Perhaps the most surprising announcement at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference last week was also the most underwhelming. After not releasing any substantial updates to its iWork productivity suite since iPhone versions in 2011, Apple announced that it would be bringing the office apps to yet another platform: the Web.
No, you're not having déjà vu. Back in 2009, the company also launched a public beta of what it then called iWork.com. Our own editor, Dan Miller, began his first look at that venture by saying:
Let's make one thing clear up front: iWork.com (in its current pre-release form) is not a collaborative online productivity tool like Google Docs or Zoho.
Unsurprisingly, iWork.com fell flat, and last year it died an ignominious death. And yet, with the announcement of iWork for iCloud, it seems like Apple is poised to make the same misstep all over again.
Unconnected in the connected age
iWork for iCloud is an impressive technological achievement--everyone I spoke to last week at WWDC more or less agreed that wringing that level of performance out of browser-based apps is pretty slick, assuming they work as demonstrated.
But none of that matters a whit if the apps don't address users' actual needs. The main selling point of iWork for iCloud seems to be bringing the ability to read iWork documents to Windows--Apple even gave rare stage time to a demo on a Windows computer at last week's keynote. "No more reason to give into your colleagues' demands that you use Office at work," the company seemed to be suggesting.
To me, that's only a hat tip to a much larger issue: collaboration. It's great that Windows users can collaborate more easily on documents made with iWork, but what's missing is any mention of real-time, simultaneous collaboration. It simply didn't come up. At all.
Which, when you think about it, is a bit shocking when the company is demoing an office productivity suite that lives on the Web. Back in the early 2000s, when you got nifty apps like SubEthaEdit, collaboration was still a novelty. But when we all email, tweet, update our status, and share our lunch plans over the Internet, how can you ignore the fact that we, yes, sometimes even work together?
These days, if you don't have some form of collaboration built into your productivity apps, you're shooting yourself in the virtual foot. Take Google Drive: It certainly isn't the best-looking office suite out there, but its collaboration features are second to none in ease-of-use and reliability. That functionality means that it's picked up a lot of traction from folks who don't want to deal with Apple's paltry sharing options or wrestle with Microsoft's 800lb gorilla.
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