Four years later, iWork apps need Apple's attention


On any given day, a quick check of the top-selling paid apps list in the Mac App Store will reveal Apple's Keynote, Pages and Numbers in the top ten. It's surprising, given that each of those apps was originally bundled as Apple's iWork '09 productivity suite, released in, you guessed it, January, 2009. It makes me wonder when or if we'll ever see an update to them.

The concept of "iWork '09" as a package disappeared when Apple launched the Mac App Store in 2011 and transitioned to digital software distribution. With it came a few changes: the individual components of the iWork suite became available on their own for $20 a pop. At $60 for all three, customers saved money compared to the disc price of $79. It also enabled users to buy them a la carte if they preferred.

Since then, Apple has released some perfunctory updates to each of the apps to improve support for new operating system releases and added a few functions here and there, but none of the apps have gotten a significant overhaul in over four years.

What does Apple have planned for Pages, Keynote and Numbers? Of course, no one outside of Cupertino knows for sure. Apple has, however, posted job listings for iWork engineers in recent months. So there's plainly work going on behind the scenes.

Given the continued absence of Microsoft Office on iOS - and the likely continued absence, given Microsoft's emphasis on its own Surface tablet - the iOS iWork apps continue to help Apple fill an important business software void on the iPad.

In a month Apple will unveil the newest versions of both iOS and OS X to attendees of its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. I'm not sure if Tim Cook will use his time on the keynote stage to show off new iWork apps, but I'm willing to bet that the announcements at the event will lay the groundwork for whatever Apple's going to do next with those apps and its iLife software, which is also getting long in the tooth.

Pages, Keynote and Numbers' position on Mac App Store's paid apps list suggests that they're still very important for Apple. But four years is eons in software development. Even Microsoft has refreshed its Office for Mac product in the intervening years. The interfaces of each of the iWork apps is sorely lacking and occasionally inconsistent with Apple's own Human Interface guidelines.

It's time Apple showed the iWork apps a little love. Hopefully the wait won't be too much longer.

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Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

Four years later, iWork apps need Apple's attention


For some reason I'm not surprised at the lack of overhaul. You have to consider that iOS has remained stagnant for going on 7 years.... minus some updates here and there, and OSX hasn't changed much either...minus features. Apple doesn't appear to like changing things much. Hopefully iOS7 changes this.

I understand what you are saying, and I see 'needs an overhaul' in relation to many things Apple lately.
My question, to which I have yet to hear a compelling reason, is "What would you have them do? Change for change sake?"

How about flattening the GUI a little bit? Maybe add more customization options? Perhaps they can streamline some of the operations a bit? Heck, I would be happy if the revamped some of the window functionality in OSX to snap, rather than having to use a plugin to do it. There are still some things Apple can do to make the OS experience better. Not to mention, maybe they can start moving in a direction to allow iOS and OSX to really blend, and introduce touchscreen tech to OSX? A Macbook Pro with iPad portability would be amazing.

I agree with you 100%. It seems to me that people have bought into the mantra that iOS is stale and needs a major overhaul. What exactly needs changing? I played around with the new Galaxy S4 and the HTC One and I found them to be very confusing and not intuitive in the least bit. Who cares if you can add widgets and all that sort of thing I just want something that works and it is easy to use. I consider myself very tech savvy but in the end simplicity trumps customization. I think OS X and iOS still runs circles around the competition. For the record I also have an Android tablet and a Windows 7 laptop but I find myself reaching for my iMac, iPhone or iPad more than the other gadgets.

Re: "... consider that iOS has remained stagnant for going on 7 years ..."

This is just a ridiculous thing to say. It makes you appear foolish and biased and makes me basically ignore everything you say afterwards.

Unfortunately for me, I *did* keep reading, only to find out that you doubled down on this nonsense by claiming that OS X has also only had "minor updates here and there."

Your use of such hyperbole just means that no one will take you seriously. You might want to tone it down a bit and stay somewhat closer to the facts/reality etc.

would you like to say otherwise? iOS hasn't changed in 7 years, minus some new features. You deny this? OSX hasn't changed a whole lot over the years either. Care to debunk this too?

Nothing's changed... I mean other than new features.

OsX has changed quite a bit. AirPlay, iCloud integration, launch pad, new guesstures, AppStore... Spotlight, save states for shutdown and crashing. The ui hasn't changed much. I agree there, but does it need to? I have noticed mountain lion is quite a bit speedier as well. (Load time, etc)

Those are more feature updates and applications. They are nothing that necessarily change the real operation and functionality of the OS. Save states for shutdown and crashing... if those are updates, they seem like they should have been around for a long time. The UI does make a difference, as 'small' as that might seem. It helps keep everything in unity and makes the experience feel fresh. Perhaps it's not the best example, but look at Windows 8. As extreme as it might be in some ways... at least Microsoft took the risk and really gave it a solid try to unify desktop and mobile together and really try to push technology more into the touchscreen era. For a company that likes to trot around the "post-PC" mantra... Apple's software is still very... PC.

