The iWork Regression

Last week Apple released a new version of their iWork productivity suite. These are entirely new applications, built from the ground up to be forward moving into 64 bit architecture. The release, however, has left many of the people who use iWork to earn a living scratching their heads. My own experience with the desktop applications has been mixed, though mostly negative. In my exploration, iWork ’13 feels more like an early public beta than a finished product. Even though Apple hasn’t officially designated it as such, I’ll reference the new suite as “iWork 13.”

What I like

I do want to give Apple props where they are due, the new release isn’t all bad.

The User Interface

I have to say I really enjoy the new application interface. While I’m a fan of Apple’s inspector, the persistent right panel makes it more workable – especially if one works on projects in full-screen mode. Instead of a pallet covering part of the content, it’s now in a fixed position off to the side.

I realize that my closest iWork using peers are likely using screens larger than my 13 inch MacBook Pro, and on a larger screen the older UI isn’t cluttered at all. As someone who has only ever really used iWork on a mobile computer, the new layout just makes sense.

Advanced Fills

In previous version of iWork I always felt hampered by the limited gradient editor, not so in iWork 13. Advanced gradients allow to add color stops to a custom gradient, which allows for some stunning gradient fills with very little work.

iWork 13 also includes advanced image fills, which allow creators to tint an image with a custom color. In previous versions of iWork, this could only be accomplished by creating shape overlays and setting the color and opacity.

Advanced fills allow for the creation of advanced effects, without adding to the clutter of the content area. It’s a wonderful addition to the suite.

Styles

Pages always had the best style support I’ve ever used. It was easy to create, update, and apply styles – which made them a joy. In iWork 13’s version of Pages styles no longer reside in a pop-out drawer, and require the opening of the drop-box to view, which is less friendly than previously. They remain, however, easy to apply, create, and update. They are also now included in Keynote, which is a feature I’ve wanted for some time.

In addition to paragraph styles, iWork adds object styles. An object can be formatted to one’s liking, and be saved in a styles pallet which resides in the new inspector. These features can be a big help in creating a consistent feel for custom templates.

What I don’t like

Sadly, the new features can’t alleviate all the negatives about the new release.

Unhelpful Keynote Rulers

In previous versions of Keynote the rulers were set to zero at the center points of the horizontal and vertical axis. This made placing objects and guides relative to one another rather simple. If an object was -50 points from the center of the vertical access and +20 points from the horizontal, placing an object in an identical position on the other side of the slide was a matter of swapping the appropriate values from positive to negative (and vice versa). iWork 13’s version of Keynote, however, places the zero points along the left and bottom points of the slide. This makes relative placement tedious.

Pages

Pages in iWork 13 is an absolute debacle. The application has lost huge amounts of functionality, and just about all the unique feel which made Pages wonderful to work with is gone.

No Vertical Ruler

I realize the idea of the “page” as a metaphor is on it’s way out. In 10 years’ time it will be more valuable to create richly formatted ePub (and other electronic) layouts than printed materials. Apple’s removal of the vertical ruler could be a nod to the future. They have, after all, removed hardware components in the past which people thought were essential for computing. I’m not certain the same mentality works for software.

Apple’s own design for it’s mobile devices speaks as to why removing a feature like the vertical ruler doesn’t work even if the page metaphor is doomed. iOS was designed so that an iPhone would be able to change it’s controls to handle whatever function was called for at the time. There were no hardware buttons because software handled it. It’s what users have come to expect in software on any platform, but Mac users have felt particularly well-served in this. By removing the vertical ruler, Apple has set up Pages to not give the user the tools needed to accomplish the task at hand. This is a mistake, and it needs to be corrected. As does the next glaring omission, which is related to killing of the vertical ruler.

No Layout Guides

Pages in iWork 09 (and previous) was wonderful for fast page layout. No, it didn’t handle full-bleeds and other advanced options, but for “quick and clean” it couldn’t be beaten. One of the reasons why it was so good was because one could create a document in page-layout mode, and then drag guides from the rulers in order to create the spaces in which content needed to dwell. In this way, page borders which matched printer limits could also be set. Page-layout mode, combined with iWorks’ wonderful image cropping, made it a joy to work with.

