Review: How good are iWork for iCloud’s collaborative tools?

At WWDC 14, Apple updated the public beta of iWork for iCloud, upping the specs of their online productivity suite. You can now share docs of up to 1GB, create charts, upload 10MB images and take advantage of 15GB of iCloud storage – all while sharing your document with up to 100 users.

But how good are these features? How much functionality do you actually gain? There was only one way to find out: make our marketing team trial iWork for iCloud to within an inch of its life.

Setting up iWork for iCloud

If your computer’s not already set up to use iCloud, you need to follow a few quick steps before you start. First, go here the Apple website and click the ‘get started’ link under the intro. Sign in with your Apple ID. If your device isn’t set up for iCloud, you’ll see a pop-up explaining that your device isn’t set up for iCloud, and be asked what device you’re using. Click the correct one, and Apple will redirect you to a page that explains how to turn on iCloud for your device.

Once you’ve set your Mac/laptop/iPad/whatever up, head back to the Apple site, click ‘get started’ again and sign in with your Apple ID. This time, you’ll see the iCloud interface, complete with shiny new icons for Numbers, Pages and Keynote.

We know it sounds a bit convoluted, but you only have to do it once, and then you can just log in on and access documents wherever you are, from any device. Can’t argue with that.

iWork for iCloud

Adding a document to iWork for iCloud

During their WWDC demo, Apple made this look like it’d be as easy as opening up an iWork for iCloud program and dragging a document into your browser – even if it was a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document. In a pleasant change from the usual demo-to-beta transition, this is actually how it works, and it is that easy.

In fact, we reckon it’s probably quicker than the usual workaround of saving multiple versions in multiple formats, and it means you don’t clog up your local storage or make version control a nightmare by creating multiple copies of each file, so a big plus for anyone looking to get more organised and streamline processes.

Sharing documents

Once you have your document open in the browser interface, just click the share icon in the top right of your screen to share the document with another user. You can email them an invitation to the doc, or copy and paste the automatically generated link to send by other means.

You can make documents viewable or editable by other users, but this is on a document-by-document basis, not a user-by-user one (fingers crossed that will be added once this is out of beta). Don’t want them to see the document online? Click settings and select ‘send a copy’ to send them a copy of the file as is, direct from iCloud.

We’re particularly fond of this feature over in marketing, as we often hear “I need this rewriting for a customer, but I have to leave for Kent in ten minutes…” and have long been wishing we could edit a document while said salesperson drives and send the final version over to them in a way that we knew was reliable and would preserve our formatting. Thanks, iCloud.

Working on iOS devices

Eventually, iWork for iCloud plans to let you work on any device, including iOS devices and Windows machines. Currently, we found that it was fine when we used desktop or laptop devices, but wouldn’t let us actively edit a document online from an iOS device. However, anyone who tries to open a shared document on their iPhone, iPad or iPod touch is prompted to download that version as a PDF, HTML file, iWork document or EPUB, so they can download it in another program on their device and then send it back.

If you upload a document to iWork for iCloud on your desktop, it’ll automatically appear on your iOS devices too, making it easier to take files out of the office with you, and any edits you make in your local version of Pages, Numbers or Keynote will sync back to the cloud, too. This means you can build up a portfolio of business documents on your iPad, but still have them all live and editable back in the office, in case any of your colleagues need to update them.

Converting from Office to iWork documents

This takes a few moments, but works surprisingly well. Notes and Numbers handle conversion from Word and Excel no problem, while a PowerPoint transferred to Keynote fared far better then we’ve ever seen one do in the desktop version of Keynote. There was a small text spacing issue on one slide the first time we opened the presentation, but on subsequent openings the issue had corrected itself without us ever having to do anything.

Keeping track of other users

Users who are viewing the document are each assigned a colour, and the area they’re working on is highlighted that colour, so you can tell where they are. If you click on the sharing icon and then on the name of one of your collaborators, you can jump to whichever part of the document they’re in, so you can see their changes straight away.

One of the things we liked most about iWork for iCloud is that it allowed more than one of us to edit different document elements at the same time – something other services have struggled with. We managed to get one user to import and edit an image into a Pages document while another created and edited a graph – and both could see each other’s changes being made.

If you regularly have teams coming together to create documents, or have heads of department working on items like board books together, this is a pretty efficient way of doing it without having to invest in any new apps or licences, or even getting everyone on the same platform.

On the flip side of this, one thing to remember is that all users are created equal. If your document is editable, anyone you share it with can edit it. If you’re in Keynote and want to play a presentation, there’s no way to take over other users’ screens and make them watch; they’re free to keep editing while you present, and their changes will show up in your version of the presentation as soon as you leave slideshow mode.

However, if you frequently collaborate on presentations and related documents, it’s a really helpful way for one of you to be able to edit in realtime while the other rehearses, as you both see the changes instantly once the run through is complete.

Obviously this is a beta…

So you’d expect a few nagging issues here and there. The key one for us was that when we tried to access a shared Excel spreadsheet, everyone except the document owner was told that they didn’t have permission to view it, despite the fact that it was being publicly shared. We also found the menu options in Pages pretty limited compared to the desktop version. For example, some of the text in one document we edited was highlighted, and we couldn’t find any way to turn that off within the browser.

What’s the verdict?

A massively easy way to get people in Pages and Word working together, we think iWork for iCloud will really pay off in any environment where you need to get Mac and PC types working on the same documents. That they can all edit different document elements at the same time is a great bonus, and the navigation and operation of the browser interface will be a breeze for anyone who has a passing familiarity with iWork for desktop.

Want to know more about improving productivity with Apple? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email For all the latest news and reviews, follow @WeAreJigsaw24 on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook

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