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iWork Update Brings iOS Apps Closer to Parity

Just weeks after Apple unveiled new iPads with Apple Pencil support (see “Apple Quietly Releases New iPad mini and iPad Air” 18 March 2019), the company has issued updates to its iWork app suite, with changes largely aimed at iOS users.

A little history… back in 2013, when Apple completely revamped the iWork apps, bringing true cross-device document compatibility between the Mac and iOS versions of the apps, many users were horrified by how many iWork features Apple abandoned in the process (see “New Free iLife and iWork Apps Share across Devices and Platforms,” 22 October 2013 and “Why iWork Had to Change (and What That Has to Do with Aperture),” 9 July 2014). Although most of those features reappeared slowly over the years, they did so usually first—and often only—on the Mac: the iOS iWork apps would preserve any content created with those features on the Mac, but those apps might not be able to create or edit the same sort of content on their own. However, in the last year or so, Apple has been striving to make the iOS apps more capable of content creation.

The current round of iWork updates continues that trend, although the Mac and iCloud browser-based apps did get some attention as well.

What’s New with All the iWork Apps

iCloud looms large in the iWork story, and the latest updates expand upon the story. Both the Mac and iOS iWork apps can now:

  • Save custom shapes that are shared via iCloud
  • Create and share via iCloud document templates or, in the case of Keynote, presentation themes
  • Edit grouped objects while collaborating via iCloud
  • Create image placeholders (formerly a Mac-only feature)
  • Support vertically typed text in text boxes and shapes for documents in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean;  Pages provides vertical text support in the main document as well

What’s New with Pages

Tables of contents are the marquee feature of Pages 5.0 in iOS and Pages 8.0 on the Mac. Previously, you could create a table of contents for a document only with Pages for Mac; now you can not only create them on both platforms but also navigate and edit them in a new table of contents viewer.

The new iWork Table of Contents viewer.

In another major change, the iOS version of Pages has now gained the capability to switch a document between word processing and page layout formats, previously a Mac-only feature.

In addition, the Mac version of Pages now lets you place alignment guides on master pages to help with layout.

What’s New with Keynote

Both Keynote 9.0 for Mac and Keynote 5.0 for iOS now tout the unexpected capability to produce animated GIFs by exporting one or more slides. For the most part, Apple probably intends this feature to make it easy to publish a self-playing version of a presentation, but users will undoubtedly find more adventurous uses for it. (That also makes up for the loss of animated GIF functionality in Preview, see “It’s Frustrating That Preview in Mojave Isn’t Better,” 13 March 2019.)

Exporting an animated GIF in Keynote.

As for animations within a presentation, the iOS version of Keynote has inched closer to the Mac version, and in some ways surpassed it. Both apps now support action build effects, and in the iOS app, you can create hand-drawn animation paths, either by using your finger or, on those iPads that support it, an Apple Pencil.

Finally, Keynote on the Mac better supports extra-wide slides in its slide navigator, light table, and presenter displays, and iOS users can now edit presenter notes as they rehearse or present a slideshow.

What’s New with Numbers

Numbers 6.0 for Mac and Numbers 5.0 for iOS received the least love in this latest round of updates, with most of the changes polishing existing features. For example:

  • The iOS version provides better support for adjusting row and column sizes with the format pane
  • Apple increased the maximum zoom level in Numbers for iOS to 400%
  • Smart Categories in the iOS version received unspecified performance and usability improvements
  • Both apps received enhancements to their Excel and CSV import capabilities

At the End of the iWork Day

As is nearly always the case, if you upgrade the iWork apps on one of your devices, you should upgrade them on all of your devices. Otherwise, you may experience interoperability problems or just confusion when new features, such as shared templates and custom shapes, don’t seem to be available. Nonetheless, unlike many prior updates to iWork, I have found the previous versions of the iWork apps can open documents created with the latest iWork apps.

