Eating a Little Crow with iWork Collaboration

I wrote a few weeks ago about my less-than-impressive experiments using iCloud collaboration to work on a Pages document with a client. Following that post, I received a few emails from readers explaining that I was doing it wrong. In order to make collaboration work, I needed to not be using the Mac Pages client but instead we both needed to be working directly in the web browser. 

Pages in iCloud

Pages in iCloud

Today I was on the phone with that same Mac-savvy client and we decided to try the experiment again. I started a file in Pages and sent him an iCloud link. However, this time I then closed down the Pages application and logged into my own account and accessed the web version of Pages. We both got logged in and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that collaboration, when both parties are in the web version, works pretty great. We were both typing as we were talking, changing font sizes, and otherwise mucking about in our document and it was showing up on both screens in real time. So Pages collaboration does work so long as you don’t use the native app. 

This is good news. Now you can collaborate on documents without Google Docs. I’m going to be exploring this further but there is promise. It is kind of wonky that I can’t use the native Mac app but in fairness, I don’t use Google Docs out of a native app either. I can understand how adding that extra layer of getting this data out of the web and into the native app can gum up the works.

This message showed up at 3:05.

This message showed up at 3:05.

For giggles, I also tried collaborating from the native Pages app on the iPad with the other person on the web and that didn’t work any better than when I was in the native Mac version of Pages. I got the same delays and messages asking me to approve changes that took place two minutes earlier.

While my initial post was correct for anyone using a native app version of Pages, collaboration can work through iCloud so long as everyone is sitting at a browser window.

iWork Collaboration in the iCloud

This week, Apple released some pretty nice upgrades to the web-based iWork apps in iCloud. The improvements include more fonts, more chart options, and the ability to handle larger sized files. The experience really is quite remarkable. If you haven’t yet, log into your iCloud account and create a document in iCloudy-Pages. You’ll be surprised. You may even forget that you are doing this all in a browser. One of the other updates was the ability to have up to 100 collaborators. It was this bit that had me most interested.

Google Documents really is the standard for online document collaboration. I’ve used that tool for years and, while it isn’t all that pretty, it absolutely nails the ability to have multiple people typing on one document at the same time. While Apple is now moving this direction, it hasn’t got there yet. Yesterday I had a small writing project with a Mac-savvy client and I decided to do it collaboratively with him using iCloud Pages. I figured that if the application can support 100 collaborators, it should be pretty solid with just two. It still isn’t.

While the experiment ultimately worked and he could see what I was typing, it was hardly simultaneous. Basically, we discussed and I wrote and he waited for the changes to show up, which happened about 30 seconds after I typed. If he typed anything on his side (even just a space bar), I got a conflict message on my end and had to pick a version to become gospel. While I think Apple is nailing the “productivity app in a web browser” part, they still have work their work cut out for them on the collaboration part.


Over the past decade, Apple has turned the technology world on its head with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. All of these were transformative device to change the landscape of consumer electronics. It has also fueled legendary growth for the company with significant profits every year arriving on products that did not exist the year before.

At some level, however, none of these products were particularly surprising. Rumors of the iPhone swirled for years before it arrived. Likewise, all of us nerds were pining away for the iPad long before Apple bestowed it upon us.

So now that we have all of these devices the question arises, what is next? If Apple wants to continue to grow, it needs to continue to innovate and amaze us. So what is the next innovative product? There are several contenders:

The Apple Television

One popular source of speculation is the idea that Apple will build its own television set. I can see it in my mind’s eye: a monolithic slab of Ivesian industrial design with just the right amount of glass and aluminum and a remote controller with no buttons but a pulsing Apple icon. The trouble is, I’m not sure even I, a veteran of countless Apple launch day lines, would buy one. People don’t buy new TVs like they do iPods or iPhones. Moreover, the TV business is cutthroat and low margin, which is not Apple’s cup of tea. In order to make an Apple television work Apple would have to transform the experience and I’m not sure they can. This would rely on cooperation of networks and content providers, which is outside Apple’s control. In short, the Apple television sounds like small profits and big headaches. Perhaps Apple will prove me wrong but I don’t see that as the next big thing.

The iSomethingElse

Apple has experimented in the past with making printers, external hard drives, cameras, and other consumer electronics. The rub is, the company has done none of that since Steve came back. These again are small margin industries where Apple can’t change the world the same way it did with the iPhone and iPad.

I believe the Apple engineers are in iterate mode improving upon existing technologies for the iPhone and iPad (and to a lesser extent the Mac) so they can remain ahead of the competition. I do not believe they have cooked up some new device that none of us thought of to change the world, again. Put simply, the next Big Thing isn’t a thing at all. Instead, I think it is glue to pull the existing Apple products line together even tighter. It is time for iGlue.


This is no revalation. The Internet is buzzing with talks of the mystereous Apple server farm and iCloud. Apple has built an amazing product family. Now it’s time to work on family relations. Apple needs to turn itself into the digital hub of our lives. We should be able to buy an Apple device, type in account credentials, and have immediate access to all of our digital bits. By this I don’t mean just songs we’ve bought from iTunes. I think it should be documents, pictures, media, and everything else in our home folders. The whole enchilada.

I have talked to Apple employees and they get this. There is no mystery that the world is turning cloud-based and those who ignore this will get left behind. I think this is a challenge for Apple. Clearly, synchronizing and cloud-based solutions are Google’s game, not Apple’s. Can Apple succeed outside of its comfort zone? I think so.

The very public failure that was the MobileMe launch has not faded from anyone’s memory, especially Apple’s. Common wisdom is that Apple can’t “do” the Internet. I think common wisdom is wrong. While Apple has tinkered with the Internet so far, I don’t think Apple has “done” the Internet yet. That is about to change.

With billions sitting in the bank, Apple can build the massive data centers and hire the required talent to make them humm. The only variable left is heart, and I suspect we’ll know just how much Apple’s heart is in the iCloud in the next few months.

So what if Apple brought its considerable resources to bear on the Internet problem? What would we see? I think it is a service that is not as aggressive as Google with new features but really nails those everyday features consumers need with a gorgeous interface and panache. Apple never overreaches with the first steps in a new venture. The MobileMe fiasco will make them even more conservative with a big cloud syncing rollout. So will I get my whole enchilada on day one? Probably not. Nevertheless, I believe the next big thing will be iGlue and when the dust settles, people will stop saying that Apple cannot “do” the Internet. is sponsored by Bee Docs Timeline 3D. Make a timeline presentation with your Mac.