The iPhone has already seen a fair amount of attempts at apps that provide you with word processing capabilities on the move, but none of them have really offered a solution that’s very compelling. Some lack basic features such as text formatting yet run butter-smooth, whist others offer too many features that ultimately leave the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen far too cluttered and bloated plus suffer from horribly slow and laggy performance issues.
Apple has long offered their own office software suite on the Mac, and then launched it for the iPad when the stallion of a tablet was released. Now, Apple has updated their iPad offering to make all those iWork for iPad apps universal — meaning the iPhone finally gets some iWork action. It was a long requested feature, so how does iWork for the iPhone stack up against the competition? In this series of reviews, we’re going to find out, starting with Pages.
Upon opening the app for the first time, you’re greeted with a very clean, fresh interface that’s typical of Apple. There’s a Getting Started document preloaded in the app that you can read through to learn the key features as well, which is a nice touch.
Tapping the plus icon on the screen will allow you to create a new document, or import an existing document in from iTunes, iDisk or even WebDAV — the latter of which is a slightly strange inclusion, but useful for some people nonetheless. If you choose to create a new document, you’re presented with a grid of template thumbnails to choose from, including Classic Letter, Syllabus and others such as Resume. Of course, you can also just choose to start with a blank page.
When it comes down to it, no matter how pretty an interface, we need features to actually deem the app useful — and on that front, Pages delivers in almost all sectors.
Arguably, the most important aspect of any word processor. Pages touts an impressive number of options, including the basics such as bold, italic, underline and strikethrough. You can also change the colour of text, choose from an impressive list of fonts and adjust the size. There are lists too — bullet pointed, lettered or numbered.
Styles are there as well, although unlike the Mac version of iWork, they’re not user editable. Still, for knocking up a quick document with titles, headers and body text, they work well.
Even with such a small screen compared to one on a device you’d generally use for word processing, Pages doesn’t let you down on layout options. You can change text alignment, even add multiple columns to your document and change the line spacing.
Media and Shapes (non-text based stuff)
Pages makes use of your iPhone’s built in photo library, allowing you to import photos on your phone into your document. Once it’s imported, you can align it, add borders (that are very nicely designed, too) and even use two fingers on the screen to rotate the image. Oh, and don’t forget cropping, resizing, shadows, reflections and opacity settings. Phew!
You can go on to add shapes such as arrows and stars, freeform text boxes, charts, tables with multiple formatting options and even more. In a nutshell, Apple has largely kept most features from the desktop versions of iWork. Very impressive.
File Syncing and Transfer
So once you’ve finished your document, how do you go about printing it or getting it to its final destination? Well, Pages has most bases covered.
In the Tools and Sharing menu from within a document, you can go ahead and email, print (using AirPrint and a compatible wireless printer, of course), share on iWork.com, send to iTunes and copy to iDisk or WebDAV. Choosing any of those options pops up a little interface, where you can select what format to export the document — Pages, PDF or Microsoft Word.
Whilst you do have a good selection of options, there is one glaring omission: copy to Dropbox. Now in all fairness, I never expected Apple to actually include this, especially while MobileMe and iDisk still exist. Hopefully it’s something we will see very soon as Dropbox is hugely popular, and unfortunately for Apple, not every single Dropbox user is going to want to switch entirely to iCloud when iOS 5 makes its debut.
Interface and Performance
Using the app is generally a pleasant experience. Apple has pretty much nailed the interface to about as good as it can get for a mobile app of this calibre. Sometimes it can feel slightly cluttered, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the alternatives.
Performance of the app can really take a hit when the document you’re working on gets past a few pages long. Text entry becomes a little sluggish and it sort of feels like going from an iPhone 4 to an iPhone 3G — but hey, its a limitation of the current hardware and there’s not a lot that can be done to fix it. Besides, it isn’t drastically bad and it’s definitely fine to work with. I mean, come on, it’s an iPhone, not an iMac.
There are a couple of aspects where I felt a little let down, however. First, text wrap. There is none. Essentially, as you type the text will scroll sideways so you always see what you’re typing, and when you hit the end of the page it starts a new line. It’s keeping the layout of a normal document intact, whilst making the text large enough for you to read. It makes sense, but I would have liked to have seen a toggle switch at least. You can pinch out to zoom out and see the whole document, but as soon as you start typing, it zooms in again.
Secondly, there’s no landscape support. I understand the interface would need adjustments, especially when it comes to text formatting because there’s very little vertical space to display many options, but this is a word processor. I would have liked to have been able to at least type plain text in landscape and switch back to portrait to apply any adjustments.
As it currently stands, Pages is priced at $9.99. It is indeed universal, so the iPad version is included in that price too. Pages is a pretty advanced application, so I think the price is justified, even if it is among the more expensive apps on the store. There are cheaper, and even free alternatives, but Pages is a great example of getting what you pay for.
Apple has almost nailed word processing on the move. Besides a few little annoyances, it doesn’t get much better than this. The interface is slick and oozes with Apple style, performance is pretty good and there are some decent export options. In my opinion, Pages is the most concise word processor on the App Store.