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Why iWork Had to Change (and What That Has to Do with Aperture)

Apple recently announced it is phasing out Aperture and iPhoto in favor of a new Photos app for both iOS and OS X (“Say Goodbye to iPhoto and Aperture,” 27 June 2014).

I can hear you thinking (yes, I can do that), “What does Aperture or iPhoto have to do with iWork?” Here’s what: once again, I’m seeing comments pop up in various places asserting that Apple’s goal when it reworks its software is either the deliberate “iOS-ification” of the software, or deliberately “dumbing it down.” Right after the Aperture/iPhoto news broke, in fact, I saw one commenter (no link, because I don’t want to embarrass the person) write that the replacement of Aperture by the yet-to-be-released Photos app is just like what Apple did when it (purportedly) replaced Pages on the Mac with the iOS version.

Yes, that is what the commenter claimed happened last October with iWork. That’s flat out wrong, of course: Apple did no such thing with Pages, nor with the rest of iWork, and I’m pretty sure that Apple won’t be doing that with Aperture.

Now, I won’t deny that each of the iWork apps lost a lot of features when their new versions were released last October. But after studying one, Pages (after all, I am writing “Take Control of Pages”), I can declare that Apple has not deliberately “dumbed down” Pages, nor has the Mac version undergone “iOS-ification” (whatever that is supposed to mean anyway). What Apple has done is to ensure document integrity when a Pages document travels from Mac to iOS and back. Providing that integrity is what made the iWork reboot necessary, and something like that is what is behind the transition from Aperture (and iPhoto) to Photos.

Let’s think back to how things worked with iWork last September. Suppose you created a Pages document on your Mac and saved it in iCloud as Apple encouraged you to do. Then you opened the document on your iPad, and you saw, to your disappointment, that some fonts had changed and that layouts had shifted. So you sighed and went back to your Mac and opened the document with Pages there, and you discovered — now, to your horror — that the changes you saw on your iPad had carried over to the Mac. Then you said a few words that I won’t repeat here.

The true “dumbing down” was what happened to iWork documents as they traveled across platforms.

This doesn’t happen with the new iWork apps. Over the past few months, I’ve flung Pages documents from my Mac, to my browser, to my iPhone, to my iPad, and back to my Mac, and never once saw a layout shift or a font get changed as a result of the document’s peregrinations. To be sure, if I use a font on the Mac that iOS doesn’t provide, the document does look different in iOS: that’s because Pages for iOS provides a substitute font for display purposes. But the iOS app also remembers the font I originally used, and when the document gets back to my Mac, that font shows up again right where it belongs. (In my few experiments with the other iWork apps, Numbers and Keynote, I saw similar examples of document
integrity being preserved as I moved documents between platforms.)

So much for dumbing down. Now what about iOS-ification?

As I said, I’m not quite sure I know what that term even means, but I think it might mean that the apps all look alike and act alike, whether on an iOS device or a Mac. If so, that’s certainly not true of Pages, or of the other iWork apps, and I don’t think that is what is going to happen with Photos either.

First of all, the apps don’t look alike; in the case of Pages, I have hundreds of screenshots that prove just the opposite. Yes, there are some similarities. For example, the default guide colors in Pages for Mac and Pages for iOS are the same. And, yes, that is a trivial example: I chose it because most of the examples of iOS-ified appearance in the Mac app are trivial. The similarities between the Mac iWork apps and their iOS counterparts are skin-deep, designed to create a family resemblance between the Mac and iOS apps.

I’m fine with that because, regardless of their superficial similarities, each of the apps works the way you expect it to work on its respective platform. For instance, on the Mac, you can position an object precisely on the page in a Pages document by entering coordinates in the Format Inspector, whereas on an iPad you use multi-touch finger gestures to move objects precisely. You get the same result, but you do it in quite different ways; the apps don’t act alike.

Nor do the Mac and iOS apps provide identical capabilities: the Mac Pages app provides a lot more functionality than the iOS app. Take styles, for instance: you can apply paragraph, character, or list styles in either app, but you can create new styles only on the Mac. There are dozens of places in my Pages book where I point out that one feature or another is only available on the Mac.

So much for iOS-ification. That’s not what’s going on with the Mac apps either.

What is going on, as I said, is that Apple is making sure that the documents handled by its apps on any of its platforms retain their integrity. This means that opening up a Keynote presentation on an iPad won’t discard carefully applied transitions because of a missing animation, or that opening a Pages document on an iPhone won’t permanently blow out your document’s layout because a font is missing.

To achieve this, Apple rebuilt the iWork apps from the ground up. In the process, some features in all the iWork apps were lost (though in fact, Apple promised to restore many of the missing features over time and has begun to do so). Apple is likely doing something similar with Photos, developing data and metadata implementations that can work efficiently for images across all the platforms that Apple supports. Some features will almost certainly be lost. And some of them will come back later, along with new features. (For a more detailed analysis of what is going on with Aperture, see Jeff Carlson’s “Aperture’s Golden Hour,” 2 July

Behind all of this re-engineering, of course, is iCloud. As Tim Cook pointed out more than two years ago, iCloud is “not just a product, it’s a strategy for the next decade.” Apple imagines an ideal customer who has several different Apple devices (or, better yet, all the devices), and who freely bounces documents between them, with iCloud transparently managing the handoffs. As I pointed out in “iCloud: The Anti-Social Network,” 6 February 2014, Apple sees iCloud as a digital hub that connects your Apple devices, allowing seamless access to your information from any device. But unless the
apps on all of Apple’s platforms can provide a good user experience and not damage the data in the process, the iCloud digital hub would be almost useless.

And that’s exactly what Apple is doing with iWork: making sure that when you store an iWork document in iCloud, you won’t damage it no matter the device you open it on. The previous generation of iWork apps was not designed for a seamless, cross-device, cloud-managed experience — how could they be? There was no App store when they were in development, nor was there an iPad, and iCloud was something called MobileMe (about which the less said the better). For Apple to provide a seamless, cross-device, cloud-managed experience, it had to build its apps with that experience in mind — patching old code just won’t cut it.

So what’s behind Apple’s rebooting of iWork, and what’s driving the move from iPhoto and Aperture to Photos? I think the answer is clearly cloudy.

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