But what about iWork for iCloud, the browser-hosted versions of the suite’s apps? Those apps have been updated too. They now provide the capability to recover recently deleted files, and they incorporate some of the enhancements of their on-device siblings, such as better Smart Categories support in Numbers and improved table editing. Nonetheless, they remain second-class citizens suitable mostly for light commenting and collaboration, rather than full-fledged content creation and editing.

In any case, Apple’s iWork suite has advanced considerably since its 2013 reboot. No longer toys, these free apps have acquired capabilities that rival those of the most powerful productivity apps available on any platform. If you haven’t looked at Pages, Keynote, and Numbers recently, you should, especially if you’re an iPad user: iWork has become a powerful competitor in the tablet-based app market, and you certainly can’t beat its price.

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Comments About iWork Update Brings iOS Apps Closer to Parity

Notable Replies

  1. Is it possible yet to import style sheets into a Pages document (e.g. from another Pages document)? This is probably the last main feature that was lost in 2013 that still causes me grief.

  2. No, it doesn’t. It’s not a trivial thing to provide, as Pages documents have several types of styles: paragraph styles, character styles, and list styles. A style import mechanism would have to give the user options to import each separately and to handle those cases where imported styles of each type conflict with the ones already in a document.

    Nonetheless, if you haven’t sent Apple feedback requesting style imports (or even if you have previously), you should. The more people who request a feature, the more likely it is that Apple will implement it.

  3. I gave up on iWork when they monkeyed with it so much it became useless. Especially with Pages, which I had used all the time. I can’t even make changes to several text items at one time, which I used to do all the time. Say I wanted to make a font change to several paragraphs separated by another paragraph, used to just hold down the command key as I selected the two paragraphs and made the change. Now have to do each one individually - a waste of time and effort. It was that sort of ignoring the consumer’s needs that drove me to my now beloved Nisus Writer Pro. I now use pages mainly when I am developing agendas or Harvard outline planning notes. Or when i am at a meeting using my iPad - the notes of which are immediately imported into a Nisus document when I get home.

    Oh how I wish Nisus had a iOS app!! More, I wish Apple put back all the things they took of iWork apps.

    Thanks for the informative article. I have not yet upgraded my Mac from Sierra but have not had any problems using Pages latest version with my iPad Pro and the Mac thank heavens.

  4. Thanks, Michael, that’s extremely useful. I’ve used Copy Style/Paste Style before, but only to apply font/formatting to some text – I never realised that (in Pages) it would copy the actual style sheet, and merge it if it has the same name as an existing one. Being able to copy and paste the actual style sheets goes some way to make up for the lack of import style functionality. It would be a bit tedious if updating a set of related templates with new styles, but for my current purposes, this is all I need.

    I agree it’s not trivial, but that was what was so great with the old Pages’ Import Styles feature. You got a selection dialogue to deal with the import:

    I did send feedback to Apple years ago when the new Pages was first released, but haven’t since then. I might just see how I get on with the copy/paste styles for now. At the moment I’m not writing the kinds of documents I used to which often benefited from being able to import a whole set of styles in one go.

  5. Is using the older iWork apps still a thing for some people? I remember you could have the new and old versions on your machine at the same time (by manually choosing to keep them), and sometimes be able to slip between them to use the ‘old’ functionalities not found in their newer counterparts.

  6. Yes, it is still a thing. I have both the current Pages and the old one on my Mac, and they co-exist reasonably well. That said, I can’t remember the last time I needed to use the old app other than to check things out for my Take Control of Pages book.

  7. I also still have the old apps installed. However, it’s a sign of how much the new versions have matured that I haven’t run them in months and months (whereas for years after the new ones came out, I continued to primarily use the old versions of Pages and Numbers).

    Good thing, too. When I opened Pages for the first time in months to take the screenshot above, I got the warning that it isn’t ‘optimised’. So I guess the old iWork is 32-bit and will stop working later this year in Mac OS 10.15.

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