A company Apple spun off in 1987 could play a key role in its future

tim cook

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California October 27, 2014.

Way back in 1987, a few years after Steve Jobs was removed from Apple by its board of directors, Apple spun off a software subsidiary called Claris. 

Claris itself is technically no more — in 1998, the company changed its name to FileMaker, after its most successful product, not long after Steve Jobs’ triumphant return to Apple as CEO.

But it’s still proudly billed as an Apple subsidiary. This whole time, FileMaker has been plugging away in its Santa Clara headquarters, a few miles out from Apple’s famed Cupertino mothership.

On a job posting page, FileMaker boasts that it’s “been profitable every quarter since our formation.” Two million people have downloaded FileMaker Go, the company’s iPhone and iPad app.

Over the years, FileMaker’s focus has shifted: Originally, it was purely a database product; now, it helps even non-technical small business folks build custom web, Windows, Mac, iPad, and iPhone apps without needing to know how to code.

In fact, just today, FileMaker released the fifteenth version of its namesake FileMaker Pro software, adding the ability for companies to quickly add flagship Apple features like TouchID fingerprint scanning and 3D Touch pressure-sensitivity to their custom apps.

And while FileMaker may have been born in an era before Steve Jobs returned to lead Apple to world domination, it still might have an important role to play in the future of the company. Here’s why.

First, a history lesson

Claris, the company that would become FileMaker, has a fascinating history that goes back to the period when Apple’s prospects were getting dimmer every year, as the rise of Microsoft and IBM took its toll.

Allegedly, outside developers were jealous that the original Macintosh’s built-in tools like MacWrite and MacPaint were so good, customers didn’t want or need anybody else’s software.

And so, Apple placed those products and a handful of others, including Microsoft Office competitor AppleWorks, under the umbrella of Claris. The idea was ostensibly to maintain the illusion that Apple wasn’t competing directly with its community of developers.

Longtime Apple exec Bill Campbell, the recently-deceased Silicon Valley legend, was placed in command of the new subsidiary as CEO of Claris.

bill campbell

Stephen Lamb/Reuters

Bill Campbell speaks at the 2012 TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

Claris was largely allowed to do its own thing. It was going pretty well, too, with Claris’ whole range of software tremendously popular on the Mac. In 1988, Claris made a key acquisition in the form of popular early database software FileMaker, aimed at home users and small businesses, back when people thought databases were exciting.

In fact, things were going so well that in 1990, then-Apple CEO John Sculley decided to totally scuttle any plans for letting Claris become an independent company. Bill Campbell and lots of other Apple execs left the company over Sculley’s decision. 

Regardless, Claris stuck around as a wholly-owned Apple subsidiary. In 1998, Claris officially changed its name to FileMaker, after its most successful product, and refocused its efforts on helping individuals and small businesses build their own apps.

Fast-forward to today

These days, Apple is in much better shape overall than it was when FileMaker got its name-change. Thanks to the massive runaway hit that is the iPhone, Apple has risen to become the most valuable company in the world.

But iPhone sales are flattening out, causing some concern for the future of the company. And so, Apple has been signing all kinds of big deals with the likes of IT titans like IBM, SAP, and Cisco to push the iPhone and iPad into the business tech market.

The idea behind those partnerships is to help Apple push iPhones and iPads into the workplace by assisting with building applications that are custom-tailored to specific business applications. So, if you’re using SAP software for your accounting databases, that partnership will make it easier to build an iOS app that uses that data. 

Businesspeople like using iPhones and iPads, but they need mission-critical business apps to get work done. It’s an idea that resonates with FileMaker, says Director of Solutions Consulting Andy LeCates. 

“We believe the best customer experience out there is on iOS,” says LeCates.

filemaker apple


Apps made with the FileMaker Pro tool.

But those IBM/Apple joint solutions are out of reach or mere overkill if you’re just running, say, a small local gym, to use LeCates’ example. The same goes for solutions like Microsoft’s cross-platform app development product Xamarin, which still requires a lot of coding know-how, or the pricey hiring of a consultant to do it for you.

Small business customers just need a way to build a slick app, use it to gather customer data for stuff like signups or scheduling appointments, and make sure it’ll work on a customers’ phone or browser. 

LeCates says that FileMaker fills that gap: In one case, a customer was able to build out a custom app in only 10 hours, without writing any code, LeCates says. The data the app generates and collects can be shunted to other databases or spreadsheet programs, behind the scenes. And with this new version, FileMaker customers can easily build in some of the iPhone and iPad’s best features, making it feel even more modern and user-friendly.

“We can be easy, but also custom,” says LeCates. “We automate a lot of tech on behalf of the customer.”

LeCates says that the Apple Store’s small business consulting teams often recommend FileMaker to local business customers.

And so, as Apple redoubles its efforts to make a dent in the enterprise market, don’t be surprised if FileMaker has a larger part to play. Not for the big, multinational corporations, but for local businesses moving pieces of their business to the iPhone and iPad.

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  • Thomas Rodgers

    During WW2 the USA and its allies sweep across Eastern Europe to help defeat Nazi Germany. Once they landed in France, it took less than a year to reach Berlin, thus ending the war in Europe. Today, after many years, the greatest most powerful military on earth cannot even beat ISIS or the Taliban. So, how can they beat China or Russia?

    • Nawaponrath

      Where did you learn your history from US books? Russia won WW2 single handed the US landed in Normandy after the Germans were already weak. It took the US a year to to reach Germany but it took Russia 4 years to beat the entire German armed forces

      • JAFO

        America supplied Russia with a majority of their military hardware, Ivan. Lend lease, kiddo… When America landed in Europe, America created another front in Europe… Hence, the Iron Curtain, Ivan… Hence, the Cold War was created… Germany was busy with the UK and that’s how the Soviets were able to push back the Germany Army because the the Nazis had too much on their plates…. America defeated Japan and America fought 2 wars, Ivan… IMHO, Russia couldn’t have won if it wasn’t for America and the UK and vice versa…. You’re a typical brainwashed Putin Troll… Enjoy your Vodka, Ivan.

    • KK Fung

      most german soldier died in russia than the theather fought by usa and britain combined

  • Neptunian

    Reading the whole article shows that the US is basically a war mongering nation – always ready to project its military all over the globe. The US cannnot ubderstand the Chinese mindset of defence, instead of offensively imposing its will on others via military might. If you have doubts, read the article again…

  • Tribunal-Orders-Rape

    Annuder big piece of the garbage now so very feverishly appearing in the US media as fears grow about the terrible AND very real possibility of Donald Trump becoming president after Obama (the puppet figure pres). The pro-war US media have truly betrayed themselves by displaying their fears so ridiculously.