Pages 5.5 for Mac review

Apple has been priming Pages for success for a few years now, quietly chipping away deadwood here, and sculpting new features here. While Apple often blinds us with a new product, Pages has been clearly slowly working towards a unified office system that works equally well on Mac, OS X and iCloud.com.

We’re not wholly sure how many people are aware of the quiet revolution taking place inside Apple’s iWork apps. Last year Apple upset the proverbial cart by stripping back Pages, Numbers and Keynote and lining them up with its iOS offerings.

This year we see a brand new version of Pages alongside the OS X 10.10 Yosemite upgrade - this version is Pages 5.5 (a half point increase from last year's Pages 5). Apple also has hugely impressive online versions of iWork apps in beta testing in iCloud.com and everything syncs up with Apple’s new iCloud Drive. It is almost ready to roll.

Alongside the new Pages update, the market for desktop office apps (once dominated by Microsoft Office) has itself become overturned. Microsoft no longer has a technical edge when it comes to office document creation, especially when it comes to cloud productivity. Read about Microsoft's plans for the next version of Office for Mac, coming in 2015.

Google Docs has been steadily gaining adherents for last few years. Microsoft has finally brought Word to the iPad, but with a monthly subscription fee. Both Pages and Google Docs are free.

The world is changing. Has Pages got what it takes to make the splash Apple always wanted from it.

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Pages for Mac review: new features in 5.5

Pages for Mac Interface

Pages for Mac 2014 has a new look that is more fitting with Yosemite but the nuts and bolts of the interface are familiar to anybody who used Pages 2013.

Apple has a list of new features on its support site, and most of them are small (although we don’t doubt handy for small sections of users).

There are, however, three big new features worth mentioning:

  • iCloud Drive. You now save documents directly to iCloud Drive and they are accessible inside the iCloud Drive folder in Yosemite.
  • Improved compatibility with Microsoft Word 2013. It is important for Pages to play nicely with word an you can now export password protected documents in DOCX format and preserve the formatting of charts on import.
  • Faster performance. Apple lists a range of enhancements but in general Pages in Yosemite is much faster than Pages 2013 in Mavericks. It’s just snappier across the board.

Pages for Mac review: iCloud Drive

Pages for Mac with iCloud Drive

Apple iCloud Drive is the real game changer in Pages because it enables you to seamlessly create and access documents in Pages. These are instantly synced to the iPhone and iPad, but you can access them in a Mac in Yosemite.

We found files were saved quickly and seamlessly to iCloud Drive, although not quite as seamlessly as Google Docs and we did manage to cause one sync problem by shutting down a MacBook before saving a document, and then making edits on an iPhone.

Files are saved to the Pages folder in iCloud Drive by default, but you can also save them to any folder in iCloud Drive of your choosing  (or choose to save them locally to another folder in Mac OS X). We were slightly disappointed to find that custom templates were not synced across devices (they’re still stored locally).

Read: Alternatives to Pages

Pages for Mac review: using OS X and iOS

One area that Pages has really come to life is with its cross-platform compatibility between Pages for Mac and Pages for iOS. Thanks to the new interface refresh, the apps feel largely similar on all the devices you use. The feature set is similar between Mac and iOS and you get access to the same documents, templates and other features.

Pages for Mac also features Handoff compatibility, so you can move from your Mac to an iOS device just by tapping the Handoff icon.

On the whole we find Pages for iOS more reliable than Google Docs (especially if the internet connection is patchy) and have fewer syncing problems than with Microsoft Word. Pages for iOS is rapidly becoming our go-to app for writing on the move.

Read: Pages for iOS review

Pages for Mac: Collaboration

One area where Apple still has some work to do is with collaboration. As the owner of a document you can choose to share it with other people, but they have to edit it inside the web-based version of Pages (which is still in beta testing). You can now password protect shared documents, and choose to share a document in view-only mode, but still can’t choose specific people to share a document with. On the whole Apple still has some work to do in this area, and Google Docs still has the edge.

Another area that Google Docs has the edge is with its spell-checker. We have yet to find any contextual spell-checker as powerful and fast as Google Docs. Most writers think Google Docs is a godsend and would struggle to be convinced by the spell checker in Pages.

Having said that Pages is still a far more creatively powerful word processor than Google Docs, and it has far better templates on offer. Pages’ tables, charts and media options enable you to create visually arresting documents – Google Docs seems to be mostly about pure text editing.

Where Microsoft Word fits into all of this is debatable. Word for Mac has better compatibility with Word for iPad, and many people remain locked into the world of text editing in Microsoft Office software. How long they will remain locked into Microsoft Office is another matter, Pages for Mac is good enough to warrant serious attention as an Office alternative.

