Review: Apple's iWork for iCloud is elegant but limited
Apple's online productivity suite is exceptionally polished and easy to use, but lacking in word processing and spreadsheet featuresFollow @woodyleonhard
Figure 3: Numbers for iCloud isn't able to do subtraction with dates -- a common trick in Excel.
Changing values in the spreadsheet led to expected behavior -- totals, averages, and the like calculated correctly, both within individual sheets and across sheets. After I made changes and downloaded the changed spreadsheet in Excel format, it arrived with a cover page that said, "This document was exported from Numbers. Each table was converted to an Excel worksheet. All other objects on each Numbers sheet were placed on separate worksheets. Please be aware that formula calculations may differ in Excel." On closer examination, all of the numbers and formulas were intact, and they calculated correctly -- even the ones flagged as being invalid in Sheets.
Opening the password-protected spreadsheet led to a warning: "Your spreadsheet will open in Numbers for iCloud. Some features aren't supported in this beta release, and related content will be removed. To preserve the original, click Open Copy." To my surprise, the resulting spreadsheet worked just fine, with the formatting all preserved, although the generated pie chart was hopelessly garbled and comments had been dropped. I made a few small changes and downloaded the result; I came away with a ZIP file that was basically useless.
The PowerPoint presentation had problems when run in Keynote for iCloud under Internet Explorer -- simple transitions and animations didn't work, and several slides were garbled. When I opened the PowerPoint in Keynote for iCloud in Firefox, I received the message, "Your browser isn't fully supported. For the best Keynote for iCloud experience, use a supported browser." (Odd that I didn't get a similar admonition about IE.) When I tried Chrome, the transitions and animations didn't work, either, and graphics were garbled. Finally, I cranked up Safari in OS X 10.7.5, tried again, and saw black screens and that the message, "Slide couldn't be displayed. Do you want to try again?"
In summary, based on these tests, iWork for iCloud is reasonably good at rendering Microsoft Word docs and Excel spreadsheets, but PowerPoint presentations are beyond its ken. Simple changes to simple docs carry through, albeit with significant round-trip formatting changes, but simple changes to some complex docs can have disastrous results.
Will iWork for iCloud work for you?
There's no simple answer. Apple is a newcomer to the online office game, and it shows. The three iWork for iCloud apps feel like they were designed from the ground up to unify the concepts behind word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Their interfaces are remarkably similar, minimalist, and easy to follow. The design is at once elegant and accessible.
But Apple's file interface stinks. Of the three major browser-based office suites, Apple's is the worst for handling files. The only simple way to get a file into iWork for iCloud is to drag and drop it into a specific app's Web page. (You can directly access files created in iWork for Mac or iOS that are saved in iCloud there.) You can't sync a folder on a Mac or PC with iWork for iCloud, as you can Office Online and Google Drive.
You can create a folder in iCloud by dragging and dropping one file on top of another, but both files must already be stored in iCloud (i.e., you can't create a folder by dragging and dropping a file from your desktop or Windows Explorer onto a file in iCloud). Folders are limited to containing only files of the same type.