iWork Updates Abound. Long Live iWork.

A few months ago there was this thing going around the Internet where everyone decided that Apple had given up on iWork. I didn’t buy it. While the iWork applications certainly aren’t the most important applications being developed at Apple, I think the are key part of their business and having Apple’s own, homegrown productivity suite has benefits that justify its continued development. Moreover, Apple often uses the iWork suite as a demonstration of how they think productivity apps should look on the Mac and iOS.

Today Apple released updates for all of the iWork suite applications for both OS X and iOS. Some of these updates are simple fixes for new features in the hardware and operating systems, like the ability to use split screen mode on the Mac or 3-D Touch on the new iPhone, but other bits show continuing development. For instance, Pages for the Mac got some improved AppleScript tools and added several new Apple designed templates. I don’t believe Apple would be putting development time in to templates and AppleScript support for Pages if it had given up on the application.

You can download the updates through the iOS and OS X app stores. Check it out.

In Defense of iWork

The general consensus since the 2013 update to the iWork suite for Mac (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) is that it’s useless, or nearly so. I’ve heard this from a lot of geek friends. Nevertheless, I keep using the suite to get work done. 

As a little bit of history, the last major update to iWork on the Mac before 2013 was 2009. It is now clear the Mac version was given a backseat while the iWork team developed the apps for the iPad, and then the iPhone.

In hindsight, I suspect it was not that they were ignoring the Mac apps so much as they were pedaling hard on the iPad and iPhone versions and they realized that in order to make them work best with the Mac, the Mac versions were also going to require major re-writes to bring them in line.

That’s exactly what they did with the 2013 updates. While the iWork suite then had a shared code base between the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, that parity required several feature sacrifices on the alter of compatibility.

In 2013, iWork users weren’t happy. Out of character, Apple publicly explained. Now that Apple had everything on the same code base, they would start building back features that were left behind. Apple has made good on that promise with a steady release of updates, each bringing back old features and adding a few new ones. As things stand today, the Mac iWork apps do not have every feature we had with the 2009 version. There are also still problems including a pretty big one concerning file support, covered recently in the ATP podcast, that prohibits users of the current version to open iWork documents created in older versions before 2009.

Despite these issues, I disagree with the notion that iWork is of little or no value. I use all of the applications frequently to get work done and have come to rely upon them in their new incarnations.

I use Keynote for every presentation. I’d like to think my presentations are pretty fancy and the new version keeps up just fine. At this point you’d have to pull Keynote out of my cold, dead hands.

I also use Numbers every day. I use it to track billing in my day job so at any time I’ve got a Numbers spreadsheet open that gets bigger and bigger as we move through the year. My current billing Spreadsheet has approximately 250 separate sheets with many links and calculations between them. This is not a complicated spreadsheet, but a big one and I rely upon it to sync across my devices. I also have built little app-like spreadsheets that I frequently use in the day job. One of those spreadsheets is a type of database that I use to track documents, facts, and issues in ongoing litigation. Those can get really big and Numbers handles them fine. I also use Numbers to track money, sponsorships, and other details on the MacSparky and Mac Power Users end. Numbers 2013 delivers all of this utility to me. 

Pages is a bit of an oddball for me. I write just about everything in plain text but when it comes to page formatting, I prefer Pages over Word. I think the user interface elements make a lot more sense. I also prefer the way it displays change tracking and I find it more stable. Nonetheless, I work in an industry where everybody uses Word. To the extent I use a word processor, I use Pages for all of my personal stuff and probably about 40% of my day-job stuff.

I know that I am but one user and I also know that if you relied on a feature that simply doesn’t exist anymore, the app will cease to serve its purpose. If, for example, they pulled change tracking out of Pages, I’d have to stop using it entirely for legal stuff. 

My point is that I am somewhat of a power-user and I’ve found, by and large, this new generation of iWork to be up to the task. Moreover because I am that guy that frequently is on the road with an iPad or iPhone, I find the cross-platform sync to be enormously beneficial. It was my inability to sync iWork documents that largely led to my rant against iCloud a few weeks back. (Things have, thankfully, improved for me with the most recent updates.)

If you’ve given up on iWork because you heard how broken it is, I’d encourage you to give it a try. While I'm sure it is not for everyone, I'm equally sure it is the right solution for a lot more people than its rumored demise implies.

AppleScript and the New iWork

Early reports on the new iWork are not good. The general consensus seems to be that in order to make everything compatible, they dumbed down the Mac versions. I’m trying to finish a book right now and preparing for a closing statement on Friday so as you can probably guess, I’m kind of busy. I haven’t had time enough to test the new versions fully.