In iWork 13 user-dragable guides no longer exist. Like the absence of the vertical ruler, they have simply disappeared. The tools needed to accomplish the task of page layout is being denied by software instead of created by it. As such, Pages in iWork 13 is all but useless as a page-layout application.

Page Thumbnails Do Nothing

In iWork 09, page thumbnails could be clicked on and then dragged around a document. In page-layout mode this could be done on a page by page basis. In word-processor mode, clicking on a thumbnail selected every page in a section. Also, sections could be deleted with a right-click and the selection of the appropriate menu option. These things are no longer true. Thumbnails in iWork 13’s version of Pages are good for nothing more than quickly jumping from page to page. Clicking on a page thumbnail still highlights all pages in that section, but do nothing else. I still have yet to discover how one deletes or moves sections in iWork 13.

No Outline Mode

In iWork 09, one could enter into a powerful outline mode, in which a document could be easily restructured. This was obviously wonderful for outline lists, but it was also perfect for rearranging long documents in segments smaller than sections. This outline view could filter down to the number of levels shown, and the resulting view could be rearranged easily. Outline mode made the creation of lengthy, multi-level, documents a joy. In iWork 13 that thrill is gone.

Bug Infestation

I copy and paste images into iWork documents regularly, both from applications on my Mac and Creative Commons licensed images from the web. This behavior led me to discover a glaring bug in iWork 13. Copying and Pasting images is broken in Keynote.

When I copy an image from an application, such as from the excellent photo guide in Accordance, it will not paste successfully into Keynote. The paste option is available, and I receive no error message, but any attempt to paste an image results in nothing happening. This is a bug whose presence I find inconceivable in a graphic heavy application.

The presence of this bug becomes even stranger when copying images from the web. When an image is copied from Safari and then pasted into a Keynote slide, an empty text box appears instead of the desired image. When the image is copied from a browser other than Safari, however, the image pastes in as expected. Insanely, Apples’ own browser doesn’t play well with it’s own software.

Dragging and dropping images continues to function as normal, as does copying images from the finder, but this doesn’t excuse the presence of such a glaring bug in a “finished” release. No one from Apple attempted to copy and image from Safari and paste it into Keynote during beta testing?

File Format

The file format in iWork 08 and 09 was essentially a zipped XML package, which was even documented by Apple. iWork 13, however, apparently returns to the practice of a non human-readable format. This is bad news as it means if Apple drops the suite one will not be able to extract the data without owning the application. It also tends to increase file sizes. Why Apple made this shift is unknown, but it is a step backwards.

Conclusion

As I wrote in the introduction, this version of iWork feels more like a public beta than a final product. There are too many features omitted or broken for these new versions to be trusted for everyday use.

People who depend on iWork for productivity can only hope that Apple is taking a tack similar to their release of Final Cut X. The release of that product upset many video professionals due to a significant loss of functionality, but these features were gradually added back to the product as they became ready for general use. This is my hope for the Mac version of iWork, but until Apple promises to restore lost functionality in future releases we have no idea if that hope will be fulfilled.

Until such time iWork 13 matures into a mature product, if you depend on iWork for productivity keep using the 09 versions until they break. Thankfully this “ugrade” leaves them on the machine so both versions can run side-by-side. If you do install the new versions, however, just remember not to open up crucial documents in the newer releases. The file formats are not compatible and your documents will be converted when opened!

2 Comments

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  1. I am still happily using iWork 08. Not that I want to be a dinosaur, but the conversion mess keeps me stuck to an old faithful. The losses seem to be a trend with our lovable big fruit company. Agree. To use an old commercial line, we should “sell no wine before it’s time.” Thanks, Wes, for your thoughtful review. This really helps.

  2. This is of course if you even bought the 09 versions. If you didn’t you’re stuck.

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