HanDBase, from DDH Software, is an easy-to-use relational database system ported from Palm OS to the iPhone. (HanDBase sells for $9.99 from iTunes.) The application ships with a starter gallery of databases that include a checkbook, customer list, shopping list, movie list, password keeper, and billing log. If none of the included databases meet your needs, you can create your own or access more than 2,000 database templates to find one that satisfies you--all databases are free to download.
Create your own customized database
My IT career started as a software developer and database designer, I've been exposed to a variety of databases running on different platforms. HanDBase is the first I've used on a handheld device, and it works better than I expected, even on the iPhone's small screen.
To give HanDBase a workout, I launched the app on my iPhone 3GS and started developing a database template for testing various platforms and development tools.
Upon launch, HanDBase immediately displays the databases that are currently available. I pressed the "+" icon, and was presented with the following three options:
I selected Create from Scratch so that I could create my test database completely on the iPhone. I was then given the option to start entering all my database properties as seen below:
The Properties page lets you define all the settings for your new database, including the database name, category (includes several options or you can add your own), fields (up to 100), field order (great for imported databases that need record layout tweaking), views, security settings, author information, and start-up options. (Unfortunately, HanDBase forms are not available on the iPhone OS platform.) I'll walk you through a few of these below.
- Field Types: Text, integer, floating point number, pop-up list, check box, unique, signature, date, time, link, linked, note, heading, DB pop-up, calculated, relationship, conditional, and external
- Views: Can be used to display records with different sort levels, different record element views, and so on
- Security: Allows for setting an access password, access permissions, and encryption level
- Author information: Configure this with your name and notes so that if you decide to distribute your template or database, you will get credit for your work
- Startup: Lets you configure the database to open either where the user left off, at a specifically defined view, or various record editing or creation points.
Upon completing the test-database setup, I began to enter data via my iPhone. Once I had entered enough data to need to back it up, I synced HanDBase on the iPhone with my desktop computer. The system worked seamlessly, although the backup process requires additional software.
Using HanDBase with your desktop
The desktop applications pull the .pdb file created on the iPhone down to the desktop and allow you to open it on the Mac or PC, where you can further manipulate it. This is accomplished via a simple transfer process only that uses a Web server on the iPhone to move the data back and forth between the iPhone and the desktop via Wi-Fi. Using this interface, you are able to download the database as a comma-separated text (.csv) file or the Palm database (.pdb) format. Records in the .csv format can also be added to any database as well using the same transfer method.
Windows desktop users have some more advanced add-on options available via the purchase of data and sync exchange add-ons for Microsoft Access or ODBC databases, which make syncing data from an iPhone to a database server as easy as 1-2-3. These options run from $19.99 to $49.99, but are currently on sale for up to $10 off depending on the version purchased.
The bottom line
HanDBase for iPhone is a powerful, customizable, and inexpensive database that you can hold in your hand. Because of HanDBase's proven track record on the desktop, anyone moving to the iPhone from HanDBase on other platforms will feel at home.