Government // Enterprise Architecture
Commentary
6/1/2011
10:17 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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Apple's iWork For iPhone First Impressions

The iWork productivity suite, introduced this week for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, provides document, presentation, and spreadsheet programs for the small screen.

Apple first brought iWork--Pages, Keynote, and Numbers--to the small screen when it debuted the iPad in 2010. As realized on the iPad, the applications do a decent job of allowing users to create basic files for use at home or the office. Each application costs $10, and iPad users who've already purchased them can download the iPhone-optimized versions, introduced this week, for free.

In practice, I found them to be very easy to use and figure out, though I am familiar with their larger-screen cousins. Pages, Apple's Microsoft Word equivalent, is good for creating simple documents. When the app is first launched, you can choose to access files from iTunes, iDisk, or WebDAV. If you don't want to grab anything from those locations, just hit the "create document" button. There are 16 different templates to help get your document started, including blank, modern photo letter, classic letter, project proposal, resume, invitations, and more. (More are available for download from Apple.com.) Once you've selected the template, you're whisked into the document editor itself.

Let's say I want to compose a letter. Pages opens up the template with the basic architecture of the letter in place--i.e., it has filler text where the address goes, the date, the salutation, the body of the letter, and the closing. Simply insert the text you want into those spaces and voila, the letter is composed in a sharp-looking format. Actually filling out the text, though, is a bit clunky. The editor has to zoom way in so you can see what you're typing, and it's hard to get a bird's-eye view of what you're putting together. Tools allow you to insert media (photos), tables, shapes, and charts, as well as control tabs, margins, check spelling and so on.

Pages offers all that most users will need to put together basic documents and send them off to colleagues. Remember, though, that documents will need to be attached to emails from within Pages itself, and not from the email program. It's not perfect, but it is powerful enough.

Keynote was a lot more fun to use. Using your fingers on the screen to interact with slide elements, and move them, scale them, etc., was actually enjoyable.

The process for creating a presentation is similar to the process described above for Pages. Keynote has 12 templates from which to choose (none of which are very unique), and a wide range of tools for inserting media, graphics, etc. The tools allow you to add animations, presenter notes, and run the presentation. One thing worth noting, Keynotes defaults to landscape orientation, meaning the iPhone must be held sideways to use it. This way, the screen properly displays the list of slides on the left with the slide being edited enlarged in the composition screen.

I found Keynotes to be my favorite of the three Apple-made productivity applications, if only for its hands-on approach to creating slides. Again, however, the small iPhone screen can be limiting. The application requires a lot of tapping between menus, icons, screens, and when the keyboard pops up, it all but obliterates your view of the entire slide.

As for Numbers, I openly admit that I am no spreadsheet whiz. I can only do the most basic tasks in Microsoft's Excel or Google's Spreadsheets, and the same applies to Apple's Numbers application. I set up a few example documents, and found manipulating the fields to be extremely cumbersome because of the small screen. Numbers includes 16 templates, such as expense report, invoice, employee schedule, team organization, and so on. The templates have some of the equations filled in, thankfully, but adding data to the fields was a serious pain. Numbers supports multiple sheets per document, and also offers the same set of tools for inserting graphs and charts.

I can't speak for how Excel experts will react to Numbers, but I found it mildly frustrating.

The main benefit offered by these three applications is compatibility with Microsoft's Office suite. Pages documents can be attached to emails as Word docs, Keynote as PowerPoint slide shows, and Numbers as Excel spreadsheets. In addition, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents can be downloaded by the email program, opened in Apple's software, edited, and re-attached to emails with changes intact. Formatting wasn't always perfect, but the basic functionality is there.

Verdict? Apple's productivity applications do indeed work. Mobile professionals working in the field will be able to perform basic document editing and share those documents with colleagues. Are they the best possible solution? It depends on how your business manages corporate documents. You can share iWorks documents with your personal iDisk space, WebDAV, and even iWork.com beta. For the security-minded, however, there are unanswered questions.


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