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.