As promised, Apple adds real-time collaboration to iWork for iCloud

Move follows Microsoft's by a week, but both are years behind Google Docs

Apple yesterday updated its online iWork for iCloud productivity apps, adding collaboration tools that let users simultaneously edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

The real-time collaboration features had been announced Oct. 22 when Apple not only launched its new iPad Air and Retina iPad Mini tablets, but also said that the iWork desktop applications for OS X would be given free to buyers of new Macs.

"The number one piece of feedback we got in terms of feature requests was [for] collaboration," Roger Rosner, who heads iWork development, said during the Oct. 22 demonstration of the new iWork for iCloud tools.

Apple also added other new features to iWork for iCloud, including printing from the browser-based app -- albeit in a clumsy process that first morphs the document into a PDF, then automatically downloads it to the PC or Mac, where it can be printed -- and the ability to create folders for better document organization.

iWork for iCloud has not been stripped of its beta label, but is free to use for anyone with an Apple ID, the username and password combination necessary to access the iCloud storage and synchronization service, as well as for purchasing apps and applications from the iOS App Store and OS X Mac App Store.

Apple's move followed rival Microsoft by a week.

On Nov. 7, Microsoft began rolling out a major update to its own Office Web Apps -- like iWork for iCloud, browser-based apps -- that added real-time editing within Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Like iWork for iCloud, Office Web Apps are offered free of charge as a standalone suite. They are also a foundation of the lowest-priced Office 365 plans, Microsoft's software-by-subscription offer, and are included with all Office 365 deals.

Both Apple and Microsoft are more than three years behind Google, whose Google Docs online service has had real-time editing since April 2010.

While some analysts believe that iWork, which includes iWork for iCloud, poses a threat to Microsoft's Office franchise in casual scenarios -- like those many consumers encounter -- few see Apple's applications as a hazard to the Redmond, Wash. company's lock on the business market.

iWork for iCloud apps -- Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- can be accessed from icloud.com.

New in Pages
When users first launch an iWork for iCloud app -- such as Pages -- Apple spells out the new features, including real-time collaboration tools.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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