Verdict

We’re impressed with Pages for Mac. While the interface refresh is slight and there are few spectacular new features, much of what Apple has been working towards for the last few years has come together. Pages for Mac is a great word processor, it has fast and has powerful object editing tools and great templates. It's the interaction between Mac and iOS via iCloud Drive that really makes the grade though; we think Apple is going to pick up a lot of new iWork users in 2015.

Here's Karl Hodge's review from 2013 when Apple first introduced Pages 5.

Pages for Mac 2013 review

Pages is the document processor from the suite-formerly-known-as-iWork - now a standalone app. Over a series of previous upgrades it became quite a beefy text editing and layout tool. It was never direct competition for Word, but still proved attractive to power users who appreciated its AppleScript capability.

The fifth version, released alongside OS X Mavericks, splits opinion. Like other apps once in the iWorks range, Pages has been rebuilt from stem to stern. The interface overhaul is comprehensive, bringing a look similar to Pages iOS sibling and iCloud integration to make editing between devices seamless.

In the process of simplification many dozens of features have gone AWOL. Some are fairly minor, like missing templates. Others are the kind of thing that get writers tearing at their own eyeballs in frustration, like the inability to export to Rich Text Format. The hardest core of users are disappointed by the removal of cripting features.

So, is this the terrific, cutting edge upgrade Apple says it is or the software disaster described by more cynical critics?

The truth, as always, lies somewhere between black and white. Like 2011’s controversial overhaul of Final Cut Pro X, Apple’s redesign of Pages is a reboot. It cleans the decks for new ways of doing things, for tablet to computer work flows and cloud based collaboration. For a moment, we’re going to imagine that we’re coming to this entirely fresh and consider the app as though it was version one.

Through neophyte eyes, Pages 5 is exactly what you’d expect from Apple in 2013. A cloud savvy document creation tool aimed at the design conscious, with ease of use in the foreground.

On first launch, the minimal interface displays a blank page (or one chosen from a template). There are few icons and much of the “feedback” you might expect from a word processing app isn’t turned on by default. Head to the “View” menu and you can bring back some of that furniture; Rulers, Page Thumbnails and, crucially for many, Word Count. Hover over the lozenge that pops up and you can see character and paragraph counts too.

Some of the functionality that critics inititally claimed was missing has actually just moved - over to the new Format Panel. Pop it open and its purpose changes depending on your selection, giving access to styling, layout and other options for text and media objects. The tab “More” actually gives you access to text and pagination toggles.

Pages still integrates with and includes functionality that it shares with former iLife stablemates iPhoto, Numbers and iMovie. You can still insert images, charts and movies from your machine or cloud. It’s a just few easy steps from boot up to creating media rich documents.

One of the biggest changes is one that Apple is rolling out across all former iWork apps; greater iCloud integration. Apple, clearly cognisant that apps are shifting from the desktop to the cloud, is beta testing free versions of its apps at www.icloud.com including Pages. Your documents are automatically saved to iCloud and you can share them directly from the web via iMessage, Facebook, Twitter or email.

Not only that, you can invite others to collaborate with you from Pages, via iCloud. At the moment, this feature has a little way to go. It has none of the real-time wonder that greets first time Google Docs collaborators as you see fellow editors crawl over a document making changes. But it does have an interface that looks very close to Pages on the desktop.

You can import Word documents into Pages too, which gives you a way to collaborate on an Office created document without delving too deep into that murky world.

Overall, the new Pages feels like a solid attempt to bridge the gaps between several platforms. It’s a desktop tool that also has to look and feel the same on tablet and in the cloud.

Pages 5 will be a challenge for some. Users who have invested much in the old workflow, who have hacked and automated frequent tasks will find that their way of doing things is no longer supported. And that will be quite a blow. Fortunately, for those upgrading (rather than installing fresh) the previous version isn’t wiped by Pages’ installer. You’ll find it in the iWork folder in Applications.

Verdict

Though only good in parts, we understand that Apple’s strategy with Pages is part of a longer game. Unlike most software developers, application design ties directly back into hardware and the changes being made are incrementally nudging us towards convergence. And for the price - £13.99 if you’ve never bought it before and free on new Macs - there really isn’t much in terms of competition.

OUR VERDICT

We’re impressed with Pages for Mac. While the interface refresh is slight and there are few spectacular new features, much of what Apple has been working towards for the last few years has come together. Pages for Mac is a great word processor, it has fast and has powerful object editing tools and great templates. It's the interaction between Mac and iOS via iCloud Drive that really makes the grade though; we think Apple is going to pick up a lot of new iWork users in 2015.

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