An extensive look at Apple's new iWork.com service

Posted:
in Mac Software edited May 2014
Apple's new iWork.com service lifts one of the biggest obstacles facing its iWork office productivity suite by making it easier for iWork users to collaborate with others using Windows PC and Microsoft Office. Here's a first look at how the service works and what it does.



What is iWork.com?



Apple's new service is already getting compared to Google Docs, but iWork.com isn't currently a similar offering. Google's online office programs are positioned as a web alternative to using desktop apps (specifically Microsoft Office), much the same way Gmail competes with Microsoft Outlook as an email solution. As a web application, Google's offerings are handicapped by the limitations of the web; given a great desktop email client, nobody would choose to use webmail instead. However, web apps can provide access to documents and messages from any system and any platform, even a public computer. It's often either impractical or impossible to set up standard email from a public terminal, but you can usually always check your email from an online web app such as Gmail.



Google's Docs hopes to make office productivity apps just as ubiquitous as webmail, and the company is working to make the browser a better environment for running sophisticated web apps. Web browsers are getting faster and the development tools to create web apps are improving to the point where online applications can serve as fair substitutes for native desktop apps. Google's WebKit-based Chrome browser and its V8 JavaScript engine are part of that strategy.



While Apple is also working along the same lines, with its own JavaScript acceleration efforts in SquirrelFish Extreme and in improvements to Safari and WebKit, it doesn't share Google's position as a web-centric company. Apple sells its own desktop OS and apps, so it views the web, as Microsoft does, as an auxiliary platform, not its primary one. That helps to explain why iWork.com isn't currently trying to replace Google Docs. Apple doesn't need people to subscribe to a web service, it can sell them iWork desktop apps.



For Apple, online services are a way to enhance its desktop apps rather than to replace them. MobileMe enhances Mac OS X's Mail, Contacts, and Address Book by making their data available online and to mobile devices, or at least the iPhone and iPod touch. The new iWork.com does the same thing for Keynote, Pages, and Numbers: it makes it super easy to sync documents up to the cloud for access from the iPhone, as well as making it trivial to present documents to Windows PC and Office users, with no translation required.



Additionally, users you collaborate with and add notes to your documents and even download them in their native iWork formats, as a PDF, or as Office documents. The main thing that iWork doesn't yet do is support document editing, which is sure to disappoint people who have the idea that iWork.com is direct competition to Google Docs. It's not an online document editor at all; its really just a document viewer system.







Learning from MobileMe



Of course, that's all set to change as the iWork.com apps grow in sophistication. There's nothing that prevents Apple from adding rich document editing features to the online service which can compete directly with Google Docs and other online office offerings. Like MobileMe, the iWork.com apps are built using SproutCore, a JavaScript framework designed to create full featured, sophisticated web apps rather than just spruced up web pages with some additional, animated AJAX functionality.



With MobileMe, Apple made two main mistakes. First, it tried to deliver too much. Portions didn't work as well as users had a right to expect, and other advertised features were missing entirely. The new iWork.com doesn't try to do everything, it simply aims at doing one thing well: presenting shared documents that are easy to access and notate. The other main flaw of the MobileMe rollout was that Apple tried to charge for it as a production-qualtity service. With iWork.com, Apple has taken a page from Google in calling the service "beta" and allowing users to hammer on it for free until they're satisfied the service is worth buying.



It's not yet known how much the service will cost. Apple previously described its online document viewer service with email notifications (as an alternative to sending email file attachments) as a planned feature of MobileMe. By spinning the technology off as a part of iWork, Apple can charge for it separately (if buyers materialize and the price is reasonable). More importantly, the service will validate the concept of online apps as a paid service independently of the still somewhat tainted MobileMe service, which was skewered by the media for being not ready for prime time at its release.



Google provides its online Docs service to consumers at no cost, but does try to find commercial business users who will pay for it. Online software in general doesn't have much of a solid business model, just as web sites have always struggled in their efforts to find a way to get paid for delivering their content. While MobileMe is regarded as a huge failure by many pundits, it remains one of the first and largest online consumer web services with a significant paying audience of a few million users.