Clark’s Tech Blog explains there is a significant regression in AppleScript support in the new iWork. I’ve always felt that one of the ironic points about iWork was its general lack of support for AppleScript. Microsoft Office does a much better job of supporting AppleScript and Microsoft even went to the extent of hiring one the best people in the business, Ben Waldie, to write a lot of their automation tools for the Mac version. In this regard, Microsoft is heads and shoulders above Apple.

It’s concerning to see that this new version of iWork has not only not moved forward on automation but instead backwards. I don’t use a lot of AppleScript in iWork and, frankly, I don’t know what the percentage of people is the do. However, for those people that do use AppleScript, it is huge.

On the subject of iWork, I did spend a half hour playing with the new collaboration features and while the feature works as demonstrated during yesterday’s keynote event, they certainly are not as fast as they were during the keynote event. I’m going to have a lot more to say about this in the coming days.


iWork Collaboration? Yes Thank You

Today Apple released a whole pile of new products (including a Retina iPad mini). We finally got a substantive update to the iWork applications. The last major update was January 2009 so I'm really looking forward to digging in with these new applications. Most surprising to me was the fact that Apple demonstrated collaboration between the native Mac app and the Web version. I didn't think this was going to happen. At this point, it is still kind of unbelievable to me. I can't wait to do some serious testing to find out if this is as awesome as it demos. 

iWork for iCloud: Not Enough

iWork '09 for the Mac released on January 6, 2009. 2009! That is 1,619 days ago. I use the heck out of iWork. In an industry that thrives on Microsoft Word, I surreptitiously write legal documents in Pages. I run a legal practice and publishing business out of Numbers and I largely pay for my shoes giving Keynote presentations. You could say I'm invested.

So when Roger Rosner took the stage on Monday and explained he was going to talk about iWork, I felt like I was finally getting the update for Mac that I've been waiting for so long. I know the tech world is full of hyperbole but in this case the term "so long" is correct.

In January 2009, when iWork '09 was released, I was thrilled. They added some revolutionary new features (like Magic Move and Instant Alpha) that immediately both made me more productive and made my work look better. It was love at first sight. By early 2010 I was ready to fall in love again. What new feature would iWork get to make me look smarter? Then Steve took the stage to introduced the world to the iPad and a fully working version of iWork for iPad.

"That's okay", I told myself. "They didn't have time to make a new Mac version. In 2011, I'm going to get a new iWork for my Mac and I'm sure it will be double the sexy." Then 2011 rolled around and iWork for iPad got a lot better but there was no new Mac version. Indeed that has been the case every year since 2009. Apple has iterated repeatedly on the iOS versions, taking them a long way. I've been consoling myself on this lack of Mac update with noticeable improvements on the iPad. Now I can even track changes in Pages on the iPad. Incredible.

Nevertheless, I still look at the iWork '09 box on my shelf and think wistfully about four years' worth of innovations that never shipped. "This year", I told myself as WWDC approached. "This is the year that I will get a new version of iWork for Mac." What we got instead was a promise of some future update for the Mac and a demonstration of iWork for iCloud, a product which, in its current form, I will almost never use.

Don't get me wrong. What Apple did with iWork in a web browser is impressive. I didn't think it was possible to pull off the intricate graphic operations they demonstrated at WWDC in a browser. Nevertheless, the web versions of the iWork apps aren't as good as the native Mac versions. I won't be able to manage tiny granular animations and object transitions the way I can on my Mac. Those four year old features I love aren't going be in the iCloud versions any time soon.

I understand web apps are a large part of the future of computing and the advantage that comes with any modern web browser—even one on a Windows machine—running iWork. However, this isn't something us iWork users in the trenches need right now. We need power and innovation on the platform we use every day. We need a new Mac version.

Also missing from the iWork for iCloud presentation was any mention of the best reason to put an office app on the web, collaboration. I've never been happy with the feature set of any of the web-based office solutions. They don't have the features we get with native apps and are often ugly as sin. There is, however, one redeeming feature in collaboration. Multiple people can work on the same online document at once. Google has mastered this so that I can write one paragraph while watching a colleague (or two or three colleagues) write another paragraph on the same page. iCloud for iWork doesn't support this. Maybe online collaboration is on the roadmap for iWork for iCloud but there was no mention of it on Monday.

What I'd really like is for Apple to stop toying with my heart. It's okay to start building web versions and continue to improve upon the iOS versions. All of that is important. However, before doing anything else, deliver a new version of iWork for the Mac that throws me head over heels in love all over again.