Apple's new Mac iWork apps: A big step back in workflow automation

On Tuesday evening Apple posted updates to its iWork apps for Mac - Pages, Keynote and Numbers. Featured during Apple's iPad and Mac event in San Francisco, the new versions of iWork apps sport new features, more thorough iCloud integration and an a unified file format compatible with their iOS counterparts. But there are some important pieces missing for users interested workflow automation, according to Clark Goble, who maintains Clark's Tech Blog. (Goble's post has been widely linked, so you can find a cached copy at if the original doesn't load for you.)

I know I have a huge number of scripts — often with complicated hacks to get around the limits in Pages and Number’s incomplete Applescript Dictionaries.Here’s the bad news. They won’t work now. Effectively Applescript support is gone. Numbers doesn’t even have a dictionary. And Pages has had nearly everything removed.

AppleScript support went from bad to worse

If all this AppleScript talk is making your head spin, let's give you some concrete ideas of what I'm talking about. Opening the AppleScript dictionary of the old version of Pages yielded this:

Here's what opening the AppleScript dictionary of the new Pages looks like:

As you can see, the new version has a lot less functionality that the old version it replaces.

Eddy Cue pointed out on Tuesday that the new iWork apps are a complete rewrite from the replaced four-year-old versions (whose codebases are even older than that). So I'm reluctant to describe the relative absence of AppleScript support as removal, as much as it is omission. If this had been an incremental change to the codebase, removal would be a perfectly adequate word. But this isn't. The new iWork apps are totally new. And in some respects, totally different. The absence of most AppleScript functionality that was there before is what caught Goble's eye, but it isn't the only change.

And as Goble points out, even before now, iWork apps haven't been a shining paragon of AppleScript virtue. iWork apps aren't the only Apple-made products that suffer from limited automation support. On balance when it comes to AppleScript, Apple is a somewhat lousy and really inconsistent eater of its own dog food. I've never been able to figure out why.

Apple's decision to make iWork apps free with the purchase of new hardware is a shot across the bow of Microsoft, which gives away its Office software on its beleaguered Surface tablet. Clearly it helps keep Apple on competitive terms for new iPad and Mac owners who are looking for useful productivity software.

The irony is that Microsoft supports AppleScript in Office more thoroughly than Apple does in its iWork apps. Perhaps that shouldn't be any terrific surprise, as you're likely to find Office in most business environments, especially corporate locations where IT departments are capable of whipping up and supporting AppleScripts to improve the productivity of the workers they support.

Getting back to iWork for a moment, clearly the priority on this release wasn't on workflow automation, or making sure iWork apps had every feature and function they did before - it was on aligning the Mac version of iWork much closer with its iOS counterpart, and creating a common user experience that translates well between devices.

Apple's succeeded on that point, and they've made plenty of embellishments to make some users looking for new features and functionality happy. But AppleScript and other long-standing features are gone. Take a look at this thread about Pages{.nofollow} on Apple's discussion site alone to get a sense of what diehard Pages users are saying.

Consumers versus professionals

I work part-time at an Apple reseller. "Does this include Office?" is one of the first questions I get from customers who come in looking at the iPad or the Mac. Up until now, I've had to say no, and then either try to sell them a copy of Office for the Mac or explain to them about the iWork apps and the Mac App Store. It's much easier to explain that Office isn't included, but Apple's own Office-style apps are (and they're capable of reading and producing Office-compatible files). It's one less barrier to entry for prospective buyers of new iPads and Macs.

Entry level consumers, by and large, aren't interested in AppleScript. It's too techy for them, it requires too abstract an understanding of how applications and the system work with one another. But that lowest common denominator consumer doesn't represent the entire spectrum of Mac users. A lot of people depend on Macs to help run their businesses efficiently. And for many of them, workflow automation represents improved productivity, better return on investment, and better usability. It's about getting better results with less process. AppleScript support can be a key differentiator for those customers.

Reversing the course

To be clear, unless you've done something unusual with your iWork installation, you should still have the old apps inside an iWork '09 folder in your Applications folder, and they should still be functional (at least they are in the two machines I've upgraded with the new software - as in all things, your mileage may vary). If you've upgraded to the new releases and you don't like them, you should still be able to use the old ones - albeit with the limitations they've always had, and without the new features like round-trip iCloud support between OS X and iOS.

But this whole issue unveils a more fundamental problem: by neglecting AppleScript support in iWork apps, Apple underserves customers who would otherwise use their products - not just big companies with IT departments, but freelance workers who want to save time, small and medium-sized businesses that benefit from workflow automation tools, and others. AppleScript may be techy, but it's pretty democratic - anyone who wants to use it should be able to use it.