If Apple can also make iWork.com function as an attractive, affordable service, it can add online software services as a yet another new arm of business for the company, alongside its recent ventures involving everything from smartphones to mobile software to retail store training services.



How iWork.com works



Using iWork.com requires downloading the new iWork 09 suite. A 30 day, time-limited free demo of the suite is already available for download, and can be installed and optionally purchased without affecting any existing versions of iWork already on the system.



To get started with the new online service, users login using their existing Apple Account (such as from iTunes or MobileMe), or set up a new one.







One can then upload a document from the toolbar, which automatically prompts the user to set up an invitation to others. The "To" field works just like Mail, completing invited members from Address Book. The From field allows the user to send the invite from any email account they have set up in Mail.







Click Share, and the iWork app puts up a notification of the upload progress. The file is stored on Apple's server (that "cloud" buzzword), a step that lets anyone, anywhere access the document from any fairly modern web browser. The document stays available for three months.











Invited recipients get a simple email that allows them to view the online documents by clicking on a link. Currently, there is no security in place for invited users; they are shown the document within the online viewer and logged into a session that allows them to leave comments tagged with their email address. That allows multiple users to be invited to view and comment on an online document without doing anything more than clicking the link, but it also means that any documents that get uploaded are fairly easy for anyone to access, as long as they have the URL (which appears in the email, below). Invited users can't access other documents uploaded to the same account however.







Unlike invited viewers, the user who uploads the document must login to the service to access it (below). That provides them with greater access, via the publish.iwork.com app.











Once logged in, the publisher can see, add and remove invited Viewers. Once removed, the invited user can't access the document anymore using their URL link. The publisher can also add or clear comments on the document, and download the document from the website in iWork, PDF, or Office formats.











Clicking on the Shared Documents link in the publish web app gives the publisher access to all uploaded files, which can be downloaded, viewed or deleted. Invited users don't have access to this link, so they can't delete documents or view other uploads they were not invited to see.







Instead, invited viewers get a slightly different interface via the view.iwork.com web app, which only allows them to view the document, add notes, and see other viewers. They can't send invites of their own, although they can share their URL and give access in their name to others. Anyone who leaves a comment after accessing the document following a given link will be identified as the user that URL was originally sent to, as the URL contains the invited user's email address. If they remove that identifying portion of the URL, they would be forced to login to view the document.







On the iPhone



Looking at the web app's source code reveals two things: first that the new app uses SproutCore to build its interface, but more interestingly that the service gives Mobile Safari users (on an iPhone or iPod touch) a customized version of access.







Again, the publishing user can access the document on their iPhone by logging in, although this mobile version doesn't currently present any comments or viewer invitation controls. It only allows users to view the document, or any other documents they have uploaded to their iWork.com account. Other mobile invited users will similarly only get view access, but again won't have to login with an account to see it (the URL effectively logs them in itself).







The new service shows a lot of potential. It's a great way to share access to office files without emailing around documents, and it makes it easy to access documents from the iPhone without needing to actually use up its RAM to store the documents locally (as email attachments, for example). Apple can enhance the service by providing online editing controls, with permissions to edit being optionally afforded to invited users, but currently the service is not an online office suite and only a document sharing service.







First impressions are stronger than MobileMe, but this time around Apple bit off much less, and therefore ended up with less to perfect. A followup look at iWork.com and the new iWork 09 suite will examine how well the apps and service work together, as well as how practical the service makes using iWork for those who need to share documents with the Office-using world around them.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 82
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
    Hello Dan!



    I think it's an oversight that there's no iWork.com landing page. There should be one just like there is for me.com A stupid oversight on Apple's part. They could add a "buy now" button on the page for iWork '09 if they must. Sometimes you can't help but just wonder with Apple. Ridiculo-so!
  • Reply 2 of 82
    dave k.dave k. Posts: 1,306member
    I think this is a waste of time, money, and resources for Apple for a product that has a very limited scope of users. This needs to be integrated into Mac OS X Server or another server application (like Microsoft's Share Point).



    People are not going to keep handing money over to Apple for these "services".
  • Reply 3 of 82
    This is a cool idea, but I just don't see how Apple imagines it to be competitive.



    Google offers a full web based text editor for free.



