Apple's New 'Pages' App Much Improved but Still Trails Microsoft, Google

Apple recently updated its iWork suite of Microsoft-Office-compatible apps for iOS. CIO.com blogger James A. Martin put the Pages app through the paces, and though it's improved, the software still doesn't quite rival Microsoft Office or Google Apps. Here's why.

One thing in particular caught my eye at Tuesday’s marathon Apple event: iWork.

Apple’s iWork apps now offer “full file compatibility” between Macs, iOS devices and PCs (using iWork for iCloud, which is currently in beta). Apple also announced another promising new feature: live collaboration for users working on the same iWork app file, whether it’s on a desktop computer or iOS device. Think: Google Apps real-time document collaboration, Apple style.

I tested these new features with a native Word document that contained comments, footnotes, and tracked changes. I opened and edited the file using the new Pages for iOS 7 on my iPad mini, as well as in the Pages iCloud app in Safari on my Mac. (The iOS Pages app is $10, unless you recently bought a new iOS or Mac device; then it’s free. The same goes for Keynote, Apple's presentation app, and Numbers, for spreadsheets.)

In my tests, Pages' file compatibility with Office is much improved over the previous version of the iOS app, but it’s not 100 percent yet. For example, the old version of Pages for iOS didn’t import comments; the new version does. This is a critical improvement, in my view, which makes Pages for iOS a much stronger Word-compatible contender for mobile productivity.

Pages iOS

(Screen shot: Apple.)

In the new iOS Pages, comments aren’t automatically displayed on the side, as they are in Word’s Print Layout view. However, you can easily tell if a sentence or paragraph has a comment because it’s highlighted. But document reviewers sometimes add comments between words or paragraphs. Pages indicates the presence of these (and all) comments by displaying a small square to the left of the paragraph. You click the square—which isn't always easy—to read the comments.

Adding comments to a document in Pages is simple. Just tap where you want a comment to appear, and a context menu pops up. 

Pages also handled my Word file's footnotes and tracked changes well, but that was also true of the previous Pages for iOS. As for document fidelity, the new Pages is improved, as well. For example: When importing my Word doc, the old Pages for iOS switched the Calibiri font to Helvetica. The latest Pages converted Calibiri into TrebuchetMS, a much more similar font.

As for real-time collaboration, Apple’s iWork suite worked fairly well for me, with two exceptions. Changes I made to the Pages document in iOS took 30 seconds or more to show up in the same file in Pages for iCloud. By comparison, Google Docs edits I made in my desktop Safari showed up almost immediately in the same file viewed in iOS Safari. Also, Pages for iCloud displays a message whenever the open document is updated, and you have to click "OK" to refresh the document in your browser window, which quickly gets tedious. You shouldn't need to do this; the update should just happen automatically. The iCloud-based Pages also doesn’t currently support comments.

Apple is chipping away at both Microsoft and Google when it comes to document sharing and collaboration, regardless of device. But it isn’t quite there yet.

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