iWork for iCloud: Not Enough

iWork ’09 for the Mac released on January 6, 2009. 2009! That is 1,619 days ago. I use the heck out of iWork. In an industry that thrives on Microsoft Word, I surreptitiously write legal documents in Pages. I run a legal practice and publishing business out of Numbers and I largely pay for my shoes giving Keynote presentations. You could say I’m invested.

So when Roger Rosner took the stage on Monday and explained he was going to talk about iWork, I felt like I was finally getting the update for Mac that I’ve been waiting for so long. I know the tech world is full of hyperbole but in this case the term “so long” is correct.

In January 2009, when iWork ’09 was released, I was thrilled. They added some revolutionary new features (like Magic Move and Instant Alpha) that immediately both made me more productive and made my work look better. It was love at first sight. By early 2010 I was ready to fall in love again. What new feature would iWork get to make me look smarter? Then Steve took the stage to introduced the world to the iPad and a fully working version of iWork for iPad.

“That’s okay”, I told myself. “They didn’t have time to make a new Mac version. In 2011, I’m going to get a new iWork for my Mac and I’m sure it will be double the sexy.” Then 2011 rolled around and iWork for iPad got a lot better but there was no new Mac version. Indeed that has been the case every year since 2009. Apple has iterated repeatedly on the iOS versions, taking them a long way. I’ve been consoling myself on this lack of Mac update with noticeable improvements on the iPad. Now I can even track changes in Pages on the iPad. Incredible.

Nevertheless, I still look at the iWork ’09 box on my shelf and think wistfully about four years’ worth of innovations that never shipped. “This year”, I told myself as WWDC approached. “This is the year that I will get a new version of iWork for Mac.” What we got instead was a promise of some future update for the Mac and a demonstration of iWork for iCloud, a product which, in its current form, I will almost never use.

Don’t get me wrong. What Apple did with iWork in a web browser is impressive. I didn’t think it was possible to pull off the intricate graphic operations they demonstrated at WWDC in a browser. Nevertheless, the web versions of the iWork apps aren’t as good as the native Mac versions. I won’t be able to manage tiny granular animations and object transitions the way I can on my Mac. Those four year old features I love aren’t going be in the iCloud versions any time soon.

I understand web apps are a large part of the future of computing and the advantage that comes with any modern web browser—even one on a Windows machine—running iWork. However, this isn’t something us iWork users in the trenches need right now. We need power and innovation on the platform we use every day. We need a new Mac version.

Also missing from the iWork for iCloud presentation was any mention of the best reason to put an office app on the web, collaboration. I’ve never been happy with the feature set of any of the web-based office solutions. They don’t have the features we get with native apps and are often ugly as sin. There is, however, one redeeming feature in collaboration. Multiple people can work on the same online document at once. Google has mastered this so that I can write one paragraph while watching a colleague (or two or three colleagues) write another paragraph on the same page. iCloud for iWork doesn’t support this. Maybe online collaboration is on the roadmap for iWork for iCloud but there was no mention of it on Monday.

What I’d really like is for Apple to stop toying with my heart. It’s okay to start building web versions and continue to improve upon the iOS versions. All of that is important. However, before doing anything else, deliver a new version of iWork for the Mac that throws me head over heels in love all over again.

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