Essential Advice from a Silicon Whisperer

Ernest de Leon

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iworkUnless you have been under a rock for the last few days, or not a fan of the excellent Apple ecosystem, you might have heard some news regarding Apple’s iWork for iCloud. Point your browser over to www.icloud.com to see what I mean. I have been using the service since Apple launched it to select beta testers back in July sometime, and now it is available to everyone, though still in beta. Now, some of you who follow my blog might not know what iWork is, or even iCloud for that matter. If that is the case, shame on you! Regardless, here is a chance for you to become more informed about an excellent software platform and make use of the next competitor to Google Docs and Microsoft Web Apps (Office 365).

If you have an iPhone, iPad or any other Apple device where you use the iTunes/App Store ecosystem, then you are probably familiar with iCloud. Likewise, if you have been using a Mac for business, and more recently an iPhone or iPad, then you are probably familiar with iWork. For those not familiar, iWork is Apple’s office suite, which has three separate applications for word processing (Pages), spreadsheets (Numbers) and presentations (Keynote). iCloud is Apple’s Cloud Storage offering which ties all of the app ecosystem together, allowing you to store photos, documents and other data in their Cloud. iWork was traditionally sold as a stand alone office suite, like Microsoft office (though much cheaper), but was revamped into the App Store as three separate apps. Collectively, the three apps are even cheaper than the stand alone version was. In addition, the three apps were revamped for mobile and released for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Moreover, the iWork apps were “cloudified”, allowing you to store your documents in iCloud and work on them across all of your devices. While all of this was awesome, there was still one thing missing…

Being a consultant, I am constantly traveling for business. This requires me to be able to work on things wherever and whenever I can, on any device I happen to have in my hand. As such, I am a heavy user of web apps like Google Docs. Being able to access my documents, in a web browser, with a full office suite is probably the most amazing and innovative thing that has happened to the business world in recent memory. While I do have iWork and even Microsoft Office for Mac installed on my Macbook Air, I rarely use them. I do nearly everything in Google Docs. While Google Docs is awesome in all kinds of ways, it is quite spartan and minimalist. I happen to like this, but some people have complained about the lack of “robust functionality” (I say bloat) as compared to a regular desktop app like Microsoft Office. At the same time, I do have an appreciation and love for well designed interfaces and apps that just work. This is why I am so invested in the Apple and Mac ecosystem. So, when I heard that Apple was working on a web-based version of their amazing iWork suite, I was very excited. Enter the new iWork for iCloud…

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If you log into your iCloud account, which for most people uses the same credentials as their iTunes or App Store accounts, you will see the new “desktop”. As you can see from the screenshot above, there are three new icons tagged with ‘beta’ for the new iWork apps. Pages, Numbers and Keynote are now web apps, just like their Google Docs counterparts. Clicking on any one of them takes you to a new work space where you can see all of your documents that have been uploaded to iCloud. You can then select which document you want to work on, or create a new one, and off you go working in a web app that functions just like the desktop version.

There are a few caveats to note with the current beta version of iWork. For one, you can’t print directly from the web app yet. You have to click the ‘share’ icon from the work space and download the document you are working on as a native iWork document, a PDF or a Microsoft Office document. Personally, I download them as PDFs and then print the PDF. I think this is a very logical approach as everyone has a PDF viewer that prints on their machine. I am more than sure Apple will add native print functionality in soon, but as this is beta, they are gradually rolling out and testing features. Second, there has been some debate as to whether Apple will keep iWork for iCloud free after the beta period or if they will charge for it. Based on past history as well as what their competitors are doing, I believe Apple will keep iCloud for iWork free. You can also work on Microsoft Office documents easily within iWork for iCloud, but you do have to upload the documents by dragging the documents into the virtual desktop space. Not a big problem, but it may confuse some users.

I think that Apple has taken a huge step in the right direction with iWork for iCloud. Releasing apps that work in the Cloud is the current and future trend, and the future of successful software platforms lies in multi-device support and inter-connectivity via the Cloud. iWork for iCloud does this perfectly, with the polish and ease of use that Apple is known for. I think iWork for iCloud will be a huge success and I urge you to give it a try as soon as possible. Also, one last note: this is clearly a beta and Apple is hoping for feedback on the platform. There is a small icon for feedback in the upper right hand corner of the three work spaces. Please be sure to give feedback (positive or negative) to Apple so that they can improve the platform over time. Just like voting, you can’t complain if you don’t participate! I have included some more images of the new service below for you to peruse. You can also read the official Apple page on iWork for iCloud here.

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Ernest is a technologist, a futurist and serial entrepreneur who aims to help those making IT related business decisions, from Administrators through Architects to CIOs. Having held just about every title in the IT field all the way up through CTO, he lends his industry experience and multi-platform thinking to all who need it. Creating a vision and executing it are two different things, and he is here to help with both. Seeing the forest and the trees at the same time is a special skill which takes years of experience to develop.