iWork Rewrite

Good news! Apple has finally released an update to iWork on OS X. The bad news, at least for some, is this new version appears to be a complete rewrite. As such, the latest version of iWork has lost features. Gruber pointed out during The Talk Show that while ire and disappointment are justified, users familiar with Apple cannot claim to be surprised. Apple has never been shy with starting over with a popular software product.

The most recent and perhaps harshest example is Final Cut Pro X, a rewrite that so dramatically reduced functionality that its release in 2011 was met with low adoption at best and user exodus at worst. I think Apple made one critical mistake with Final Cut—they failed to anticipate the real world impact on their users. Apple falsely assumed that any feature regression would be easily overshadowed by the power and speed of the new architecture. Because of this, they pulled the previous feature-full version and pushed users to immediately upgrade. Apple seems to have learned it’s lesson with the latest version of iWork. Even with the less severe regression, users will still find copies of iWork 09 in their Applications folder after they upgrade, allowing them to wait until their specific feature is restored.

That said, I think restoration of at least some of those features may see a much steeper battle. This is because rewrites to Final Cut (and iMovie before that) were about architecture. Restoring features within a new architecture are inevitable given demand, effort, and time. The rewrite of iWork, on the other hand, is about file and feature compatibility across three platforms: OS X, iOS, and Web. As such, the demand and effort of any one feature will have to be weighed across all three platforms. Take AppleScript for example, a feature that lends nicely to OS X, but makes no sense on either iOS or web. Reimplementing AppleScript on an OS X only iWork is a no-brainer, but doing so on the cross platform iWork means competing with other features that can exist on all three. The web in particular is going to be challenging as Apple will have to contend with the limitations of standards and browser compatibility

Finally, more-so than Final Cut Pro X, simply updating the existing iWork for Mac was not an option. Imagine if Apple had only announced new cross compatible versions of iWork for the web and iOS. Mac users would once again be second class citizens. This rewrite aligns the Mac version with the future of the product. Users should be relieved, whether they decide to use upgrade or hold off. The new version of iWork is yet another sign that Apple is still committed to the Mac platform.