Here's the problem people are free to say iOS and OSX hasn't changed... because it is an easy thing to say without knowing what is involved in changing. Just like it is easy to put up a list of the things they COULD do without knowing what it takes to impliment those things and what would break if it was implimented. If iOS hasn't changed much in the 7 years since it's inception using an iPhone 3G with iOS 2.0 would be possible and would be almost the same experience as using iOS 6. This is clearly not the case, while I do agree there are things I would like to see Apple do in new versions of iOS, features I would like to see them add I would never hold the opinion as I wouldn't with Android, Windows or any other OS that they haven't changed. They just have been able to change while still keeping familiarity and to a 30 or 40 year old buying an iPhone/iPad for the first time that is an important thing.

OS X has changed *massively* over the last few versions, you simply don't know what you are talking about. iOS has also changed hugely with every new version, but less than OS X and the "look" has remained very consistent.

I think the obvious answer here (since you refuse to see that you are wrong), is that you somehow equate "it looks very similar" with "it hasn't changed." This is just idiotic of course.

You have to remember when you are commenting on sites like this that a lot of the other people (including me) are older and have long histories in the business working with these technologies day in and day out. Just because you read a lot of web sites and can show off your iOS gear at school to your mates, doesn't make you an authority on things like programming, user interfaces, etc.

Some day soon you will graduate high school and the world will look different to you.

Something tells me if Android looked like ICS from the get-go
It wouldn't have been recognized as seeing a ton of overhaul

I use these apps regularly and I find them just as useful and easy to use today as they were in 09 when I first purchased the suite. Regarding Pages, they have added important functions over the years (endnote integration was a big one for me). I am not sure I would need them to change more. Regarding Keynote it is still an excellent and flexible app. I would like to see more build and animation options/refresh but that is just me being picky and wanting to play with a new toy (or old toy made new again). Regarding Numbers, I have not used it much. I have not broken the ties with excel. At the bare minimum if they were to change anything in the apps I would make it easier for new users to find the functions they need. Once you learn how to use the app it seems intuitive but like most apps there is a learning curve when you start out.

As a long time Pages user on iOS and OS X I wholeheartedly agree that these apps need some major work. The iOS version is not even feature complete yet and it's been out for years also. Pages for iOS is the best word processor for the platform but only because it has no serious competition.

It doesn't even support hyphenation or ligatures for cripes sake! These are basic, basic features for almost any word processor.

I bought Pages in order to edit my Word 2010 CV from my iMac and it managed to mangle the document completely. I ended up buying Office 2011for Mac to ensure compatibility. Pages was a waste of money for my use case.

It has been my experience that MS Word on a pc does a better job at converting a Pages doc created on iPad than Pages on osx. The Mac destroys my documents while word handles them pretty well. That is one thing that I don't understand.

While its nice to have updated UIs I think people want Apple to change just for change's sake. Unless it improves usability, meh

It makes one wonder what those thousands of people in Cupertino and elsewhere are doing. 6 months now with no new model products, updates, refreshes, or anything from Apple. 4 years with no updates on this software. 3 years for Mac Pros. One can pick up an iPhone from 2007 and be completely familiar with its operation and marvel at how little it has changed other than little features that unless you know they aren't there you would never miss. With all the people Apple has working for it, this complete paralysis is a bit alarming.

Imagine if every year all the basic apps on your iPhone were changed, and had to be relearnt as everything had moved around or changed behavior.

Doesn't Windows 8 prove that change for change's sake is not a great idea?

I have over the years been sending emails to apple asking for feature updates in Keynote. As an AV technician I prefer Keynote to PowerPoint but With the latest Office update it's starting to have features that would be very useful.

Keynote consistently produces better looking slides that PP though. What Keynote really needs is a performance boost. Working on big files even on a fully specced Retina MBP can be laggy.

Calling them '09 apps is hurting the brand. I've been (mostly) relying on Pages for a major postgraduate program, and with iCloud sync, it works perfectly so far. I still save copies to Dropbox, just in case.

Do you think that the next verison of iWork will be very tightly integrated into iCloud, iOS and OSX? Much more touch focused? Built for default document previews? Expanded system wide document editing for email, etc. ?

If it ain't broke why fix it?
The only issue that I have with Apple is I am always asking myself how can they top themselves this time? When you know what you want and what works you are content but to ask for change for the sake of change is ridiculous. Funny thing is all Apple needs to do is an update here and an update there because as soon as they do an overhaul the same people who wanted change will be the first to complain if you don't believe look at the Snow leopard Mountain Lion debacle

There are so many other options for document programs compared to 2-3 years ago, like google documents. It needs a little cleaning up but its at the 'pages' standard and its free? People use these other services because most people don't need half the features. Disagree with me if you will, but iWork is almost dead.