iPad vs. Everything Else

Does the iWork Suite Work? Not Yet

When Apple unveiled its tablet at a press event back in January, it also introduced three unexpected flagship applications: iPad versions of the Pages word processor, the Numbers spreadsheet, and the Keynote presentation package that make up its iWork office suite for the Mac. On stage, they looked irresistible, with ingenious interfaces that made finger-driven productivity look not just possible but also fun. And they were priced at a reasonable $10 each.

The iWork suite’s apps for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations don’t import or export well.
Interface-wise, the versions of the iWork apps that Apple shipped in April for the iPad remain standouts--once you've positioned an image in a document by slipping it into place with your fingertip, any other method is clunky by comparison. And while the list of features in the three apps doesn't rival that of Microsoft Office or the Mac version of iWork, that's not a huge issue given the relatively simple tasks you're likely to undertake on an iPad.

But Pages, Numbers, and Keynote all have one gigantic, overriding problem: Their support for document exchange with the non-iPad world is dismal. If you start a message in Mail, you have no way to attach an iWorks document. You also can't hook up your iPad to a computer via USB and simply drag documents back and forth. Instead, you must export documents from within iWork--as attachments, using iTunes as a conduit, or via the not-nearly-as-useful-as-it-sounds iWork.com.

All three apps claim to open Office documents, but some such documents appear garbled, and others--such as the multiple PowerPoint files I tried--produce only a cryptic error message. The programs strip out formatting that they don't understand; as a result, that formatting disappears if you try to move the file back to a desktop suite. And you might not even be able to do that: Pages can export Word files, but Numbers can't save in Excel format, and Keynote doesn't do PowerPoint. (If you happen to use iWork on a Mac, the situation is only slightly better.)

These issues are so ugly for iWork, and for the iPad in general, that it's hard to imagine they won't get fixed. But suite users may not have to wait for Apple: iPad versions of the Quickoffice suite for handhelds and DataViz's similar Documents to Go are in the works. Both of those mobile productivity packages have long histories of handling documents that were created elsewhere with panache. And they might turn out to be better options than the current version of iWork even if they aren't as elegant.

--H.M.

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