer which strikingly increases the visualization of information.

20130311-073616.jpg

Benefits of BlogSummarizer for authors …

To make the information of hundreds of blogs accessible the generated knowledge base is a helpful aggregation of data to point out content.

But this works only in an effective way, if the authors know the STRONG aggregation rules and assign the right keywords and tags to each article.

So the generation process may not effectively work for articles written in the past.

Benefits of BlogSummarizer for readers …

Readers of WordPress.com blogs can use the full text SEARCH function, the combobox CATEGORIES as well as the KEYWORD CLOUD to display related articles. That’s all. The results are always a listing of the complete articles containing the keyword as a tag or category.
It would be more effective to present a list of headlines and excerpts.

BlogSummarizer supports the search process in a more user-friendly way by offering a Mind Map, a Tree View, and a Keyword Cloud containing links to each article. So it can be seen as an additional support for search processes.

We talked about different supported platforms but mind maps need a lot of space when expanded so this visualization of content is more often than not usable for devices with tablets and smartphones.

But the most important point is that articles at the time are not written with the focus on searchable results. So I think the only way to optimize the search results and provoke the acceptance of users is to always keep the algorithm in mind which summarizes the content.

Desirable additional features …

(Source Businessinsider)
20130311-082751.jpg

  • Content Discovery has to make the authors aware of the rules of generating the knowledge base so that they can be taken into account when writing articles.
  • A listing of headlines with publishing dates, tags, categories, and excerpts should be offered.
    At the time I myself created a database on the iPad using the app TapForms to get this list.
  • To each article a priority rating should be taken into account when generating the knowledge base. This rating should be used as the main sort order and a criterion for highlighting.
    The ‘Strong, Normal, Weak’ classification of keywords (number of mentions in articles) is in many cases not the conclusive statistical value for importance (e.g. keyword ‘app’ in my blog).
  • BlogSummarizer should also be available for WordPress.COM blogs and not only for WordPress.ORG blogs.
    At the time a suitable HTML-Code cannot be inserted in WordPress.com blogs due to security guidelines of WordPress.com. If you try to insert HTML code it’s immediately stripped off when saving the article.
  • Today the acceptance of new techniques is more and more a question of how it is presented. In the last months several Social Networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr made strenuous efforts to develop user-friendly interfaces. Apple’s guidelines should be valid for all apps as well as websites. So the layout of BlogSummarizer’s website has to be reviewed. At the time it’s not what users expect.

      Headlines of Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines
      Great iOS Apps Embrace the Platform and HI Design Principles
      Great App Design Begins with Some Clear Definitions
      A Great User Experience Is Rooted in Your Attention to Detail
      All Apps Need at Least Some Custom Artwork

  • BlogSummarizer should offer some options e.g. ‘Include words in headlines’.
    On 2012-11-25 I published an article with the headline ‘Using an iPhone in Thailand’. BlogSummarizer reports ‘No search results’ after entering ‘Thailand’ as a keyword.
  • Tablets are gaining popularity and it’s likely that more and more information is retrieved by using these devices. As a consequence there must be an APP which is able to provide summarized information for tablet users.

My suggestions for a suitable app …

The app should offer an integrated browser.
Enter an URL, open the menu, enter keywords and start the summarizing process.
The result is displayed as a mind map with some options not shown in the example like ‘Display as Tree View’ or ‘Display as RTF’. In ‘Settings’ one of some supported mind mapping tools can be selected. To get information from multiple websites a branch should be created for each website.
After finishing summarization the mind map can be transferred to a mind mapping tool to further work on it.

20130312-052119.jpg

Summary …

Anyway BlogSummarizer is on the way up.
All the best to Henry Lewkowicz for future developments.

Thanks a lot for reading this article.
Please feed the blogger Thomas with positive or negative comments to either make him proud or force him to improve the quality of his articles.





Importing Data

17 02 2013

The workaround …

Accounting data are to be imported on an iOS-Device.

The data source is a CSV file exported from Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access.

If you want to check out same results or need data for tests download the file here

SAMPLE-RECORDS-ACC-6Years-US.csv

It contains accounting data with account numbers, account names, and accounting values over 6 years and look like this:

20130110-131444.jpg

As you can see CSV files are readable files with single lines where the data are separated by a delimiter (a semi-colon or a tabulator) and thus ordered in columns.
Nearly every application is capable of importing data from those files as it is a received standard all over the world.

