The Template Problem

Last week Dr. Drang lamented the inability to share a Numbers template between Mac and iOS. He then very cleverly showed where the Mac iWork template files are buried and how to get them onto iOS. This is a problem I’ve struggled with for years. Not only does iWork not sync templates between iOS and the Mac, it also doesn’t sync templates between two Macs. If you create a template on Pages on your MacBook, you’re not going to find it on Pages on your iMac.

When I first heard about Apple’s re-invention of the iWork suite, I hoped that this would be one of those itches that Apple could scratch with a unified code base for the iWork apps on all platforms. It was one of the first things I tested. Unfortunately, no luck.

Apple isn’t alone in this problem. I have the same issue with just about every other productivity app I use among my various Macs and iThingies. A few years ago I had a catastrophic drive failure. With all my various backups schemes I recovered all of my data. I thought I was a real Grade-A super-nerd. I was so impressed with this data recovery that a few months later I nuked my final SuperDuper clone of the wrecked hard drive and moved on. The very next day (Next Day!) I had call for a Numbers template that I created on that machine and never managed to migrate anywhere else. I opened Numbers, looked at the blank template list and thought to myself, "whoops".

So this pesky template problem led to the first data loss I’ve experienced in a long time. Because this problem persists, I’ve come up with a much less clever solution than the good Doctor’s. I added a Templates folder to Dropbox. In there I’ve got a series of subfolders related to the various productivity apps I use and every time I create a document that I want to keep as a template, I save a copy there. Over the past few years, these folders have grown and I’ve got a nice little bank of templates I can access from any device.

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You may be thinking that a similar solution could be accomplished (with the iWork suite at least) by creating a document folder called Templates and saving a documents to this impostor. That’s true but I prefer keeping them on Dropbox to save iCloud space and not junk up iCloud directories that are already not very friendly to high numbers of documents.

I still save templates to the iWork suite and certain of my other productivity apps but I also always make a copy into the Dropbox bank. If you are concerned about security, you could also save the directory to a Transporter. (I'm actually planning to make that move myself.) Because the iWork suite is now so closely related on each of the platforms, I suspect Apple does have template syncing on a white board somewhere in Cupertino and it will eventually show up. Even though, I still plan on keeping this folder. The iWork apps aren’t the only ones I’m saving templates from and there is something comforting about having your own set of backups. Just in case.