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iWork for iCloud Beta Recalls iWork.com

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Remember the unmitigated disaster that was iWork.com? Apple closed the service last year, after three embarrassing years during which iWork.com never made it out of public beta (see “Apple Finally Puts iWork.com Out of Its Misery,” 12 March 2012). Apple seems hell-bent on repeating the exercise, with a developer beta of iWork for iCloud starting now, and a public beta scheduled for later this year.

iWork for iCloud is essentially a port of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote to the Web, enabling you to work on your iCloud-stored documents in a Web browser, just as though you were using the appropriate app on a Mac or iOS device. It seems to work, and is an impressive demonstration of what can be done in a Web browser. It remains to be seen if all features are fully supported or if, by editing a document via iCloud, you’ll be losing more advanced aspects of the document, as is still the case when moving between iOS and OS X.

But who would want to use it, and why is Apple wasting time on it?

The obvious use case is someone who has a Mac at home but must use Windows at work, or a college student who wants to use public computers in the library to work on documents instead of carrying (or buying) a MacBook. Obvious, perhaps, but nonsensical — why would Apple want to make it easy for someone to avoid using a Mac or iPad, especially if the experience isn’t as good as either (which seems likely)?

The answer certainly isn’t because of collaboration — the apps in Google Drive get a pass for being fairly feature-weak because of their fabulous collaboration features — since the only way to share a document in iWork for iCloud is as an email attachment. It’s really quite lame and just the latest example of how Apple’s comprehensive lack of awareness as to the importance of collaboration in the modern world drives people to competing services. (And don’t tell me that people who need to collaborate aren’t Apple’s core audience — we darn well are, and are forced to avoid so many Apple services purely because of this blind spot.)

A thought did occur to me, and I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, but what if iWork for iCloud isn’t so much an example of Apple’s prowess in writing Web apps that can mimic desktop apps, but a way of testing out a technology that essentially runs code from iCloud within a JavaScript-based runtime environment? In other words, what if Apple hasn’t written three different Web apps, but is instead somehow running something close to the existing Mac or iOS code in a sort of virtual machine? If so, perhaps we might expect to see an iCloud version of Maps as well, and that could inform all sorts of speculation as to an app-based future for iCloud.

That is of course merely guesswork, but back in the real world, Apple did say that we could expect to see updates to the iWork apps later this year. Since Pages, Numbers, and Keynote haven’t seen significant updates or even much in the way of bug fixes for over four years, some attention there will be welcome.

 

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Comments about iWork for iCloud Beta Recalls iWork.com

robmorrison  2013-06-10 19:34
This may be an attempt to do what Adobe is doing with their Photoshop cloud based stuff. No more applications on your Mac, so you will pay a monthly fee to Adobe forever to use their software. Photographers are very unhappy with Adobe.
Jim Rea  2013-06-10 19:44
When I saw this, it made me wonder if Apple might have internally developed a system similar to Cappucino/Objective-J (see http://www.cappuccino-project.org/). If you are not familiar with Cappucino, it implements a framework very similar to Cocoa in JavaScript.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-06-11 06:58
I hadn't seen Cappucino before - it's impressive, and yes, this is exactly the kind of thing I was getting at in the article.
Ray Robertson  2013-06-11 09:17
I think the audience is iOS device users who don't have a Mac. The process of e-mailing a Powerpoint presentation to an iOS device and then converting it using Keynote for iOS is painfully slow and tedious. Besides the missing features, there are also other conversion issues.

How about building a Keynote presentation on an iPad? Possible, but the lack of a file system also makes this challenging. I think that's why the demo highlighted dragging and dropping an image from the desktop into a browser-based Keynote presentation. So much better for a Windows user.

If Apple is successful in making this work (this time), I think it is a blow to the last stronghold of Windows: MS Office. As people discover in IE that they don't need Office any longer, surely a Mac purchase is even more attractive. Compare the price of Office to iWork and it becomes even easier to justify the purchase of a Mac.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-06-11 09:28
Yes, the Windows user is a likely audience, but it really doesn't seem like much of a blow to Office, where the entire point is that you can share files with colleagues easily. Office is a standard because everyone uses it, and letting you edit iWork documents in a browser isn't going to fit into a business workflow in the slightest.
Ray Robertson  2013-06-11 10:17
I agree it doesn't seem like much of a blow. Office is standard because everyone uses, but there are high-priced purchases of the software behind that user base.