The data receiving applications are Tap Forms HD for the iPad (Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada) and Numbers (the spreadsheet part of Apple’s iWork-Suite).

The device is an Apple iPad 3 with 64 GB storage capacity.

If you want to import data to Tap Forms HD or Numbers you should know something about the formatting options for numbers and the encoding of text.

Formatting of numbers in Microsoft Excel, Access …

20130110-133019.jpg

Excel
Format cells with numerical content as numbers (not as currency).
Adjust the decimal places and set the 1000-separator.

Access
There are lots of options when exporting data from Microsoft Access to a CSV file. Use ‘Export to Textfile’ to set up the appropriate values. The settings can be saved for further exports.

Encoding …

Differences between Ansi and UTF-8

Summary
1. UTF-8 is a widely used encoding while ANSI is an obsolete encoding scheme
2. ANSI uses a single byte while UTF-8 is a multibyte encoding scheme
3. UTF-8 can represent a wide variety of characters while ANSI is pretty limited
4. UTF-8 code points are standardized while ANSI has many different versions

The import …

Just importing data is unprofitable arts. So in both applications the mean value of the 6-years accounting data is calculated as an example. For Year6 all values are zero so the mean value is taken just from the first 5 years.

Numbers (Apple)

As it is not possible to directly access data in iCloud you must use the Numbers functionality ‘Copy from WebDAV‘ to get the import file. Unfortunately Dropbox does not support WebDAV access while Tap Forms HD does. If you have the file elsewhere you may use the ‘Open in‘ command. It works also in the iOS Dropbox app. What you should know is that the Dropbox app does not show you the contents of a CSV file (App version 2.0.2).

If the file is downloaded the import starts directly and you don’t have to set any options.
It took 12.5 sec to scrape the CSV plate. It took another 15 sec to kick it into iCloud.
And it was a bit crazy to drag the yellow ‘Fill’ rectangle over 389 rows.

20130110-145226.jpg

Tap Forms HD (Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada)

There is an easy way to prepare for an import by letting Tap Forms HD automatically create a table. In this case all fields are imported with field type TEXT and thus cannot be included in calculations. Tap Forms HD does not first analyze the data and then set the correct field type.

Note
Also Apple’s Numbers cannot identify field types. After importing into Numbers the relating columns have to be formatted as numbers before including them in formulas.

As an alternative you do this automatic import and after its finished change the field type for numeric values from Text into Number, delete all records and restart the import.

Here are the steps to do the import with Tap Forms HD.

20130110-173934.jpg

Summary …

There are not many rows imported in Numbers nevertheless Numbers reacts a bit spastic when adjusting the column width, setting any formatting or adjusting the column width.

See my blog

To the limits

A benefit of Numbers is the free-style formatting, printing all data and a large number of built-in functions for more complicated calculations. Import options are not available following Apple’s KISS principle. Usability problems already come up with more than 300 records. Numerical values can be compared in charts.

Importing into the Tap Forms HD database (SQLite based) is recommended for a larger amount of data and usual operations on numerical values. The SQLite database working in the background does not have any performance problems even with the 65535 records I imported in my test-environment (Performance: 2 min/1000 records). As i wrote in my blog ‘To the limits’ Apple’s Numbers crashed long before reaching this limit.

In Tap Forms HD queries (respectively Searches) can be executed and saved for further usage. This feature is not available in Numbers but often needed to reduce the total contents to the relevant records.
Printing of records is available but currently just for a single record. You might say printing is old-fashioned but if you extracted relevant records (e.g. all records starting with 8 in the account number (these are accounts related to items like Sales in the Profit and Loss Account) or account values greater than 500.000) you usually want to print them out as a spreadsheet and review the data without the need of any device.

20130111-052936.jpg

Tap Zapp Software, the developer of Tap Forms HD, is highly innovative and its just a question of time until app updates bridge some current gaps.

Can both applications work hand in hand?

Yes, they can. Use Tap Forms HD to define a search rule (query), export the subset as CSV file, and import it in Numbers for further processing.

