Bill Bennett


Apple iWorks hits limits

Last month Apple rebooted iWorks. The apps are now free on iPhones, new iPads and OS X computers.

Apple has rewritten Pages, Numbers and Keynote so that users see similar software no matter what device they use. Along the way, it stripped back the OS X iWorks apps — they now have fewer features.

From my point of view that’s a good thing. I write for a living. That means putting words on a screen.

Most of my freelance work is paid by the word, so the more words I write in a session, the more money I make. Playing around with fonts, layouts – all those other features found in modern word processors – makes me less productive. All I need is a blank display, basic editing and a word count.

Well for most of the time, that is.

Trouble with iWorks tables

Yesterday I wrote two stories that needed tables. An article about Android’s market share and another comparing the price New Zealanders pay for the new iPad Mini with Retina display when compared to US prices.

Apple iWorks

You’ll notice the two tables look different on the web pages. That’s because I had to handcraft the HTML directly in the WordPress online editor.

This isn’t ideal. One of the basic rules of successful publishing is to make everything consistent. I normally get around this by creating my online tables in Microsoft Excel on the Mac, loading the table to SkyDrive then embedding the online Excel app table directly into a WordPress story.

Apple iWorks

You can see how this works on my guide to iPhone 5S prices. I think this is an elegant way of publishing tables.

Yesterday I created my first table using Apple’s Numbers app. My plan was to produce something similar to the Excel table embedded in the post. It quickly became clear this wasn’t going to happen. Still, I thought it might be possible to create a good looking table, turn it into HTML and use that code on the web page. Again, Numbers doesn’t do this. If it can generate HTML, I couldn’t find any documentation. I left messages on Apples Community Forum, but it doesn’t seem that Numbers to HTML is doable.

Excel does this better

Never mind, I’ve had success in the past with Excel turning tables into images. Even that doesn’t seem to work with Numbers. I could have taken a screen capture of the table, but that’s a clumsy, horrible way of doing that job.

My other fallback for making nice-looking tables is to use a tool like PowerPoint – or in this case Keynote. In PowerPoint you can make a table then either embed the single page or turn the table into a graphic and post that.

It’s easy to make a pretty table using KeyNote, but once again there’s not simple way to embed the result on a web page.

In the end I couldn’t even easily extract the table from Numbers or KeyNote in a way that simplified making the HTML tables you see on the two examples. I tried playing around with the table in DreamWeaver – but in the end, I had to handcraft the two tables.

Not a deal-breaker, but…

OK, so none of this is a big deal. The tables are adequate, even if they are less than elegant. The job got done, but I’m surprised something trivial like creating a nice-looking online table isn’t easy in iWorks.

Of course in the real world, I could just copy the Numbers table into Microsoft’s Excel web app and get the job done. On the other hand, this is the first practical barrier I’ve bumped up against in my project of trying to stay in the Apple technology stack.

All of this had me reflecting on the nature of what people in the business call ‘office productivity suites’. Are they still relevant in a world where people switch from phone to tablet to computer?

The answer depends on what you want. Office is huge and let’s face it bloated. It comes with thousands of features you may never use, but it does make creating nice-looking tables easy. iWorks is stripped down in a way that’s great for day-to-day productivity, but every so often a task comes along that means downloading another app. In this case, I couldn’t even find an app for creating pretty tables in Apple’s app store.

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