Mavericks is plainly aimed at helping people who use Apple devices every day to get the most out the experience - besides the relatively mild interface adjustments and new apps, the underlying operating system has been bolstered to improve efficiency and performance.

If Apple's iWork developers aren't already hard at work restoring some of this functionality, they should be, for exactly that reason. By excluding AppleScript - and, quite frankly, dumbing down the apps - Apple's gone the exact opposite direction with iWork - they may have improved some core functions (like iCloud sharing and file interoperability) while completely demolishing others in the process, making it less efficient to use the new iWork apps.

I'm not one to trumpet the "iOSification" theory, that Apple is trying to make the Mac the same as iOS devices - in fact, I've been an outspoken critic of that idea. And I don't think that's the case here.

What I suspect happened is that Apple needed to streamline development of the new iWork Mac apps by making them as similar as possible to their iOS counterparts. They took the path of least resistance, and we're left with less capable software that's prettier to look at.

That's not something that Mac users should just roll over and accept. Our Macs are more capable than our iPads. And we should insist that developers of Mac apps - Apple and third-parties alike - help us get the most out of that experience, not get in our way.

Peter Cohen
  • There are always trade offs in technology. I think apple figured that fixing formatting compatibility between iOS and mac (which for a time made me consider just using the version instead of having to worry about the paper needing to reformatted when opened on my iPad) to apple script stuff that even to this "tech savvy" reader I had never heard of. I understand that it's sad to see functionality go but I think for most the new iWork is a better experience.
  • It's a new day. Apple Script is OS 7. As a music professional. I've been many many changes with Apple and workflow more than I can mention or remember. Logic Pro the Mac music recording software just got updated after a 4 year wait and the result wasn't worth 4 years of waiting. Still a great program but we could tell that Apple wasn't concerned with competing with other Pro music software anymore. There's not much of a advantage to using Logic Pro vs Garage Band and Artist are doing albums in Garage Band on the iPad. It's a new day. Sent from the iMore App
  • OS X iWork sounds like it was EOL, code wise, and Apple chose to start over based on the iOS engines. Tough choice, and definitely with consequences, but also one with far more of a future. Now we have binary compatibility between the two, which will be important. Hopefully, like Final Cut Pro X, old features will be added back to the new ones, and it'll send up being a better app, eventually.
  • I'm also curious, with the new iLife for Mac / iOS revealed on Tuesday, did Apple also do a ground-up rewrite starting with the iOS engines or did they only do it with iWork?
  • Binary compatibility important? Um, no, not at all. File format compatibility is important, nothing more. Everything else is an implementation detail as far as users are concerned. If those implementation details hurt the product - and it certainly has here, not just with AppleScript but with things like the new (lack of) ruler for no apparent reason but to make it look like the iOS version. Had Microsoft or Google done something like this , we would see sneering comments about how building cross-platform applications leads to a worse experience on both, and that Apple understands you have to build and tailor the experience to the strengths of the device. Now that Apple takes a least-common-denominator approach, binary compatibility is somehow important? Um, no.
  • I'm afraid Microsoft is dumbing down the desktop too. I really wish they would leave it alone. The desktop isn't going anywhere. Power users are still going want and buy them. Everyone else can have their tablets and new form factors. We should be entering an era of multiple computing forms. I do not believe in the "Post PC" era. My iPhone is a far more personal computer than my desktop or laptop. Mac OS X and iOS should stay apart except for obvious simple things. Windows and Windows Phone/RT should stay apart too.
  • +1
  • They must be working on restoring Applescript support. Forget about the techy implications that few people (compared to the millions that Apple customers are) use. What about importing references from a reference manager when writing an essay or a scientific paper?!? Reference managers like Papers (and i think Endnote too) need Applescript to do this. Now it's broken, doesn't work anymore and I have to go back to Word.. And that's not a super-techy need that very few people require. That's an absolute necessity in academia and a deal-breaker if they don't fix it.
  • Actually, the new Pages has EndNote support for citations built in. If you have EndNote and Pages, you're good to go, although Apple has a note that if you installed Pages via the App Store apparently there's a plug-in you need to install. But if you don't use EndNote, you're on your own I guess. I would have liked EndNote at one point, but I'd much rather have facing pages back at the moment.
  • Some things to ask. 1. How can Apple extend the benefits of scripting in a filesystem-less & Sandboxed iOS environment? 2. How far can they go with Web technologies? 3. How much easier is the new codebase to update? I've got no doubt they made the right decision but the payoff here is going to be in a few years when the suite has raced beyond iWork 9 in every feature.
  • I agree. Akin to FCP X. I think updates to both will happen to "restore" removed functionality, but in different ways. Sent from the iMore App