How many Mac users have realized they no longer need Office? If that begins among Windows users, then it could amount to something.

Regardless let's all hope that iWorks in a browser not only works well but that Apple adds collaboration soon.
darkdirk  2013-06-11 15:05
Building a Keynote presentation on an iPad is easy, not challenging. I do it regularly, and in fact prefer to use the iPad rather than PowerPoint on my work PC because the touch interface is great for layout and the implementation of many of the presentation-building tools (such as element animations and transitions is far better in Keynote. The media browser is a quasi file system that is perfectly adequate for inserting objects into a presentation.
Ray Robertson  2013-06-11 16:41
I have no argument that building with Keynote on iPad is far better than using PowerPoint on any platform. But building complex presentations in Keynote for Mac is even more straightforward, far easier and faster than doing it on an iPad. I would hope that Keynote in a browser will offer us some middle ground.
Dennis B. Swaney  2013-06-11 09:50
I'm still waiting for a database module for iWork. And, no, Bento is not it.
Tom Robinson  2013-06-11 11:18
Huh? There's already Bento and FileMaker. What have you lost because Apple doesn't group them under iWork?
Dennis B. Swaney  2013-06-13 07:30
As I said, Bento is NOT it (it is too limited for one reason), and Filemaker is too freaking expensive for normal people. So I still use AppleWorks on my G5 iMac (though I will probably export them and see if I can use LibreOffice's Database module
Actually, Bento and FileMaker are it, from Apple's POV.
Dennis B. Swaney  2013-06-14 18:46
But they are wrong. :D
That and $4.00 will get you a latte.
Tom Robinson  2013-06-11 11:22
Seems like anybody will be able to use iWork for iCloud--Apple device owner or no--it's easy enough to get an iCloud signon. Which I find interesting. The interface looks a lot nicer than Google Docs, as you would expect from Apple.
Tommy Weir  2013-06-12 01:30
I too was excited when Tim Cook said the words "update to iWork".

And felt kind of let down by the actual announcement. Bar feeling somewhat consoled by the thought of an easier route for those iPad owning PC users I support.

The Mac apps and the iOS apps work and work well but it's hard to shake the feeling that despite the fact that they work well they should have updated by now.

I'm not sure however, Adam, that collaboration will ever really see a place in iWork which seems to have hit some kind of feature wall. Ubiquity is the new baseline for everything, it trumps all.

The upgrades I'd love to see are edge-to-edge printing in Pages and 300dpi output. More interaction/prototyping capabilities in Keynote...
Brian S.  2013-06-12 10:54
Maybe putting people's documents in the cloud makes it easier for Apple to comply with NSA agreements ;-)
Bette Piacente  2013-06-12 16:16
I guess I am swimming against the current here, but I was particularly intrigued by the iWork presentation. I would love true platform compatibility for these products. I love all three components on the Mac, but the iPad versions, while great for access to information, are harder to edit and use. I shared iWork documents in the old beta iWork.com successfully and always felt there was great potential there. Our office uses Google Apps for Business and the docs there are "adequate" but nothing to shout about. I know folks thinking multiple people being able to edit the same document at the same time is magic. But, from experience, I can tell you, it can be chaos unchained.

So, I for one, am anxious to see what Apple has planned for iWorks. Time will tell, for sure.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-06-13 06:36
Keep in mind that whatever sharing iWork.com had (which was pretty minimal), iWork for iCloud has even less. It's just email attachments. So it's no better than emailing Word documents around, and likely worse, because everyone has to have iWork or at least an iCloud account.

The magic of Google Docs is not that everyone can edit at the exact same time, but that there's only one centralized copy of the doc for everyone to work on. In real-world usage, simultaneous editing is fairly unusual, but multiple people needing to see the same document (with comments and changes from all) is not. I've recently been setting up a non-profit here in Ithaca for STEM advocacy, and having all the organization's documents in Google Docs has been a huge win for collaboration and institutional memory.
Bette Piacente  2013-06-15 12:09
I agree that Google Docs is a boon to the one file in one place for everyone paradigm. And, it has been a real boost for our office work flow.

Nevertheless, I'm ever hopeful that iCloud can be "all it can be" someday soon. I continue to look forward to the iWork release as I do love Numbers, Pages and Keynote where ever I go and they do need an update. I am trying to eradicate MS Office from our workflow, but there are a couple of things it does for us, that iWorks cannot easily duplicate yet. Fingers crossed!