Power loss: Reactions to the new iWork for OS X

Marco Tabini
29 October, 2013
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With the much-anticipated release of the new iWork, Apple has introduced the first major update to its office suite in nearly four years, with a focus on bringing feature parity between the desktop, mobile and web-based versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

In order to do so, however, the company ended up removing a large number of features from the OS X edition of the suite, with both Pages and Numbers boasting fewer capabilities and a general lack of support for automation and scripting.

Dazed and confused

As was to be expected, the reaction from across the web has been generally negative – and not just from power users who put a premium on being able to integrate iWork in complex workflows.

For example, an ongoing thread on Apple’s support forums lists nearly two dozen features that have gone missing in Pages – everything from advanced search-and-replace to the ability to customise Pages’s toolbar are listed, with one user going as far as claiming that a simple performance update to the old version would have been a better choice.

Ultimately, users seem to be as puzzled as they are angry: the absence of functionality that had been part of iWork for many years is made worse by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a good reason why Apple decided to remove it – other than to make the apps compatible across multiple operating systems. “Having a minimal interface makes sense in iOS, where space is limited,” reads a typical comment, “but in OS X I don’t see the need to strip away toolbars, sidebars, etc.”

Power to the user

Among power users, the biggest concerns seem to be centred around a significant loss of scripting functionality in the new iWork apps. Michael Tsai, developer of the popular SpamSieve spam filter, notes on his blog that Numbers no longer even has an AppleScript dictionary, while most of the automation features of Pages are gone.

Betalogue’s Pierre Igot offers a typical overview of what’s wrong with the word processor: “My solution for customizing Pages with a combination of AppleScript scripts and Keyboard Maestro has […] become useless.” He then adds that, even if AppleScript support in Pages ’09 wasn’t perfect, “it was working to some extent. And bugs and limitations could be worked around.”

Macworld contributor David Sparks, writing on his blog MacSparky, offers a curt assessment of the situation: “It’s concerning to see that this new version of iWork has not only not moved forward on automation but instead backwards.” He then points out that there is some irony in the fact that Microsoft Office actually offers better support for AppleScript than Apple’s own products: “In this regard, Microsoft is heads and shoulders above Apple.”

Modus operandi

Not everybody’s assessment of the new iWork is completely negative, however. User experience consultant Nigel Warren notes on his blog that the changes are necessary for Apple to push iWork forward on both mobile and desktop: “The fact that iWork on the Mac has lost functionality isn’t because Apple is blind to power users. It’s because they’re willing to make a short-term sacrifice in functionality so that they can create a foundation that is equal across the Mac, iOS, and web versions.” He adds that “without all versions of iWork using the same data format, true interoperability is impossible. In the previous versions of iWork, you would lose some formatting [and] data when moving from Mac to iOS.”

Writing for TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino offers a similar opinion, drawing parallels with Apple’s recent reboot of Final Cut Pro: “If we can ascribe anything to Apple’s recent efforts to bring iOS sensibilities to its Mac software, it’s that it likes to start extremely tight and zoom out as it adds features back into the mix.”

Ultimately, the folks from Cupertino may well have anticipated that their choices would have met resistance from existing users. As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber puts it, “[t]he most telling thing about Apple’s expectations for this version of iWork: when you upgrade, it leaves your existing copies of the iWork 09 apps in place.”


By Marco Tabini. Macworld

One Comment

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  1. Tim.EH says:

    It’s not just the loss of scripting. Nor is it the change to a new underlying file format. It’s that files and templates are suddenly unusable. That files were changed without notice (even those of us that know how to recover from backups still then need to expend the time doing so, pity the people that don’t know how to do this or, even worse, don’t have backups). Months of work (literally) are rendered useless. If Apple had warned users, left original files untouched (or at least given the option of automatically creating backups) then much of the anger could have been averted.

    I accept that Apple needed to change the file format, even to the point of removing functionality. But I don’t accept that the way they went about this was reasonable. I lost work. I spent hours recovering information and then backing up any and all files that might subsequently be affected (in addition to my regular backups). What’s worse is, because I need to keep the new versions installed on my Mac (so I can share at least some files with my iOS devices), in doing so I cannot make Mavericks automatically open files with the old iWorks apps. I had to select each and every Pages, Numbers and Keynote file on my hard disk (luckily OS X makes it easy to do that) and manually change them to open with the relevant previous edition – selecting “Change All…” actually reverted all the changes to opening with the latest version (talk about a lesson in frustration!).

    So while it is OK for Apple to take a long-term perspective and change their format, it is not OK that they did so without warning. It is not OK that my mail merge documents won’t work, that my templates are ruined, that my reports are trashed or that my presentations now look awful. Some information and a simple warning before changing file content could have prevented a lot of the anger directed to Apple online.

    Like many on Apple’s forums, I am now considering whether to continue with iWorks or return to Office (or some other alternative). All my business documents were created in iWorks, so I have a lot invested in Apple and their software. I’m not yet ready to give up on Apple altogether, but my trust has been shaken and I am very cautious now.

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