    Apple offers a web based way to view documents and make notes, with a usage fee (in addition to already buying the full app).



    It just doesn't add up to me.
  • Reply 4 of 82
    Just a note: the email you blurred in your third image is in fact viewable in the sixth image, Kasper
  • Reply 5 of 82
    -
  • Reply 6 of 82
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iPhelim View Post


    The services are obviously not meant to compete, for the moment, as was said in this article. A lot of people still need to use desktop publishing apps, and iWork.com is simply to share these documents and presentations.



    "That helps to explain why iWork.com isn't currently trying to replace Google Docs. Apple doesn't need people to subscribe to a web service, it can sell them iWork desktop apps.

    For Apple, online services are a way to enhance its desktop apps rather than to replace them"




    My point is I just don't see why people would be willing to PAY to have a web viewing/notating service, especially on top of the cost of buying iWork in the first place. And even if Apple doesn't want to compete with google docs, if their offering is inferior, they are competing with them and I don't see much reason for them to get many customers.
  • Reply 7 of 82
    jpellinojpellino Posts: 661member
    It beats the daylights out of sending one word doc out for markup and getting three competing revisions back. They can make great inroads against Office if they roll this into the cost of iWork.
  • Reply 8 of 82
    bbwibbwi Posts: 812member
    I agree that this service is limited even when people have the ability to edit documents arrives. However, this is not meant for home users. Its meant for small business using Macs and iWork. I don't see a home user email out docs to their family for commenting. I see small business and non-profit companies that use iWorks as the only real subscribers.



    This is a good entry point as cloud services are a huge topic right now. If Apple wants to make inroads into the business sector then now is the time to start.



    Additionally, MS could very well pull Office for Mac at anytime just as they did with IE (they've already made cuts to the Mac Business unit http://macdailynews.com/index.php/weblog/comments/8188/).



    I would rather have seen Apple partner with Google and maybe throw some money at OpenOffice but in reality, Apple needs to do this to maintain competitiveness, gain market share in small business and to complement MobileMe.
  • Reply 9 of 82
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by minderbinder View Post


    My point is I just don't see why people would be willing to PAY to have a web viewing/notating service, especially on top of the cost of buying iWork in the first place. And even if Apple doesn't want to compete with google docs, if their offering is inferior, they are competing with them and I don't see much reason for them to get many customers.



    I agree that it seems extortionate to make people who have already bought iWork- and quite probably MobileMe as well- pay for this (although we are still yet to see how much they charge of course).



    But... can you honestly not see how Google Docs is very different to this iWork.com service..? If through some bizarre twist of fate Google and Microsoft clubbed together to integrate Google Docs into Office and charged a fee, then they would be competing products, right?
  • Reply 10 of 82
    bbwibbwi Posts: 812member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by minderbinder View Post


    My point is I just don't see why people would be willing to PAY to have a web viewing/notating service, especially on top of the cost of buying iWork in the first place. And even if Apple doesn't want to compete with google docs, if their offering is inferior, they are competing with them and I don't see much reason for them to get many customers.



    Many of MS Office customers already do this with SharePoint and Office Live.



    Their offering is inferior now... but wait a year
  • Reply 11 of 82
    Wow... I started reason this article hoping to find some useful details about this new service but I couldn't even get beyond the third paragraph.



    First, gmail doesn't compete with Outlook. Gmail is both a mail provider AND a mail client whereas Outlook is just a client.



    Second, "given a great desktop email client nobody would use webmail?" Are you absolutely retarded? Most people would prefer webmail if the interface was as awesome as gmail. Most peoples experience with webmail are the horrendous interfaces provided by Hotmail, the online version of Outlook, and squirrelmail. Even if something with a gmail interface as available on the desktop I would still use it online for reasons of accessibility and the fact that it saves everything forever.



