At this year’s Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple showed off iWork for iCloud, an online version of their popular product for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations…..much like Microsoft’s Office. iWork for iCloud will now enter the arena to spar against Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, which offer similar business software products for the cloud.

As a part of the Apple Developer program, I was able to try the beta version of iWork for iCloud on a test drive on my MacBook Pro Retina using Google Chrome. At Backupify, we use Google Apps, so here’s a quick side by side comparison.

The Dashboard

iWork for iCloud presents a simple dashboard of apps with Apple’s familiar, signature icons. This dashboard isn’t new to iWork for iCloud, but I’ve never logged into iCloud before on a web browser so this was a nice first time experience. It looks slick and many may find it more interesting than Google’s links across the top of the page.

Pages for iCloud

Pages is the iWork equivalent to Microsoft Word. After clicking on the Pages icon, a box pops up with the options to use a standardized template. I don’t usually use templates for the documents I create, but its nice to have the option to create something fast.

I selected the blank template. Here’s where I found the first major difference between Google Apps and iWork for iCloud. Google Apps opens up a new tab in Chrome to edit the document while iWork for iCloud creates another window all together. I continuously have anywhere from 5 to 10 other programs open so I don’t like this about iWork for iCloud. I don’t need another full window, the elegance of the tabbed browser is much more appealing. Now, I closed the iWork Pages window and re-clicked on the blank template document holding down the Command key and the document did open in another tab in Chrome, but it didn’t default to that. It would be good to have the option in iWork.

The side by side comparison shows that Google Apps provides the maximum amount of screen real estate dedicated to the document itself, while Pages for iCloud has most of the word processing features along the right side.

Numbers for iCloud

I’ve used Excel quite a bit in my professional career so I was excited to see the iWork for iCloud product. Once again, to create a spreadsheet you are given templates to choose from.

After the popup browser appears, Numbers for iCloud has a right-side column for the menu with a few tabs to modify the cells. Comparing Numbers against Google Apps is a similar comparison for Pages - with the difference being the menu on the right side vice along the top.

I tested out the Equation feature by typing in the familiar “=” sign in a cell and a list of available Functions pops up on the right side with definitions and examples built in. I like this feature a lot - so often in Google Apps Spreadsheets you’re researching a formula to use, trying to understand how some of the more advanced Equations work (for example, check out “sumproduct” in Google Spreadsheets) and it can be a constant battle of googling for examples and switching back and forth.  Having this all in one screen is very helpful.

Another interesting thing was the text that appears while highlighting a set of data.  I regularly do this to get a quick answer about a data set, and its cumbersome in Google Apps Spreadsheets to switch between average, sum, count and counta (non-zero rows).  I liked this part of Numbers for iWork.

I use Excel and Google Apps Spreadsheet to make graphs regularly so I set out to make a simple bar graph. Sadly, in the beta release the ability to make a chart isn’t there, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks when its officially released.

Digging more into documentation, there will be the ability to upload existing spreadsheets, sending a link to a spreadsheet and printing.

Keynote for iCloud

Some people hate it, some people love it but PowerPoint is the vehicle in which most businesses communicate internally and externally.

Keynote is the PowerPoint equivalent in the suite and the last of the beta products. I clicked new Document and was given a few templates to use. They look really beautiful on my MacBook Pro Retina display.

The screen has the right side hosting the Format Panel and the left side a “slider view” of all the charts in the presentation.

I clicked New Slide after the title, full well expecting to see a standard slide format with a title and a bulleted list ready for me to create but it just showed the same motocycle.  A bit confusing. Google Apps (right side of the picture) and desktop PowerPoint do this automatically - maybe its just the beta release, but this was a missing feature.

After some digging around, I was able to change the Paragraph Styles to create a title heading and a bulleted list to match the format of a slide in PowerPoint or Google Apps Presentation. Not too intuitive.

Summary

With the release of iWork for iCloud, the market for cloud-based business software has expanded.  Apple’s cloud offering has a nice look and feel and from my limited use of it, certain tasks run smoother than Google Apps (for example: expanding columns in Numbers).

Now, the beta testing represents a small subset of the full features of the product, but open questions remain:

  • Will there be a scripting capability? Within the Google Apps Spreadsheet there is the ability to program scripts to manipulate data and perform advanced features
  • Will it be compatible  with Microsoft office products? There is concern when uploading a Microsoft Office generated document into Google Apps in terms of compatibility with the same formatting and features
  • Free or paid service? Have to wonder how Apple will try to monetize this offering for businesses
  • Real-time document editing? The early reports say this won’t be part of the initial launch, and wonder if it will make it into future upgrades. This is a phenomenal feature in Google Apps.
  • Will there be any type of cloud backup or document recovery? Cloud based documents have greatly expanded collaboration within teams  but once a document is deleted, its not the cloud provider’s responsibility to recover it. Time Machine in Apple’s operating system provides the ability to revert to previous versions of a document and recover and restore, but will this show up in an iCloud environment?