When Apple originally debuted the iPad last year, the company also brought its iWork suite of applications to the new tablet, positioning iPads as more effective document creation devices than iPhones and iPod touches—while also demonstrating that software would enable an iPad to be more than the oversized iPod touch pundits had predicted.
As we noted in our earlier reviews, the original versions of the three iWork apps—Pages, Numbers and Keynote—were about equal parts groundbreaking for what they brought to the iPad and disappointing by comparison to what users of the Mac versions had come to expect. All three of the apps have seen modest updates over the past year, addressing some of the earlier issues we noted, expanding file compatibility and sharing capabilities, while also adding AirPrint support with the release of iOS 4.2 last fall. Even with these updates, however, it remains clear that Apple’s vision for iWork on the iPad is to provide a set of apps that are merely good enough for casual everyday use, with their more sophisticated Mac counterparts required for advanced projects.
When Apple originally released these apps, many people wondered if versions would eventually arrive for the iPhone and iPod touch; others questioned whether they would even be practical on the smaller-screened devices. With version 1.4 of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, Apple has provided an answer to the first question—all three apps are now universal—while the second question remains a subjective one. In today’s Gems piece, we take a closer look at the iPhone and iPod touch implementations of these apps while also providing a quick overview of some of the newer features they’ve gained across platforms.
In addition to iPhone and iPod touch support, all three apps added several other common new features since our original review. They include support for importing and exporting files via iDisk and other WebDAV servers, significant improvements to Microsoft Office file compatibility, and a new document management interface that adds folder support. Gone are the prior controls at the bottom of the apps’ document selection screens, replaced instead with a single plus button in the top left corner that is used both to create a new document or import a file from iTunes, iDisk or a WebDAV server. File export controls have been removed from this screen entirely, and are now found on a new “Share and Print” menu on the settings screen when viewing or editing a specific document.
Documents are also now displayed as a series of thumbnails rather than using the prior “Cover Flow” view. This change makes way for a new folders feature that is almost identical in basic design to the way apps are reorganized on the iOS Home Screen; tapping and holding on a document will enter a management mode where documents can be dragged atop one another to create folders. In this mode you can also select multiple documents by tapping on their thumbnails and move them to folders in groups or use the buttons in the top-right corner to duplicate or delete the documents.
The same document management interface used on the iPad is also available when using the apps on the iPhone and iPod touch.
Beyond the new document management features common to all three apps, Pages 1.4 on the iPad remains basically the same as the prior version. The major new feature here is the addition of iPhone and iPod touch support. Pages on the smaller screen essentially provides the same features as on the iPad, with a few interface tweaks appropriate for the smaller devices.
The most conspicuous omission here is the complete absence of any kind of landscape support; Pages on the iPhone and iPod touch runs in portrait mode only, both for viewing and editing documents. Users will be limited to the smaller keyboard layout when editing documents; Bluetooth keyboards are supported, of course, but even in this case the app is still confined to a portrait orientation.
To aid with working on the smaller screen, Apple has implemented a new “Smart Zoom” feature in the iPhone and iPod touch version of Pages, auto-zooming in on the cursor position or selected text to allow you to more easily see what you’re working with. Pages provides a more distinct “edit mode” in order to support this feature; tapping on a block of text or other area in the document engages editing mode, simultaneously placing the cursor and zooming on its position. A “Done” button appears in the top right corner to exit editing mode and return to the full-page document view.
In editing mode, the Smart Zoom feature not only follows the cursor but also adjusts the zoom level as required when selecting text or moving between different-sized paragraphs. This feature is most apparent when using cursor positioning and text selection keys on an external keyboard, and actually works quite intuitively to ensure that the user is provided with the most effective view of whatever they’re working on.
As expected from the UI differences between the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch, the pop-over UI dialog boxes found on the iPad have been replaced with modal screens on the smaller devices. Due to limited screen space, Apple also chose to exclude the ruler bar and formatting toolbar that appears when editing text on the iPad. The same options are all still available, but users will find themselves switching between screens rather than working with an overlay or toolbar. Formatting and layout options use a split-screen view to allow you to see your selected text while applying font and style changes; other options such as media selection and settings are displayed as a full-screen view. A down arrow appears in the top-right corner of each screen, acting as a “Close” button to dismiss the screen.