    AppleInsider writers need to stop writing this absurd pat-yourself-on-the-back style of writing and get back to real facts and analysis. This stuff is just too self aggrandizing. The road to snow leopard articles were great because they were factual and not full of baseless judgments.
  • Reply 12 of 82
    dave k.dave k. Posts: 1,306member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bbwi View Post


    Their offering is inferior now... but wait a year



    Don't count on it. Mac users are becoming wise to Apple's game. Ship products with minimum features just to "get them" on the upgrade.
  • Reply 13 of 82
    virgil-tb2virgil-tb2 Posts: 1,416member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by minderbinder View Post


    My point is I just don't see why people would be willing to PAY to have a web viewing/notating service, especially on top of the cost of buying iWork in the first place. And even if Apple doesn't want to compete with google docs, if their offering is inferior, they are competing with them and I don't see much reason for them to get many customers.



    I agree.



    I think Dan is either wrong on that part or just hedging his bets. Logically, this service when it's out of beta should be free for MobileMe users. Personally, I expect it to be, especially if it's just online viewing/downloading as that is basically the same thing as the iPhoto integration they already offer.



    Steve Jobs has said that MobileMe is crap (different words though) and that it will have a lot of features and value added in the future. if this isn't that, I don't know what it is. MobileMe is $100 a year for not much more than favourites syncing at the moment and not a good value. If they make the long suffering Mobileme users pay extra or this they will have a revolt on their hands I think.
  • Reply 14 of 82
    I know they're going to charge for this outside of MobileMe, but I really wish they wouldn't. I can just feel it...



    Note: 120 days is 4 months, not 3 months.
  • Reply 15 of 82
    dave k.dave k. Posts: 1,306member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    Steve Jobs has said that MobileMe is crap (different words though) and that it will have a lot of features and value added in the future. if this isn't that, I don't know what it is.



    Apple has been saying that for years now...
  • Reply 16 of 82
    Amen to that.



    I can see this entire ball of wax turning into iLifeMobile and iWorkMobile both dot coms.



    Maybe the iLife version would be less expensive, and the IWork version contain everything in the iLife version. Two options. One more for Home use, the other for small business use/collaboration.



    The name "MobileMe" is just stupid. Whoever thought of it, and why did Steve OK it?

    It's tainted, and will hafto change, imo. It seems like something devised for the iphone, touch. And, a line from .Mac to the future.



    I'm beginning to see the seeds of a future of some kind here.



    If MS gets out of the Mac market, I could see Apple selling both iWork and iLife for windows users.
  • Reply 17 of 82
    I definitely think this should be either something that is included free with MobileMe or with the purchase of the standard iWork suite - it doesn't seem a strong enough offering to charge for on its own.



    One thing I'm not clear on is whether or not the people you share with would have to be iWork.com users. Maybe I missed the part clarifying that?



    Also, what happens once someone has downloaded the Word version of your file and decided to make some changes to it?
  • Reply 18 of 82
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
    The second he said it will be free but they will eventually a paid service leads be to believe they were originally going to add this to Mobile me, until they realized it wasn't ready, and they didn't want to face a second Mobile me backlash. So for now they are keeping it separate, making it free, fixing bugs, getting feedback, and oiling its wheels until they feel comfortable to add it to mobile me.
  • Reply 19 of 82
    abster2coreabster2core Posts: 2,501member
    Has anybody tried it yet?



    I have been using it since yesterday.



    First impression. Absolutely beautiful.



    Fast. Simple. Fast. Simple.



    Tested with one of my staunch 'PC' big pharma client and they were amazed. Sent over a Pages document to comment on and allowed them to downloaded the Word format. They couldn't tell the difference between Pages on screen and the Word file.



    Their comment. How the hell did you do it so fast?



    Best thing about it, any documents that I am generating are being commented without them getting and messing with the original which can be a dog's breakfast to track. Since there is a perception that everything must be done in Word, so far I have been posting documents in Pages and nobody has noticed any difference. Except, they look better and more professional.
  • Reply 20 of 82
    pdiddypdiddy Posts: 27member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Paperdoll View Post


    Second, "given a great desktop email client nobody would use webmail?" Are you absolutely retarded? Most people would prefer webmail if the interface was as awesome as gmail.



    I sure wouldn't. Web interfaces, including GMail's, suck bad. I'd rather have a native client and IMAP access to the web email any day, than have to play around with some kludgy online interface. They're very nice to have in a pinch, but I don't want to have to use that crap for my main client. That would be retarded.
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