updated 07:24 am EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
Pages for iCloud points to the future of web apps
Apple has made no secret about the pivotal role that iCloud has to play in its devices strategy. It offers a range of services, many of which are designed to work seamlessly in the background helping to keep user data backed up and synced in the cloud and across multiple devices. Additionally, it includes web app versions of Mail, Contacts, Notes, Calendar, Reminders, Find My iPhone and storage for Pages, Keynote and Numbers documents. Due this fall, Apple is set to update iCloud to include full web app versions of its iWork app suite including Pages, Keynote and Numbers. In the first of a short series looking the new beta versions of these applications, we take first look at Pages for iCloud beta.
If you think that Pages is just another web-based document editor like Google Docs (Drive) or Office 365, think again. Pages for iCloud is a fully-fledged web application that looks and functions just like a native desktop application. The layout and design of the app is slightly different to the look and feel of the iOS and Mac versions, although it is possible that both of those might evolve to look more like what Apple has planned for the web version. While the subscription-based Office 365 has a more 'professional' or 'polished' look and feel than the free Google Docs service (which is expected given that MS charges for it), Pages for iCloud makes both competing services look more like glorified text editors than full blown app.
A number of developers who have had early access to the new iCloud web based apps have had nothing but high praise for the new interfaces and the way that they work. While the Pages UI clearly has been designed with the goal of creating a native desktop application experience, it would mean little if it did not also function that way in all regards. Most importantly, and as Apple demonstrated during its brief demo of the new iCloud web apps at WWDC 13 a few weeks ago, users can seamlessly drag and drop pictures and other elements into Pages for iCloud in exactly the same way as they would for a native desktop application. To the same thing in Google Docs or Office 365 is much more clunky, requiring users to select 'Insert' and then search for picture or element. It might not seem like a big deal, but Pages has gone a long way towards elevating the status of the web app from 'poor cousin' to a desktop app, to its equivalent.
It's not as flashy as the iOS 7 update, or one of Apple's shiny new gadgets, but it is no less significant in terms of its impact on the way we are going to be doing things in the future. One of the other great benefits of web apps is the way that everything you commit to word is instantly saved in the cloud. It is also there whenever you want to access it from any one of your devices. Of course, any changes you make to that document can then be picked up on another device and continued with just as you would on your desktop with a desktop-like UI and functionality takes things a whole new level. If Google Docs and Office 365 are web 2.0, Pages for iCloud is putting forward a case for what a web 3.0 app could be like.
Added to this full-featured document formatting and editing. From your browser you have full control of editing documents in multiple columns as well as use headers and footers. Other formatting tools already included in the beta version of Pages for iCloud include changing paragraph styles, changing fonts, adjusting the color and size of text just as you would on a desktop app. Graphics tools allow you to manipulated images, add masks, resize them and add desktop-class effects including shadows and reflections. Rounding out the packages is instant access to a range of professional templates, but all based in the cloud and quickly accessible via a gallery.
Apple is still adding a range of feature enhancements to Pages for iCloud, which will debut when it goes live to the public in the fall. The most notable function that is missing at this time is the ability for multiple users to simultaneously collaborate on the same document. However, Apple is off to a great start. As far as web applications go, Pages for iCloud might be the first web-based word processor that might actually tempt all those users still clinging to their native desktop to actually opt for the web-based app first. It is the most fully realized vision for a web app that we have seen yet.
Tomorrow we will take a first look at Keynote for iCloud.
By Sanjiv Sathiah