Quick look: Using Apple's new iWork for iCloud collaboration tools

Apple introduced several important improvements to its iWork for iCloud service last night. I've taken a look at the new collaboration, print and document management features -- this is what I found:

Using Apple's new iWork for iCloud collaboration tools

[ABOVE: Available in the 'Share' item at top right, you can now see who you are collaborating with and track some changes.]

Collaboration

Apple's much improved collaboration tools are the big news. The service gains a collaborator list, collaborator cursor (and animation) and the ability to jump between collaborators.

using_iwork_for_icloud_sharing.png

How it works

1/ Share using the Share tool in the toolbar, or from within document manager in which you can Share Document using the Action pop-up.

2/ You share the document via an included link within an email message, or by copying the link to share in other ways.

3/ Collaborators don't need an iCloud account to work on the document, just a supported browser.

4/ The limitation is that anyone who gets hold of the link can access the document.

5/ The document originator can stop sharing the document in Share>Settings>Stop Sharing.

6/ Document collaborators then work on the original document with changes applied in real time. They can also download Word and PDF versions of the document.

Printing, document management

  • Available in "Tools" the new Print feature enables a user to save a document as a PDF for printing. It's a self-explanatory dialog that should work automatically on a Mac.
  • The new document management feature lets you drag-&-drop documents atop each other in order to create folders for specific documents.
Using iWork in iCloud tools printing

[ABOVE: When you print, your document is converted into PDF and downloaded to your computer in order that you can print.]

Observations

  • iWork for iCloud seems quite demanding: Activity Monitor showed a lot of Safari Web Content load. For best results you'll need plenty of memory in your Mac or PC.
  • When collaborators are simultaneously logged into a document edits take place in real time.
  • When two or more people are working in the same document they can see this by checking the Share icon to the top right of the browser display. This glows green when showing a shared document, and a number shows how many people are in the document.
using_iwork_icloud_share_dialog.png

[ABOVE: This is the dialog that greets a collaborator clicking the email link to your document. They don't need an iCloud account to work on the document -- all they need to do is click 'OK' and the iCloud document window opens for them, no account required.]

What's missing

  • Shared users are automatically assigned a color label -- in this case the person I shared with got a yellow label. This made it hard to see their changes in the cursor view as this document has a yellow background. To ease this it would be helpful if the admin could assign a color to each collaborator's label.
  • Document originators should have the capacity to kick individuals out of the collaboration -- this would help protect against unauthorized users. At present they can only "Stop Sharing" the document, which knocks out all collaborators.
  • Track changes: It would be helpful if these were recorded in some way, and visible in the Share dialog.
  • Restore versions: Again, it doesn’t seem too hard to store a copy of each document as an edit takes place. It would then be possible to return to a previous save if someone messes up a document.
  • iChat support within the iCloud window could be made available via the less populated bottom right of the window, and would enable real time collaboration on a project.
  • In future it would also make sense to offer a view enabling collaborators to see which page of a multi-page document is being worked on, and by who.

Conclusions

With a series of additional updates to the applications within the suite promised across the next six months, alongside Apple's stated commitment to user privacy, I expect to see Pages, Keynote and Numbers becoming more widely user as iWork is recognized as a good solution for most real-world needs.

Apple still has lots of work to do, but these latest improvements show it is committed to competing with Google and Microsoft with its own unique suite, iWork.

Google+? If you're one of those who likes to use social media and also happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

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