  • FCP X has been rewritten as an iOS app? Cool! That'll free up more of my life for Twittering and Facebook. Sure won't be getting any work done.
  • 1) Irrelevant for OSX. 2) Irrelevant for OSX. 3) interesting if and only if this leads to a future payoff, and, since Apple if famously secretive about their future plans, all we have to go by is that they have deliberately crippled a product from one version to the next, and for opaque reasons. Old schoolers will remember Word 6.0 for Mac. MS deliberately rewrote much of the Mac Word code base - and adjusted much of the UI - to fit in better with the Windows version. Mac users rightly revolted, either staying with Word 5.1 for years, or leaving MS altogether. Apple fans roundly and rightfully criticized this as a bad decision for users, justified by MS for the same reasons people approvingly attribute to Apple now. The double standard is telling.
  • I think this is a big mistake. MS's main stay for income is Office. This latest offering of Pages is no more than a glorified PDF editor. Apple has the opportunity to seriously take a bite out of the MS strangle hold on office products, but this will not do it. Targeting "consumers" is a joke. Why make a pseudo word processor when there are tons of those out there and most are better than this. Apple doesn't need a feature bloated app, but they do need a stronger offering than this. The reason that Office is the definitive suite is business. If you can't move biz to iWork then there seems to be little reason to offer anything at all. I would LOVE to ditch Office, but Numbers doesn't do array formulas and Pages, well it doesn't do much at all.
  • People need to voice their concerns with Apple and I think over time there's a good chance stuff will get added back.
  • They did it with FCPX so I'm sure they could do the same with iWork.
  • If only it was as simple as losing automation. I could live with losing that. What I can't live with is the utter devastation that the new Pages wreaks on our documents. At an absolute minimum, the new iWork should be able to open and work with any '09 document without requiring any rework on the part of the end user. This is even more basic than workflow issues. And workflow issues are a big deal!
  • Biggest problem in my office with the new iWork suite is that it doesn't seem to play well with Windows Server. I can't save documents to our office server, and if I open a document that is on the server it replaces the old document with trash! Hope they come up with a fix for that!
  • I just don't like the new iWorks. That side bar on the right and formatting numerics is just much harder to do than it was. I really don't like them as much as I did under the old layout - I could breeze my way through setting up spreadsheets but now it kind of can't set formatting for numerics, it doesn't work for me. Maybe it's just me but it it not 'intuitive' as claimed and rather less user friendly than it was.
  • Sorry for the noob question, but what do you do with AppleScript and automation within Pages? I'm asking cause I really want to know and suspect there is (or was) a level of function I know nothing about.
  • Besides scripting, there are serious basic functionalities missing from numbers that were there before and used daily (reorganize is gone for example - what good is a spreadsheet if I can't order rows of related data?). Apple may become the laughing stock of the industry after this one, and I'm telling everyone. If their intention is to move the DT world to the mobile-style apps, that's the end of Ives software stint...and possibly the entire apple desktop world. I am forced to look into Star and other office suites, pure unix boxes, and possibly even ms office.
  • Why serve the one percent when you can serve the ninety-nine percent?
  • By that logic, why not shoot for 100 percent?
  • I hate to be the opposing voice on this issue, and really I'm not opposed to what's being replicated here, but: It's always interesting to read "everybody" statements that inevitably come about when something changes the way we do things in a way that doesn't seem to help us. So for starters I'm dying to know who all these corporations are who's operations are radically altered because of AppleScript, really, who? I'd like to know because I want to apply for work at any or all of them. I have no doubt that the app errant downsizing of AppleScript has and is a major train wreck for a few - and yes, by all means, Apple should and will hear from those negatively affected. But I find that perspective is everything, especially when preparing to attempt to make changes where none seem likely. Here's a little [perspective]: With this latest release of the desktop OS it could be, maybe, possibly, but only maybe or possibly, that Apple is showing some signs of attempting to make overt inroads to the enterprise market place, but personally I remain skeptical. Yes yes, I know, iOS is all over in and through enterprise, but that wasn't through any overt attempt on Apple's part. They presented the platform and many 3rd parties saw the light and went for it. Apple itself has almost, I said almost, no product that is aimed primarily at industrial strength users and this is almost literally true with regard to products for the office - home office yes, but even then iWork and iLife are not even a little about big business, these product suites are about the home user and Pages and Numbers are not the least of these meant-for-home products. It's cool that some people can find ways to use these products professionally, but make no mistake, these are not even developed for that environment in the first place. I do not believe we'll be able to find even one ad, including the Apple event from last week, that demonstrates any of the iSoftware products in a professional