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  • More Missed Logic About Apple

    November 12th, 2013

    While considering what I would write about for today’s column, I ran across this headline, “Apple’s new iWork: another missed opportunity to set expectations.” Missed opportunity?

    Evidently the writer in question, who doesn’t deserve a link, is attacking Apple for two reasons. First that iWork doesn’t have the sprawling range of features of Office and, second, that Apple dared to reduce the already inferior feature set of the new version, thus facing the wrath of disappointed power users. It sort of ends there, but lacks context.

    First and foremost, Apple never promised that iWork would match the capabilities of Office, or even come close, only that it would be free and do a lot of cool things. Period. There is no feature-for-feature comparison at Apple’s site, because the newly free apps, which include iLife, aren’t being positioned as being suitable for high-end business users. Instead, Apple has delivered lightweight software with core features that are sufficient for most consumers, along with almost seamless sharing across the iOS, OS X and iCloud platforms.

    There’s no monthly subscription fee either, although getting more than the basic 5GB storage on iCloud is optional. Again, only a subsection of Apple customers have a need for this extra storage, although I do believe Apple should offer 10GB standard before optional subscription plans come into play.

    Now about that article, what was the real missed opportunity? What might Apple have done to do what the writer in question expected? From the article, it appears Apple’s biggest error was to remove some features across the iWork suite and leave a few bugs in place. Of course, if you want to talk about being bug-free, you need to take Office out of the equation real fast, for otherwise you’ll compile a list that will be far larger than this article, or the one I’m writing about. But Apple will surely address critical bugs as needed, witness a recent GarageBand update.

    The real criticism of the new iWork is all about the features, or lack of features. Apple wanted the suite to be the same on all platforms, from file format to document formatting. In order to do that, and exist within the constraints of iOS and iCloud, some features had to be set aside. Apple claims that the apps were rewritten from the ground up to support 64-bit, implying a substantial refresh. Apple no doubt expects to deliver feature updates almost simultaneously, so that all users benefit from them, not just, say, those using the Mac. Indeed, the promise is that more than 18 lost features will be restored in the next six months.

    To some people, removing features is a crime, unforgivable. But it’s also true that Apple has left the existing Mac version of iWork 09 intact, in its own folder. If you don’t want to lose anything, don’t use the free versions. End of story. You can always wait until new versions appear that contain the missing features you need. In passing, the same was true when Apple refashioned iMovie a few years back, and released the controversial Final Cut Pro X. Nothing prevented Mac users from sticking with the older versions while waiting for the feature sets to be fleshed out in the new versions.

    Apple, however, should have been more forthcoming about what was really going on. That PR misstep no doubt lost some loyal Final Cut Pro users. It may not be so bad with iWork, since most users were able to get the new versions free. I say most because, it seems, if you didn’t have iWork 09 or iLife 11, you might be expected to pay for the updates. It appears the free policy has been a source of confusion. At the Apple media event announcing the free stuff, it was stated that iWork and iLife would be distributed free to those buying new iPhones, iPads and Macs. Later, it seemed that anyone with the previous version would get the updates, as I did, but maybe not if the ones you had predated the most recent. I hope Apple has sorted this out by now.

    Regardless, the free stuff approach clearly wounds Microsoft. Apple has attacked its perennial rival’s main sources of income. Sure, Microsoft Office does far more than iWork can accomplish, but most of those features are unnecessary for most users, even to many businesses. That iWork can read most Office documents with usually decent fidelity also eases the transition. Besides, if a company is starting from scratch, considering which computers to use and which software to support, if the free Apple apps accomplish what they need, why buy costly user licenses from Microsoft? Why bother with Live 365? Sure, a Mac may cost more to purchase up front, but when you factor in the free apps, the (so far at least) ability to avoid having to purchase security apps, and the easier and thus cheaper maintenance, the long-term cost of going Apple may be less.

