Technologizer

Apple’s WWDC Sleeper Story: iWork for iCloud

Apple's browser-based office suite looks promising -- which could be big news even if you don't care about office suites.

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Apple's Roger Rosner demos iWork for iCloud's Numbers spreadsheet at WWDC on June 10, 2013

How many news stories have there been recapping all the news from Apple’s WWDC keynote yesterday? Gazillions, if not more. And while I haven’t read all of them, I’m virtually positive that not a single one led with one bit from the middle of the event: Apple is getting ready to release iWork for iCloud, a fully browser-based version of its productivity suite, which includes the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet and Keynote presentation tool.

The fact that iWork for iCloud is being treated like a secondary story isn’t a shocker. Word processors, spreadsheets and presentation tools are not the stuff of headline news in 2013. But I, for one, was dazzled. iWork for iCloud looks…well, very much like the OS X and iOS versions of the suite. Which means it’s slick and beautiful. Even spreadsheets are eye-popping, with gorgeous charting features. The service supports Microsoft Office file formats and has access to documents stored on iCloud by the OS X and iOS versions of the suite. And everything works in Internet Explorer and Chrome on Windows, making this the first version of iWork that runs on non-Apple devices. Developers have access to a preview version right now; a public beta will roll out later this year.

The usual disclaimers apply: It’s dangerous to judge anything based on an onstage presentation, since products that demo beautifully sometimes don’t work very well in real life, or are missing critical features. And iWork for iCloud is reminiscent of a previous Apple effort called iWork.com, which it announced with similar fanfare in 2009 as a beta, then killed last year having never fully rolled it out.

Still, even if you don’t care about online productivity suites — or are perfectly happy with Google Docs or Microsoft’s Office Web Apps – iWork for iCloud has intriguing implications. Even among Apple fans, the conventional wisdom is pretty much that the company doesn’t understand the Internet and doesn’t know how to create first-rate web-based services. That may be a tad harsh, but there’s no question that Apple is most comfortable building native software that runs on operating systems it’s designed itself. (As Steve Jobs was fond of saying, the company likes to build “the whole widget.”)

But if iWork for iCloud is great, it will prove that Apple can and will create great web-based apps. Which means that the notion of praying that it will reimagine iTunes as a meaner, leaner browser-based service isn’t hopelessly unrealistic. It’ll even seems plausible that Apple might come up with fresh new ideas and choose to release them as web services rather than native apps.

By building apps in the browser, Apple can reach a rather large market that it hasn’t devoted much attention to lately: Windows users. Odds are that we’ll never see a major new Windows application from Apple — it stopped updating Safari for Windows – but serious browser apps are by definition platform-neutral. (At least for the most part: Apple didn’t mention Firefox or Opera among the browsers it’s planning to support.)

And here’s a wacky idea: web apps could also be a way for Apple to quietly, unofficially reach out to Android users without having to acknowledge the fact that it’s reaching out to Android users. (I used to wonder whether Apple might dabble in Android apps as it once did in Windows software, but the competition is so fierce and personal that the notion now seems unthinkable.) The company could, for instance, create a phone- and tablet-friendly version of iWork for iCloud that just happened to work on Android devices as well as iOS ones.

O.K., I’m getting carried away. It’s nice to think, though, that Apple will eventually beat its rep for being bad at the web — and that iWork for iCloud might be the first clear piece of evidence that good things are one their way.

7 comments
silas_brooks
silas_brooks like.author.displayName 1 Like

This was the most exciting news to me! I used word processors constantly, and Pages is my fave. Unfortunately, I had to sell my Mac a while back to pay off student loans. I could only afford to get a Chromebook for writing, and it's text editor is awful! Google docs is so buggy and lightweight compared to what I was used to--Not to mention Scrivener isn't compatible. Even if the web version of iwork only has half the functionality of the native app, it will still be twice as useful as Google Docs.

mintslice
mintslice

Just what we don't need. Another office suite with another proprietary file format.When Apple released iWorks they boasted about the open, published file format and then broke compatibility in their next release, having cashed in on the compatibility claims.Students at my school who use iWorks have difficulty moving between iWorks at home and the new Linux lab at school, and while this announcement might help them, we've only recently broken the back of Microsoft's proprietary format lock in with MS Office which saw people using a word processor for its file support and not because it was better. We don't need to go back there again with Apple's iWorks.Personally, I'd suggest LibreOffice or OpenOffice for the vast majority of users as it works well, is free and runs on all the major platforms, and spend a little bit of money on the one of two copies of Excel your large organization needs for their accountants (most people use spreadsheets as crude databases which any spreadsheet will do).

MichaelMays
MichaelMays

@mintslice So... you didn't read the article, did you?

The point (as was clear to me) is that Apple iss moving iWork to a more generic computing space, OUT OF the "proprietary file format" world. I guess you could still save your stuff off as "iWork-native," but if you can use iWork by logging in on ANY COMPUTER, what the heck difference does it make what the format is? Look, there will ALWAYS be a format: .doc, .odf, .xls, .pages, WHATEVER. If you can get to that file and interact with it on any computer, you've eliminated the need to worry AT ALL about proprietary file format.

I'm not sure how I personally feel about this, but if it means iWork gets upgraded for the first time in YEARS (no, the iWork.com and iWork for iOS updates DO NOT count), I'll take it. The pricing structure will be interesting as well, but Apple's been pretty reasonable with software prices for the last few years.

WaltFrench
WaltFrench

iWork/iCloud may be a useful extension of the iWork suite but (a) Apple will have to put a lot into it if they expect to best Google Docs on the number of users, and (b) I couldn't quite figure out what relevance it had to a room full of developers.

Apple has a long history of rather lightweight word/spreadsheet apps and I guess the good news is the full compatibility with app-based versions. But I'd love to hear Apple's story of where this fits into their vision of products that are buffed until they're just right.

TAAllen
TAAllen

I use iWork and iCloud synching, which works great for my needs.  I like this because I know I always have access to my documents, even if I don't have network access (which is often).  So this new model really concerns me.  The ability to use my own fonts also very quickly comes to mind, as that's already an issue with synching across devices.  Not having access to my own fonts on my Mac would be a deal-breaker for me.  I hope they continue to develop the desktop application.

silas_brooks
silas_brooks

@TAAllen I'm certain they will. This is more for those times when you need to get to a document or take notes on something and don't have your computer. Or if you have a PC and hate Word.

NVenkatraman
NVenkatraman

I have to agree with the premise of this article. Most stories focused on iOS7 and Mac OSX. But, to me the interesting evolution is iWorks on iCloud with browser functionality. To be able to log on using a browser and edit my keynote presentation is a huge improvement. To me it signals Apple's willingness to more selectively open its applications. I also see it with iBooks on Mac--a feature demoed yesterday. It would be even better if we could make iBooks open on other platforms as well.. Just as iTunes made many non-Mac users access music, I hope iWorks and iBooks become more universal (cross-platform) applications,