Text and object selection and context menus work in much the same way as on the iPad; tapping-and-holding on a selected block of text or other object will present a context-menu for the usual iOS-level copy and paste options plus additional options for copying styles, looking up word definitions and inserting tabs and breaks. With the omission of the iPad toolbar, this context menu—or an external keyboard—is the only way to actually insert a tab character.
Pages has been through a number of incremental changes in the past year, generally improving the user experience and addressing compatibility issues when working with Mac Pages and Microsoft Word documents. Although it remains a “lite” app in contrast to the Mac version, it has also remained the most capable word processing app for the iPad, even alongside Microsoft Office-focused suites that have been ported from other platforms. Due to nothing more than the respective screen limitations of the devices, Pages is definitely still a much better solution for the iPad than the iPhone and iPod touch. That said, however, Apple has done as good a job as possible of creating an intuitive and usable word processing app for the smaller screen.
The addition of iDisk and WebDAV support last year was also a major improvement in the ability to access files on the go, although we would still prefer to see a more integrated way of working with “live” documents rather than the current process of having to go through a separate import and export stage to move documents in and out of the app. iLounge Rating: B.
Numbers 1.4 ($10) is also basically just a universal update to the prior iPad app, adding the aforementioned new common document management features and iPhone and iPod touch support. As with Pages, Numbers on the iPhone and iPod touch is limited to portrait mode, regardless of whether you’re using the on-screen keyboard or an external Bluetooth keyboard. A set of tabs for each sheet appears at the top of the screen as on the iPad, and the Smart Zoom feature dynamically zooms in when editing a cell. In this case, simply selecting a cell by tapping on it doesn’t engage the Smart Zoom; a second tap is required to actually enter “edit” mode.
In edit mode, the cell content field is displayed at the top of the screen with a checkmark button to the right to accept the entry and exit edit mode; users can alternatively tap on a different cell to switch to that cell and remain in edit mode, and even move around the spreadsheet or pinch to zoom in and out to select cells that are not otherwise in view. The feature works well, feeling very natural and intuitive on the smaller screen.
The keyboard selection buttons from the iPad also appear here below the entry field, allowing users to choose between a numeric, date/time, text or formula keyboard. Each keyboard layout has been redesigned specifically for the smaller iPhone/iPod touch screens, providing the same options in a more optimized layout. Unfortunately, some of the new keyboard layouts—particularly the formulas keyboard—will take some getting used to compared to the iPad version; Numbers on the smaller screen doesn’t have the luxury of spreading out and separating the keys as on the iPad.
As in Pages, options and settings are presented as either a split-screen view for formatting controls or as separate screens for inserting media and other objects or adjusting settings. A close button in the top-right corner allows users to exit the options screen. On the iPhone, Numbers provides the same context menus and selection controls as it does on the iPad. Users can tap-and-hold to bring up context menus, tap-and-drag to select multiple cells, and even hold-tap-and-drag to move cells to another area on the spreadsheet.
Numbers has followed much the same update path as Pages, with incremental changes to improve the user experience and improve compatibility with Mac Numbers and Microsoft Excel, notably also adding the previously missing ability to export in a Microsoft Excel format late last year. Like Pages, it continues to provide the best spreadsheet experience among all of the iPad spreadsheet apps we’ve seen, even despite not having the feature set that a Numbers or Excel “power user” might come to expect, and the iPhone and iPod touch version again does a strong job of making the app’s powerful features work well on the smaller screens. The only reservations with Numbers are the same ones we noted earlier regarding Pages; creating documents on such small devices remains a challenge, and the import/export process makes working with and sharing documents with the Mac version more cumbersome than it needs to be. iLounge Rating: B.
Keynote 1.4 ($10) is the third app in the iWork suite and has been similarly updated for iPhone and iPod touch support.