iWorks upgrade got the message

Spoiler alert! It’s kind of hard to grade an iPad office suite since nothing could compare to its counterpart on a real computer. But they are getting better and iWorks’ new upgrade is the best yet. Unfortunately, an A+ app for an iPad would be a B- app on a Mac; maybe a B on a PC (I just had to get that in). In spite of its many flaws, iPad iWorks is now the best bundle of word, spreadsheet and presentation processing apps on the iPad.

This does not, however, make it a best buy so much as a best of the lot.

Some of you may have noticed that I have added a spoiler alert to the blog and eliminated the summer’s ritual of summarizing the day’s blog for bottom-line readers (followed by a summary of any additional irrelevant comments following the words “in addition”). Others of you may not really have noticed, but for those that miss the old format I suppose I should provide an explanation.

The old introduction was actually a form of back-handed compliment. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but for bottom-line readers who don’t have the time to deal with subtext, a backhanded compliment seems to summarize the blog for readers looking for the bottom line while really insulting them. The truth is, I just don’t have the creative talent to devote five-days a week to thinking up a new back-handed compliment for readers who don’t recognize them anyway.

The problem was, readers with an ear for subtext, for example, the assistants the bottom-line readers passed the blog off to read anyway, expected the compliments to become more devious, more backhanded, and even more funny.

Funny is hard, people. Backhanded compliment funny is even harder. I’d rather just be spontaneous funny, which, occasionally means not funny at all.

So I decided to forego it all, and replace it with a spoiler alert, which made life a lot simpler for me.

Reworking iWorks

You never know how an upgrade will turn out. It can make the product sing, or sink it all together. This is especially true when you’re looking for word processing software for your iPad. So far the results have been less than stellar. Even a good iPad word processor pales in comparison to the ones on the desktop.

Working with the iPad reminds me of the early days on the Mac, when one or two apps had yet to emerge as the leaders in their field. MacWrite and Microsoft Word had to fend off MindWrite, Nissus Writer, FullWrite Professional and even a lackluster version of Word Perfect before Apple abandoned MacWrite and Word/Office Suite broke away from the pack.

They were all better than a typewriter, and no one should regret it’s passing. But it took several years to find one that actually delivered the features a professional writer wants in his toolbox. Hopefully it won’t take that long for the iPad.

Ironically, Word succeeded because Microsoft developers quit thinking of Word as a substitute for a typewriter and abandoned the typewriter-based interface the other apps were stuck on. Users weren’t sold immediately, at least not until Microsoft liberally lifted the MacWrite interface and introduced Word for Windows on the PC. Word for Windows married Word’s power to MacWrite’s look and feel.

I’ve reviewed a number of contenders since May, and switched back and forth in my support for different apps. Of them all, iWorks has lagged far behind as a word processor. The Numbers spreadsheet is decent, but limited, and Keynote is the only presentation tool that approaches being fully functional (as far as the iPad is functional).

iWork’s strength was always the ability adapt word, spreadsheet and presentation processing to the touch screen (and graphics management; we can’t forget graphics management). The drawback, however, was always file management. You could only save files in a single location and you could only move them with iWork.com and the USB cable through iTunes. The next biggest drawback (for me; most likely the biggest for others) was the fact that only Pages could export Office files and those stripped out the few document styling features Pages offered.

A few weeks ago Apple released a major upgrade to iWorks to restore its competitive edge. For once they did things right. Instead of rushing to release a crappy upgrade they waited and released a really good one.

It’s far from perfect, and I am still hoping for more. But it does return iWorks, especially Pages, to the forefront of of iPad Office based apps. You might wonder why I keep dragging Office into this. The answer is simple. Most people chained to their desktops and laptops still prefer the Office Suite to iWorks. Professionals need to create documents all of their clients can use.

Expanded Pages features

The real features additions come to Pages. Pages now retains Table of Contents, style and reference notes. Not the text versions, the working and fully editable versions. Nor do these features get stripped out when converting the file to Word .doc format.

Apple added additional across the board features to all three apps and I’d rather you track them down in the App store than simply listing them here. The footnoting feature is probably the most important because it is a hassle to have to reorganize and edit reference notes once they have been converted to plain text.

As with the older versions of iPad iWorks, you can’t add these features to your documents on the iPad. You still have to create them on your Mac or PC. But at least they remain in place when you send the document back.

Full (almost) Office compatibility

All three iWorks iPad apps now export Office Suite native files. They aren’t perfectly compatible, but they’re pretty compatible. In the past, you had to move the files to your Macintosh with iTunes, open them in Mac iWorks and then save them in Office format. If you were a PC user, you were basically screwed.

The files still export in the older .doc and .xls and not in the more recent .docx and .xslx format, but it’s a start. The Word files remain remarkably intact.
The Table of Contents engine works with Word files because Word now organizes table entries based on style references rather than hidden field information. The new upgrade exports style information as well, so if you need to reorganize the contents you can.

There will still be problems with exported Office files. I opened a Keynote presentation saved as PowerPoint and was unable to edit the table data, for instance. Then again, the App store said I could now format the text in individual table cells and that didn’t seem to be happening either.

I couldn’t edit table cells in PowerPoint.

In spite of its limitations, I feel compelled to remember that the PC based apps don’t fully support Office Suite files either. They strip graphics, styles, footnotes and just about every other basic word processing feature and limit themselves to text and cell formatting.

iDisk capable

iWorks finally added iDisk access. This was a huge step forward that I think should have been in the original. But at least it’s finally available.

Is it as easy to use as other apps? Sadly, no. Office2 HD, QuickOffice and Documents to Go Professional all access iDisk (and other servers) using a file management system almost identical to the Macintosh Finder. This included nested folders on the device itself. iWorks requires a different button for exporting files to and importing files from iDisk, which makes file management that much harder.

iWorks offers awkward but functional iDisk support.

In the past I’ve been equivocal about office apps because there was such a wide variance of features. However, now that iPad iWorks supports Office Suite documents, and limited file management, I suspect the only people who will shy away are hard core PC users who begrudge the existence of something as cool as the iPad. It always supported graphics and media. It now exports files to Office even better than its competitors and the file management, while limited, is workable.

Jenny Manytoes rates the iWorks upgrade.

Jenny Manytoes would purr all over iWorks. It still needs work, but the developers have delivered the basics well.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Apple Apps, Office Suite and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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