Technical Note …

There is one feature of Tap Forms that allows to include field-type tags in the header row to tell Tap Forms which fields are numbers and which are text or dates or other field types.

For example if the first header row was as follows, Tap Forms would correctly create the form with the correct types:

Account[text];Name[text];Year1[number];Year2[number];Year3[number];Year4[number];Year5[number];Year6[number];Item[text];Name[text];Updated[date];Kto[number]

(WordPress deletes all pointed brackets from blogs so I used square brackets; the square brackets must be replaced by pointed brackets)

Although [text] is the default if it’s not specified in the column. When importing dates the Tap Forms date import format must match the format of the date in the CSV file.

Here is a list of all field-type tags for Tap Forms HD.
It can be used when migrating from a previous database app to Tap Forms HD.

Text… [text]
Number… [number]
Date… [date]
Time… [time]
Date + Time… [date_time]
Audio Recording…
Calculation… [calc]
Check Mark… [check_mark]
Contact… [contact]
Drawing… [draw]
Email… [email]
File Attachment… [file]
Link to Form… [form]
Location… [location_address]
Location… [location_latitude]
Location… [location_longitude]
Location… [location]
Note… [note]
Phone… Number[phone]
Photo… [photo]
Rating… [rating]
Section Heading… [section]
Web Site… [web_site]

Related Links …

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

DBMS on iOS devices (3)

DBMS on iOS devices (4)

DBMS on iOS devices (5)

Form Access To Tap Forms

Databases and Mind Maps

Thanks for visiting http://iNotes4You.com.





Databases and Mind Maps

13 02 2013

The strong benefit of a database is the synopsis of otherwise widely spread informations. Apple’s App Store offers a lot of apps suitable for productive operations but all the informations saved by these apps are cut into pieces saved in app-specific folders. You can use Safari for saving links, Pages for saving text documents, etc. but you cannot connect the information as a whole.

A well designed database is an appropriate approach to the problem. There are a lot of ways to design a database and there is no rigorous right or wrong with creating them relying on the arbitrariness of human thoughts. It’s largely a matter of personal preference.

Tony Buzan, who invented mind mapping, describes a mind map as

a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills-word, image, number, logic, rhythm, color and spatial awareness-in a single, uniquely powerful manner

with flexibility
As you think of new aspects of your subject, you can type them in anywhere and then move them around to fit. You can think of a mind map as a sort of two-dimensional outline; rather than organizing ideas into a linear list, you spread them around the page and connect them.

and no limits
You’re not limited to plain text on a mind map. In fact, you almost certainly want to use fonts, icons, bitmaps, colors, and so on to dress up a mind map. It’s been my experience that the more playful you make these things, the more likely you are to come up with interesting ideas.
A good mind map will both record your ideas and provoke them.

So the decision is to use a mind map for the creation process.

You might ask why the different researches are not saved in different mind maps instead of a database. There is a simple answer. If you have a few researches take the mind mapping tool. Take a database for a large number of researches.

The benefits of a database compared to a great number of mind maps are the compact format, the ability to search, to print special data in a non-graphical format and group them by tags, categories etc.. Visualization is a perfect way to show a limited number of informations while it is confusing to look at large data volumes presented graphically.

The creation process …

To get started we need to come up with an idea like
I want to manage all results of my researches about a topic.
Now it’s brainstorming time and so it’s mind mapping time.

The contents of the mind map

A mind map reflects all the ideas you had about your topic.
It can be used as the framework of our database.

Level 1 subtopics of the mind map correspond to the tables of your database and further levels to fields or further tables. All subtopics contain data of one specific research so you have to create a so-called Master-Table with which all the other tables are connected to.

Note
If you plan to use a database on your iPad it’s highly recommended to do mind mapping before creating the database, entering all the data, and then flush it to the toilet and start new.

Let’s put some stuff on the map …

The idea was to manage all results of researches about specific topics.
So here is a simple mind map created with iThoughts (by Craig Scott, UK).

20130109-123349.jpg

To keep it simple this mind map in a first step does not contain functionalities of the database application. In a professional environment the design process has to consider the database structure as well as the requirements of its users.

The database …

Now we have to transform the mind map into a database structure.
We use Tap Forms HD (by Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada).

