Pages for iCloud beta review - gorgeous interface but is this online app where you'd want to write documents

Pages for iCloud is a beta app that recreates Apple’s word processing program (part of the iWork package) in an online area. You can log in to www.icloud.com, enter your details and start working on documents right in the Safari web browser.

As with Apple’s other iWork for iCloud apps, it’s worth first noting just how truly sensational the Pages web app interface is. It really is something to behold when using an app that is this close to the desktop edition. During comparison testing we frequently became confused as to which version was online and which was the desktop app.

See:  Pages 09 review

Having said that there are some key differences. The web-based interface does not have access to the traditional Apple menu bar, so there’s no drop-down menu options. Like Numbers and Keynote, Pages for iCloud resembles the iOS version more than the desktop version.

There are also far more online-based text editors than spreadsheet documents, so Pages is up against other tools like Google Docs, Draft, Zoho Writer, Think Free and so on. These all have different strengths and weaknesses, but it’s really worth noting that Pages has a tremendous upper hand on all of them in one key area: graphics.

Pages for iCloud is every bit as good at creating graphically intense documents as the desktop version. And the desktop version of Pages is, for our money, better than any other word processor when it comes to creating graphically rich documents.

Pages for Desktop vs Pages for iCloud

Pages for Mac OS X (left) vs Pages for iCloud (right)

Creating documents in Pages for iCloud

Everything you do in Pages just tends to look utterly wonderful and Apple-esque. It’s so easy to create good looking documents in Pages instead of either a rival word processor like Word, or high-end DTP package like InDesign. In fact we’ve used Pages instead of Adobe InDesign in instances where we wanted a good looking document that could be edited by people without DTP experience.

See: How to create a newsletter in Pages

This simply isn’t possible in most word processing programs: Microsoft Word has the feature set but manages to make everything look a little uglier, and programs like Byword, Scrivener, and Nisus Writer tend to aimed at pure text editing. Online services like Google Docs are almost purely for bashing out and sharing text.

Also: Why use Google Docs?

So Pages stands alone in its ability to create stunning looking documents (such as flyers and sales marketing pages) that combine text, with images, charts and graphics. Again it’s an absolute revelation to be able to do this in an online space. For our money Pages for iCloud is just as good at adding, and editing images and graphics as Pages is. It has all snap-to-guides, precise size and alignment tools, easy opacity and drop-shadowing, and all the graphical templates you could ask for. It tends to be a bit slower, especially on older Macs, but on the whole there’s very little difference.

Pages for iCloud browser compatibility

As with other programs in the iWork for iCloud beta suite there is a bit of a compatability problem. It tends to be quite demanding with its selection of browsers.

The Apple support site lists these browsers are compatible with Pages for iCloud:

Other browsers may work, but not offer detailed support. And some older versions of other browsers may not work at all. Apple support has more detailed information on supported browsers.

This browser support is far from ideal, and the lack of support for Firefox is especially concerning. Firefox, love it or loathe it, has approximately 20 per cent market share (according to Wikipedia). And while Opera is hardly taking over the world, it’s another browser that you’re not going to be able to use.

This isn’t a problem at home, where you can just use your own choice of browser; or when you have a laptop, where you can again choose a browser. But the time when you’re most likely to want to work in the cloud is when you’re completely on the move, or need emergency access. When you’re in the internet cafe trying to access that vital marketing document, the fact that it doesn’t support Firefox or an old version of Internet Explorer is likely to suddenly become an issue.

Using Pages for iPad

Pages for iCloud online feature

There are some neat features to working in the cloud. Of course if you work in the cloud any changes you make to a document are automatically saved. And your work moves seamlessly between devices like iPads and iPhones to the Mac.

See: iPad review

As we move forward into the cloud, it’s becoming clear that cloud-based programs have a lot of advantages beyond simply being able to jump on a computer in an Internet Cafe.

But there are many cloud-based features that iWork is currently lacking. In principle the sharing and collaboration is clumsy and no better than the desktop. Whereas Google Docs (and other online services) allow multiple authors to work on a document at once (with different coloured cursors). Google Drive remains in the world of sharing documents via email.

And although it’s possible to import a range of files, including Word documents and export to PDF and Word as well as Pages files, the conversion isn’t perfect. It’s not as bad as Numbers, but some of the more graphically complex documents will display inconsistencies.

Also, like other iWork for iCloud apps it utilizes Apple’s insistence of converting apps and saving them inside the online space within that app. Rather than integrating with the Finder, in a manner such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

See: Dropbox review and Google Drive

While there may be some method to this madness down the line, for now we find it infinitely more convenient to have all the files used on a project (documents, spreadsheets, notes, images, and so on) in a single folder rather all the document types inside apps. Maybe over time Apple will convince us of its method, but for now it seems ludicrously out of step with how we work.

OUR VERDICT

Many of our feelings about Numbers and Keynote for iCloud are shared with Pages. The app itself is beautiful to behold, and it’s capable of creating equally gorgeous documents but it’s a genuine shame that you can’t use it collaboratively with other people. Multi-user editing with integrated FaceTime support would seem to be an obvious path for this app to follow. Because the app is marked beta pulling it up for a lack of features seems churlish. Mind you, this is the sort of feature that Google is offering right now so it’s up to Apple to get a move on. From a web designers perspective the Pages app is a truly stunning technical achievement, and it’s definitely worth checking out. In terms of practicality though, if you already uses Pages a lot you may find it useful when you’re on the road, but it doesn’t offer enough that’s different to the desktop app to be used on a regular basis.

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