environment. Apple has gone after the enterprise market in the recent past, and I believe they were doing very well, and offering enterprise-grade hardware and software solutions that we're second-to-none, and even starting turning the heads of many Windows-entrenched IT Pros - but alas, they dropped it. Here's a point - Instead of rattling tin cans about minutia, sorry but, for most of the relatively few people that are actually hurt by this AppleScript issue, we're just not feeling the ire - there should be a market-level demand for Apple and/or 3rd-parties to put out products that are actually meant to compete with likes of MS Office. Pages isn't that, at best it's a work-around when used in place of MS Office. I was one of the many who were dumb-struck with what Apple did, and more to the point, they way, Apple went about doing what they did with FCP. Scripting went bye bye completely in FCP X - Ouch! I needed those scripts! I was just plan angry when Apple canned its XProducts. But the truth is there just wasn't enough noise because there wasn't enough consumption of that product category. Of course with FCP there was a big enough critical mass that Apple is still responding with ongoing product development on that front. I just don't believe that Pages has that weight behind it and I think it would be better to see some direct competition, by anyone, with MS Office. No more trickle-up theory Apple, or anyone else, let's have some ba#!s and get out there and start playing with the big boys and girls where office-grade products are needed and wanted, and we don't want to do it with Windows!
  • What i hate about iWorks in its newest form: 1. the toolbar. i despise the toolbar being forced to the right. If they would have made it so it could go left, right, top, bottom....that would have been fine. I work often with 2 or 3 things open at once. I use the "double pane" app where it forces them side by side. now it no longer works. 2. compatibility. i tried to open up a keynote this morning that I was going to duplicate and make a new one from - and it wasn't compatible. 3. Did I say the toolbar? 4. Toolbar.
  • Most of the comments are hasty. Most users don't see what they have been accustomed to. But to be fair. Old Pages was a very slow editor that in my case couldn't work with documents longer than 40-50 pages. I tried a 250 pages business plan stuffed with tables and graphics with new Pages. It flew like a rocket. Besides in previous edition Russian spelling, grammar and hyphenation didn't function. Now it works perfectly. Some missing features which we love in reality are obsolete. E.g. linking between text boxes. When you do it automatically you actually lose control of length and design. We don't live in the Guttenberg world anymore, we live in the world of website design, where typogrphical nuances are no longer needed. Very soon most of the the so missed features will be forgotten for good.
  • I used AppleScripts quite a bit to work as a bridge between Numbers and Pages. Whereas I'd use Numbers as a database for things I put in Pages. If Apple would include a real database in iWork (like there used to be in AppleWorks), then I wouldn't need to use clunky workarounds. However, I noticed recently I can't do a "merge" anymore in the new version of Pages. Apple really needs to fix this stuff soon.
  • Absolutely, positively furious at Apple for the downgrade of iWorks. I switched to all things Apple back in 2008 ... traded my Blackberry for an iPhone, bought an iMac for my desk, traded a Lenevo ThinkPad for a MBP. This was a challenging transition for me because I have used PCs and MS products for 20 years. But the hardest switch for me was MS Office to Pages and Numbers (and Keynote to a less extent). I was a "power user" of Word and Excel, and over 3-4 years, I have turned myself into a "power user" of Pages and Numbers. One would think that the shareholders and executives and employees of Apple WANT this to happen ... come for the cool hardware, stick around for everything else. This downgrade is just outrageous. Why delete functionality? Why make templates non-compatible? I designed a dozen templates for Numbers, none of which work or appear correct in the Numbers 3.0 ... heck, you cannot even add headers and footers anymore! It is almost like Apple is trying to destroy these application. The ONLY good news is that the "upgrade" did not delete the prior versions. This fact, too, tells me that they knew exactly what they were doing with this rollout, and they did not care about users like me. I am collateral damage for the dumbing down of useful apps. Unfortunately, I also means that I will ultimately be looking to some other vendor, probably back to MS Office to reduce the learning curve. Just furious, almost to the point of regretting the move to Apple at all.
  • There is no improvement in the 'new' iWorks. Only steps backward. A big childish ruler across the top of Pages, (easily read on an iPhone). 1/3 of the working space wasted by a dumbed down inspector that can't be moved somewhere else on the desktop, (probably looks great on an iPad). If you haven't upgraded, don't. Mountain Lion and it's associated Apps are far superior to the new Mavericks downgrade. Stay smart and productive. Save time and frustration. If you are using Mountain Lion, you already have the best OS and production software that Apple made. The new Mavericks iWorks is not up to Mac standards.
  • Totally agree. But i just read the old iWork's is still installed, it should be in a folder that says "iworks09" under applications, i just found mine, thank God!
  • iwork is so limited in functionality. i have been writing my master arbeit on pages and it has nothing for power users. it is just a piece of crap. i got free iwork with my macbook retina but yes i get what i pay for. i need to buy microsoft word