We expect there to be an app for everything these days, but developing tools for each mobile platform can be expensive. And if the apps you want to create involve complex databases, it can be very expensive.
Alpha Five isn’t just a database tool; it can put together information-handling apps more quickly and easily than any competing package. It can also simultaneously develop software for multiple platforms.
A single Alpha Five design will work equally well in the browser of a PC, tablet, smartphone or any other HTML/Java-aware device. Repurposing an app for a separate platform is straightforward, with no need to rewrite the app from the ground up.
The software includes a number of modules that take the drudgery out of preparing information for online viewing. Tools such as the Gallery module, which lets you view images as thumbnails or in full-screen mode, support the multitouch gestures that many iOS and Android users have become familiar with.
You can choose to work with Alpha Five’s internal language, Xbasic, and its form designer, Xdialog, but many sophisticated, data-driven apps can be put together using little more than the supplied templates and tools.
Its graphics-handling capabilities make it easy to create good-looking apps, and Alpha Five delivers on the data-handling front, too. It’s a full relational database designer that happily works with SQL and other mainstream database servers, but can also hold information in its own structures. Alpha Five’s front-end features will work transparently with any data source you may be using.
Alpha Five 11.0 is ideal for database designers working in IT departments or consultancies, who take on custom projects to fit software to the task rather than bend the customer to the app.
Version 11.0 adds several useful features. Here are some highlights:
GIS Mapping: The Graphical Information System (GIS) ties information to visual resources, such as Google Maps. There are many applications for this type of mapping, with store locators and address finders obvious examples. You can extract an address from a data record and display a Google map within an Alpha Five app.
Calendar Support: Version 11.0 adds user date selection and the ability to develop scheduling apps, where tasks or events can be shown chronologically. This makes it easier to develop appointment systems for doctors, booking systems for theatres and garages, and even project-management tools.
HTML Reporting: Alpha Five has long been able to generate reports in PDF format; version 11.0 adds the ability to do so in HTML. This enables you to produce online reports for viewing on a wide range of mobile and desktop platforms.
Gesturing Support: The increased use of touch-based operating systems on tablets and smartphones necessitates a change in the way people expect to interact with apps, including data-based ones. The latest version of Alpha Five includes modules that fully integrate finger taps, swipes and pinches into custom apps. This is particularly relevant when viewing images in Alpha Five’s Gallery module, and when working with video and maps using GIS.
Video Component Builder: Video is an increasingly popular type of content for many websites. The Video Component Builder seamlessly integrates media into custom apps. Given how much is going on behind the scenes, such as detecting whether Flash is available in the device running the video, this is no mean feat. If a device doesn’t support Flash, Alpha Five delivers HTML5 instead – but you don’t need to worry about this, since the Video Component Builder handles the process transparently.
ALPHA FIVE TUTORIALS
ALPHA FIVE GALLERY
Step one: An app designed for use on tablets and phones should operate in the same fashion as the device’s native software, including support for gestures and the ability to detect in which browser it’s being viewed. The process is visible to the developer in this sample Gallery app.
Step two: An app written using the Gallery component will respond to mouse clicks and drags on a desktop PC. This behaviour is selected automatically, so you needn’t specify how it works with individual platforms. Simply tweak the layout to meet your needs and link to images in your Alpha Five database.
Step three: The same app will respond to finger gestures on a tablet or smartphone. Alpha Five’s Gallery component also supports screen rotations, allowing the user to interact with the database as if it were a custom-coded app. Swipe a finger across the thumbnails at the bottom to scroll through images.
ALPHA FIVE MAPS
Step one: Maps can be useful in database apps for store locators or finding customer addresses. The example database shown above lists US airports, along with their latitude and longitude. By tying this data to Google Maps, it’s possible to show each airport as a pushpin on a map.
Step two: Alpha Five doesn’t require prior knowledge of HTML and Java. You simply design a form or table and tell the software how the program should behave. To select an alternative view, such as a map, you just select that option in the Properties panel.
Step three: This alternative view can be added on a second tab within your app. Our sample app has a built-in search function that draws on Alpha Five’s powerful search engine. You can search this database for airports by state, with the screenshot above depicting how you would do so for California.
Next page: ALPHA FIVE LIQUID FORMS >>
ALPHA FIVE LIQUID FORMS
Step one: Don’t make your browser forms too rigid if you’re developing a multi-platform app – excessive scrolling will be required on small-screen devices. Liquid forms can handle screen-width automatically. The above form is fine for a PC, but difficult to view on a smartphone.
Step two: Look at the composition of the screen in the Design panel, and you’ll see no special commands are required to achieve the liquid-form effect. Alpha Five creates HTML that realigns itself to the shape and size of the screen on which it’s displayed. However, you can override this behaviour if required.
Step three: Narrow the width of the browser window to simulate its appearance on a small screen, and Alpha Five automatically shuffles down the grids. The software automatically readjusts the number of grids displayed in each row, depending on the width of the browser window.
ALPHA FIVE CALENDAR
Calendars can be built into Alpha Five databases and used for scheduling. Treat calendars as you would any other component that is added to a form, then tie events or to-do lists to them. To add a calendar, select New, then choose Calendar in the ‘Select Component Type’ dialog box.
The Calendar properties panel that appears onscreen offers a range of options. You can specify functional settings, such as when your working day starts and ends, plus cosmetic properties, such as the size of pop-up calendar panels and their colour scheme.
Preview the calendar to see how it will appear in your app. The screenshot above displays the weekly view, with a daily calendar to the left. Clicking on a time slot in the main panel to enter an appointment or meeting. This form can then be tailored to meet the needs of a specific app.
A number of options are available for purchasing Alpha Five, with the version 11.0 Developer Kit starting at £218 ex VAT. Exclusive bundle packs are also available, offering significant savings on individuals SRPs. For more info or to download a free trial, visit: tinyurl.com/alphafive
CASE STUDIES >>
CASE STUDY NO. 1
A New York non-profit organisation was finding it increasingly difficult to manage all its member, donor and event information on a single Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Since this document was desktop-based, employees had no choice but to call the office and request information should they need to access it on the road. Logical Design Database Solutions was asked to provide a better solution – one that enabled data to be accessed from a variety of devices, and allowed staff to extract only the information they required. Using Alpha Five, Logical Design Database Solutions was able to put together a prototype within a month, and on budget. The replacement software is accessible from any mobile device, and can track donations, events, members and communications. Rather than copying and pasting email addresses into messages, staff can also email clients directly within the app.
CASE STUDY NO. 2
The Respiratory Care department at St Luke’s Methodist Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, required a system that let nurses enter patient details, and was available to all medical staff. Since nurses are often called away in the process of updating records, it was important that the database be robust enough to cope with entries being left open, and perhaps only partially completed. Budget constraints also had to be considered.
Cole Custom Programming, the firm tasked with producing the app, chose Alpha Five to build the software. Its visually-oriented, standards-led methods allowed the company to quickly and cheaply create the database.
Cole used Alpha Five’s Xbasic language and Xdialog building tools to prototype and then finalise a system that’s robust enough to cope with intermittent use and accessible from each of the hospital’s 200 workstations. The system came in under budget and on schedule, and is now being rolled out to other departments at St Luke’s.