    The mess that is Windows 8 doesn’t demonstrate that Microsoft has figured out what simple and efficient really means. The next CEO is going to confront a situation where the company is making decent money, but the long-term prospects are extremely cloudy with little chance for good weather.



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    8 Responses to “More Missed Logic About Apple”

    1. Greg0328 says:

      There is a comparison chart for iWork for iOS to Word here:

      http://www.apple.com/ios/pages/compatibility/

      For OSX to Word here:

      http://www.apple.com/mac/pages/compatibility/

      • @Greg0328, So there’s no confusion: These articles are about Office and iWork document translations, NOT about a feature comparison between the two app suites. You realize that, right?

        And, as I wrote, basic compatibility is pretty good, good enough for most people. But it’s clear that the more sophisticated formatting doesn’t translate.

        Peace,
        Gene

    2. DaveD says:

      Apple not being forthcoming about the reworking of iWork is a head scratcher.

      If something is known to have an impact it would be better to be proactive instead of reactive. A simple explanation of the issues, why they are, what are the plans, what is the fall back (if any) and most importantly no surprises.

      My best recollection on the proactive side is when Steve Jobs penned his thoughts on Adobe Flash, Why it will not be supported in iOS.

    3. Kaleberg says:

      Apple screwed up Final Cut by not offering the old version for purchase once they released the new version. If the new version didn’t meet your needs yet, you were out of luck if you needed to add a seat. Apple backed down and continued selling the old version, and I gather that the new version is a lot more complete now, but given how production companies grow and shrink, Apple really did make a lot of people consider another vendor.

      There’s a similar problem with Pages. If the new Pages is not good enough for you, you can’t just buy a copy of the old one. You have to consider Word, LibreOffice and other alternatives, even if you would considered the old version of Pages to be the best solution. I’m sure the new Pages will be a lot better in the future, but that’s not much consolation for someone caught with a need now.

    4. DaveD says:

      @Gene, Yeah, at least let the media know ASAP. So the masses don’t start picking up their pitchforks.

      Apple missed making that announcement at the event. A few minutes talking about taking the step back with iWork, BUT it will be free to new hardware buyers. For the current owners, a free upgrade. BUT, your iWork 09 will still be around just in case. In the meantime, we are working hard to restore the missing features.

      There is something bouncing around in my memory about when AppleWorks 5 came out replacing ClarisWorks (rebranded as Appleworks), unhappy users and words of apology.

    5. Usergnome says:

      Gene,

      I think you “misunderestimate” the problem. The point of his article, and the gist of the issue is the question, “Why can’t Apple just issue these explanations in the first place?” It shows a lack of concern for their most loyal users. And yes indeed they did the same thing with iMovie and FCPx. And in the case of FCPx they cost a lot of real people real money. And they do the same thing occasionally with really big ticket items (um, MacPro).

      Software users often have a lot at stake in the future direction of the program and it’s just irresponsible to yank the rug out from under them without warning or explanation. This isn’t an innovation vs. stick-in-the-mud argument, it’s about feeling some sense of responsibility to your customers. As a video professional I’ve gotten used to having expensive (really expensive) peripherals suddenly made useless (“Steved” we used to call it). We’re going through another such evolution with the deprecating of QuickTime (32bit) in favor of AV foundation (64bit). The media player in Mavericks really ought to be called the AV Foundation player. Anyone who has attempted to play their old video files only to have the player begin “converting” them (without notice or permission) will see the point. Yes the architecture is needed – but could we be polite about it?

      All this is not to say that Apple should make everything backwards compatible forever, but it would be nice at least if they were to offer easily accessible information on the ways in which the new stuff won’t work with the old stuff – or if important old features are planned to return. Why does it take customer howling to elicit a response?

      Apple has a history of making choices that seem mysterious to the users of the product. Would it really hurt the company to actually explain things like why they see the highest priority in redesigning a professional workstation is to make it really, really small? Or why they need to drop their only system that can be used in a data center? I think it’s the lack of honest explanations that generates the most irritation.

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