Fell From the Tree

The Curious Case of iWork

Following iWork over the last few years has been interesting to say the least. What started on the Mac as yet another of Apple’s moves away from depending on other companies grew over the years to encompass a full, rich office suite.

The Story So Far

Since the introduction of iWork ’08, I’ve been using it as my exclusive office suite on my Mac and it’s been up to the task. But it seemed to fall by the wayside as Apple worked on their booming iOS business.

That’s not to say its been without updates. The iWork team has certainly been busy. In the interim, all of this happened:

  • iWork.com was launched and discontinued
  • iWork for iOS debuted and gained support for iCloud
  • iWork for Mac gained support for iCloud
  • iBooks Author was written

There was even a lot of smoke when the Mac App Store launched that iWork ’11 would launch alongside it. But alas, no new iWork for Mac.

Why So Curious?

iWork has had the roughest transition of any Apple product to the new iOS-centric Apple. Originally shipping in a box six months after MobileMe debuted, six months before the iPhone 3GS debuted, and a year before the original iPad was shown, iWork ’09 still operated under the assumption that the Mac was Apple’s primary platform.

When iWork for iOS debuted alongside the original iPad, it was amazing enough that relatively full-featured versions of iWork existed for the platform. It didn’t have all the features of its Mac counterpart, which led to odd file incompatibilities between the platforms. If you created a document in Pages for Mac that used features Pages for iOS didn’t have then synced it to your iPad, worked on it, and synced it back (known as round-tripping), those parts would be stripped out, gone. Still, iWork’s existence alone on iOS was enough.

But aside from getting iCloud support in late 2011, iWork for iOS was never really given any new features. Even with iCloud, the file incompatibilities remained. The hope was that the iOS versions would gain feature parity with the Mac so this would be solved.

Finally, just a shade under five years since its last major release, Apple debuted a completely overhauled iWork last month. Apple even added a platform: the web via iCloud.com. The ground-up rewrite finally brought a 64-bit binary to Apple’s office suite, brought file compatibility between the platforms, and brought the UI, previously littered with vestiges of OS X’s past1 into the modern era.

When a rewrite like this has happened in the past, notably with iMovie ’08 and Final Cut Pro X, the new version was missing some features its predecessor had2. iWork is no different. Neither was the outrage. I was hesitant to comment on it without knowing if this was a new direction for Apple, or if they just ran out of time. Last week we got our answer in the form of a support document: Apple plans to restore most of the missing features within the next six months.

Rejoice!

The next few months will be a bit rocky as iWork for Mac gains back its missing features and presumably iWork for iOS and iWork in the cloud gain these features for the first time. iOS in particular can certainly use it. As iOS has matured and the devices it runs on have become more powerful, it’s no longer enough for iWork to exist on the platform. It needs to be great. It needs to rival desktop applications in terms of features and power.

But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Being able to pick up any device and have all of your documents with you without worrying, or converting file formats is in reach. We just need to hang in a little longer.


  1. Things like the floating palette, and especially the styles drawer have fallen out of use over the years as alternatives began to arise. I can’t think of a single application I still use besides iWork that still uses a drawer.  Certainly no app that began its life after 10.6. 

  2. Even OS X itself, which was missing enough features from OS 9 to net even be the default OS on new Macs when it first shipped. In fact, the only ground up rewrite that comes to mind that had feature parity with its predecessor was the Finder being rewritten from the ground up in 64bit Cocoa in 10.6 after living its entire life as a 32bit Carbon application