Apple announced the addition of iWork for iCloud to its growing set of cloud-based services at this year’s WWDC in San Francisco. Released in beta this past August, but then throttled back due to overwhelming response, the cloud-based iWork suite comprises three products: Numbers, Pages and Keynote. They are quite similar in form and function to their desktop and mobile equivalents, and mimic key functionality of the most common Microsoft Office products.
For those unfamiliar, Numbers offers spreadsheet support similar to Microsoft Excel, Pages offers Microsoft Word-like features, and Keynote allows the creation and viewing of presentations similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. While the iWork products are not fully compatible with, or as feature-rich as, their Microsoft Office counterparts, there is support for common file types and sufficient functionality for all but the heaviest power users. While the cloud-based version is free to all iCloud account holders, the desktop versions of the iWork apps sell a la carte via the Mac App Store for $19.99 each.
Apple recently strengthened the appeal of iWork with two major changes – most likely as a counter to Google’s growing GoogleDocs/GoogleDrive foothold and Microsoft’s recently rumored plans to launch tablet versions (including for iOS) of its popular Office products as early as 2014:
1. As of September, all newly purchased Apple iOS devices include complimentary versions of iWork (formerly the three component apps were sold separately for $9.99 each).
2. The addition of an iCloud-based version of iWork now allows both Mac and Windows PC owners access to the majority of iWork features, offering a very respectable no-cost suite of core business applications.
The biggest advantage of iWork via iCloud is the close and nearly seamless integration across devices, particularly across Apple products. Changes made to documents in any of the three iWork programs are automatically synced and updated across their browser-based, desktop and mobile versions. This provides the ability to view and edit reports, documents, spreadsheets and presentations from virtually anywhere at any time. Some, myself included, may still be reluctant to fully embrace a cloud-based application and prefer to do the heavy lifting of document creation with a desktop version. iWork makes that fully possible. However, being able to not just read or print documents on the go, but to actually make significant changes from a hotel business center PC or an iPad while traveling, and then having those changes reflected across all devices automatically, is quite compelling.
There are still quite a few features missing and some significant and annoying bugs in this iteration of iWork for iCloud. It does require a fairly consistent and reliable Internet connection. Working without connectivity presently causes document saving and syncing issues. Short cuts such as context-sensitive tools are also limited or non-existent in the browser version. Until the product completes its beta and more of the kinks are worked out, I can only recommend using the iCloud-based version as supplement to the desktop or mobile versions of iWork.
Whether iWork (iCloud, desktop or mobile version) is a suitable Microsoft Office or Google Docs replacement for you, depends on your situation:
1. Mac OS X and iOS Users. Because of their tight integration, automatic syncing, nearly identical feature set across all versions, coupled with a very reasonable price, customers using primarily Macs, iPhones and iPads to do most of their work (and across devices) will find the highest degree of satisfaction and smoothest experience with iWork.
2. GoogleDocs and Android users or Windows PC and Windows Phone users. The integration between Google Docs and the Android platform, as well as between Windows PCs and Windows phones with Microsoft Office Web / Mobile applications, is simply superior to the same devices with iWork for iCloud. For this reason, if you’re pretty happy with your current office product suite, I cannot recommend the transition to iWork in either of these scenarios.
3. Windows PC users with iOS devices. The short answer is that it depends. If you are a power user of Microsoft Office products, in particularly Excel, you may find the features in Numbers frustratingly lacking at times. If you are only using Microsoft Office for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, or do not presently have tools for these tasks, you should find plenty to like in iWork. Be aware, however, that if you are considering getting rid of Microsoft Office completely, there’s a catch. If you use Microsoft Outlook or Access, as examples, you will still need suitable alternates, such as iCloud’s Mail, Calendar or Contacts. PC Advisor recently published an insightful article describing the differences for Mac and Windows PC users, when trying to sync or share documents across devices with iWork for iCloud.
If you are on the fence, or have not yet had a chance to try iWork, this is the perfect time. iWork for iCloud (particularly if paired with the desktop and mobile versions) provides one more affordable and feature-rich option for viewing and editing documents, spreadsheets or presentations across devices. On the other hand, if you are not in a hurry for a solution, the options are only going to increase in the next few months as Apple, Microsoft and Google continue their slugfest to dominate the multi-platform and mobile device storage and office application space.