20130109-154208.jpg

See my blogs

for clearing up the basics
DBMS on iOS-Devices (1)

for further information about Tap Forms HD
DBMS on iOS-Devices (2)

Summary …

Users don’t want to think about the appropriate file management for the data they have to work with. Developers usually don’t like to deeply engage in the specific fields of activity of the users.

So how can developers be paired up with the users. Mind maps may help as they reflect the requirements of users as well as the more structured thoughts of developers.
The result may be a more efficient software application and the mind maps may serve as a common knowledge base for both sides, developers and users, for future updates and improvements.

Thanks for reading my blog.
Comments and shares are highly appreciated.





DBMS on iOS-Devices (2)

5 01 2013

In part (2) about databases I will introduce an SQLite – based app from Apple’s App Store. I found it by posting a question to the ‘MacTalk Australia’ – Forum (Thanks to Biallystock).

On my point of view the following requirements are indispensable to obtain acceptance from users even with a lower state of knowledge:

  • Creating tables directly on the iOS-Device
    (without the need of a computer)
  • Availability of field type ‘media’ to insert images, PDFs and other document types
    (iWork-Documents would be highly appreciated)
  • Importing CSV-Files for simple analysis
  • Creating simple queries
  • Printing reports
  • Self explaining user interface
  • Support for easy and fast entry of data
    (date picker, customizable pick lists, etc.)
  • Creating relations between tables
    (for connecting records of a subtable to a main table)
  • Included templates and the possibility of customizing them
  • Automatic or on demand syncing across iOS-Devices via iCloud or other storage providers like Dropbox, Box, etc.
  • Direct syncing between iOS-Devices in the same WLAN
  • Backing up all data and settings for a complete restore on another device
  • Security features like Passcode lock for the app and encryption of the database
  • Stability of the app and maintained data integrity after crashing

According to my present knowledge Tap Forms HD from Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada is the only app that meets these requirements. I looked on the version 3.0.4 (44) from Dec 2012.

To show you the features, I created a new database on an iPad 3rd Gen and synced it with an installation on iPhone 4S via iCloud (implemented feature of Tap Forms).

I have chosen a semi-professional document management system, which clears up the mysterious business of table design and table linking.

The definition of goals …

To avoid distribution of data to different locations we use the database which contains all the information needed to browse through essential informations based on documents.

Let’s work with two tables.

The set of basic informations is stored in a master record in the master table.
Corresponding documents are stored in a document record of the documents table. One master record may refer to a couple of documents stored in the documents table.

Documents are the feed for our database.
Follow these steps to machine the food and bring it to the empty belly.

20121219-151752.jpg

The food is served so we can now start to design the storehouse, sorry, the database.

For those who are not acquainted with database design and technical terms I will do my best to keep it simple. Beginners are invited to read the first part of my blog from 2012-01-03.

Step 1 … Creating the document table

The document table contains the files attached to records of the basic table.
By way of example:
We have two documents referring to the purchase of an Apple iPad, the invoice and the Apple Care Protection Plan.
In other cases it could also be the sales contract for a car and invoices of repair services or insurance policies.
You also can define a table for customers (use Apple’s CONTACTS app only for what is it designed for) with additional informations like Last Contact, Reminders (using field type ALERT for alerts like those of Apple’s Calendar or Reminders app), Invoices, Offers, etc..

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Step 2 … Creating the master table

The master table is the outline for main informations enclosed in documents.
Possibly there are documents of different kinds, so we will implement a further breakdown e.g. (insurances, devices, …). This will later on enable us to select records.

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Using a powerful special field type called Pick List

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Step 3 … Entering the data

The image shows the data entered for Name=Apple Topic=Device with 5 attached PDF documents as there are invoices and a confirmation for an Apple Care Protection Plan.
As you can see the app follows Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guidelines when using symbols. This makes it easy to use.

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Step 4 … Searching for data

Databases contain a lot of entries so it is indispensable to have a highly efficient functionality for searching records. In the example below a SEARCH on devices has been configured and saved for later use. In the search area (top left) you can enter ad-hoc search terms or refer to saved searches. In the latter case Search Rules like ‘Field contains, is less than, is greater than or equal to, …’ can be defined.

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Step 5 … Syncing and backing up

After a short time an intensively used database contains many relevant informations.
So backing up the data is indispensable.

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Notes …

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