What began as an announcement quickly grew into an exclusive ,closed beta program, which then blossomed into an enormous beta launch. All iCloud users at this point should have access to the iWork for iCloud beta when they log into their accounts on icloud.com. Those lucky folks who have access to the iOS 7-themed iCloud preview at beta.icloud.com will also find themselves greeted by Apple’s office suite upon login. Apple announced iWork for iCloud at their annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) just a few months ago and are working hard toward the service’s official release this Fall.
Apple has never been one to make good web services. The notion, as of late, with regard to the Apple-Google struggle has been that Google is getting better at hardware and software integration more quickly than Apple is getting better at web services. True as it may be, Apple’s definitely giving it the old college try, and with the departure of Scott Forstall last year, things seem to have gotten better. This might just be my imagination, however. Pardon my ambivalence on the matter.
For the uninitiated, iWork is Apple’s answer to Microsoft’s Office products. Pages is a full-featured word-processing application, featuring rich templates and compatibility with Microsoft Word documents. Numbers is a great spreadsheet application, featuring Excel compatibility and an interface without all the clutter typically seen in spreadsheet apps. Keynote is Apple’s amazing presentation app, whose ease of use easily leaves Microsoft’s PowerPoint in the dust.
On the Mac, iWork ’09 is purchasable through the Mac App Store for $59.97, or $19.99 for each application. For those who prefer the use of native applications instead of web services, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are just a click away. iWork is also available for iOS and comes as universal apps which run on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are all available for Apple’s mobile platforms at $9.99 a pop, a worthwhile cost for those who need this sort of functionality on the go. iWork for iOS is made even more enticing when users find out that Microsoft still has yet to release a version of Office for iOS, even though the demand is clearly there.
For those who don’t mind the web experience, and for those who might simply wish to take iWork for a test-drive, the iWork for iCloud beta is an extremely useable service which keeps all of the user’s documents in iCloud for safe keeping and easy access. The service allows importing from and exporting to Microsoft Office documents, provides PDF exporting, and allows users to work with images and various layouts, all with the ease of a native application.
My initial impression of iWork for iCloud beta was that Apple finally had its head in the game with regards to the web. They need to get on the ball with regards to Photo Stream, mind you, but iWork on the web is a home run, especially when one considers that it’s still a real beta product, unlike Siri, which has been “beta” now for nearly 2 full years. Actually, given the amount of issues people are still having with Apple’s personal digital assistant, it’s probably for the best that they leave the beta tag on her for now.
Another great thing about iWork for iCloud is that PC users aren’t left out in the cold. So long as a PC user is using a supported web browser, they will have the same level of access to iWork on the web as a Mac user would. These are just larger and larger steps toward Apple’s much sought-after ubiquity in computing that Microsoft had enjoyed for so many years.
The need for poor college students or frugal computer users to install Apache’s OpenOffice is coming to an end. The need for expensive office software is dwindling, and the customers are winning. With iWork for iCloud being released as a free service, one is left to wonder just how much time is left before the iWork suite on Mac and iOS follow suit.