Productivity software

Apple Brings iWork to iPhones, But Problems Remain

Apple Tuesday introduced a new version of its iWork suite of office applications, for the first time making the productivity tools available on its Phone and iPod Touch devices as well as on the iPad.

Making the applications available as universal iOS apps means they'll be available to business users who rely on their iPhone, but have not yet moved into the tablet world, or have not done so with the iPad. But do the iWork apps on the iPhone have what it takes for business?

I'd love to tell you some grand tale about how I sat down and wrote this blog post on my iPhone with the new Pages application. But that would be a lie. Despite using an iPhone since shortly after they arrived on the market in 2007, and despite Apple's marketing reassurances that with a little practice, using its on-screen keyboard is faster and more accurate than even a physical keyboard, the iPhone is simply not a device meant to type long-form documents.

And the keyboard, when deployed, covers up a good portion of the other half of the big problem of using the productivity suite on the iPhone--the diminutive screen. While using office applications on the iPad with the keyboard taking up precious real estate can be frustrating, on the iPhone, it's throw-the-damned-thing-out-the-window frustrating.

Apple Brings iWork to iPhones, But Problems Remain
Pricing-wise, iWork comes in at the more expensive end of the smartphone apps suite, with each of its three applications coming in at $9.99. By way of comparison, Quickoffice Pro costs only $9.99 for the ability to handle word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents. Tack on another $14.99 for the iPad-enabled version. Competitor Documents to Go offers support for all three types of documents on both the iPad and the iPhone at a $16.99 price point. But for many iPad owners, getting the iWork suite up and running doesn't mean any additional cost. Because the applications--perennial contenders on Apple's Top Paid Apps and Top Grossing Apps lists--are now universal binaries, those who bought iWork for their iPads are free to use the applications on their iPhones, too. It's a nice little bit of value-add for the many business iPad users who made Keynote, Numbers, and Pages among their first iPad app downloads.

Some of the old gripes about iWork on the iPad still apply in the iPhone version--most notably the fact that Apple still requires documents be converted to a proprietary mobile format before they can be opened on the iOS version of the suite. This requires documents be imported and exported to and from the mobile device--which you can do through iTunes, or directly on the device for documents stored on MobileMe's iDisk cloud-based storage or any server that supports WebDAV. While this process is easy enough once you know how to do it, it requires multiple, sometimes counterintuitive steps, and seems generally at odds with both the Apple "it just works" mantra, and the general concept of accessing documents in the cloud.

There’s not a lot of screen real estate left in Pages with the virtual keyboard deployed.
There’s not a lot of screen real estate left in Pages with the virtual keyboard deployed.
Most of these problems are not unique to iWork. They're across the board problems in the way iOS handles documents. But many third-party applications, including Documents To Go and QuickOffice, make finding and opening your documents on cloud-based services Box.net SugarSync and Dropbox much easier, while also supporting iDisk access. Hopefully Apple will improve iWork for iOS here as it rounds out its cloud strategy in the weeks to come.

But when it comes to feature-set and ease-of-use, the iWork apps are the best applications with which to edit business documents on the iPhone.

If that sounds like I'm saying "It's the best of a bad lot," it's because it is.

Like most of its smartphone-based office software competitors, the iWork applications on the iPhone are probably best used to view or display documents. If you have a second iDevice you can even use the Keynote Remote application to manage a presentation being run from the first device.

Use it in a pinch to update a presentation with the latest numbers or specifications, or to add an item or two to a list when you're on the go and don't have access to your tablet. But don't plan on it--or any other smartphone-based office suite--to do any kind of heavy lifting for your business.

Robert Dutt is a veteran IT journalist and blogger. He covers the Canadian IT technology solution provider scene at ChannelBuzz.ca. You can also find him on Twitter.

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