Move over, Microsoft and Google. On Friday, Apple announced that its iWork for iCloud beta is now available to the general public.
The suite of applications are open to any user who logs onto his or her iCloud account, providing access to betas of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, and to synced updates across devices. In June, the company began providing developer-only access following the offering's announcement at the Worldwide Developers Conference. In July, it was enlarged with an invite-only limited beta.
As a cloud-based application suite, users only need a Web browser on a Mac or a Windows computer. Apple said that iWork for iCloud has been optimized for Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Google's Chrome, as well as its own Safari browser -- in particular, Safari 6.0.3 or later, Chrome 27.0.1 or later and Internet Explorer 9.0.8 or later.
Forget 'Working on the Web'
Apple said on its iWord for iCloud Web site that the performance of the applications is so fast that "you may forget you're working on the Web."
The online apps feature somewhat simplified functions compared with the full apps, although reviewers have reported that the experience of the iCloud versions is fairly close to that of the desktop apps. One drawback at this beta stage, however, is that there is no direct printing yet. Instead, a user must first mail a copy of a document to oneself for printing, or download it.
A year ago, iWork introduced a new feature called Documents in the Cloud, which provided online access to documents, and updates across devices, through Mac or iOS versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. With iWork for iCloud, users can still access documents online through their OS X or iOS versions of iWork if they so choose, or they can create documents using the new online apps.
Announcement Sept. 10?
Apple arrives later to this game than the competing Office 365 from Microsoft or Google Apps. Just as Google has penetrated the business market because of the browser-based availability of its Apps, so Apple is expected to find a more receptive audience, especially among small- to medium-size businesses, because its apps will no longer require a Mac or iOS device.
However, some Apple-watchers contend that iWork for iCloud is not intended to compete with Google's or Microsoft's offerings. For instance, iCloud is not being positioned as a collaborative environment, as Google's and Microsoft's online environments are.
The company has not said how long the free access will be provided, or what kind of payment structure will eventually be implemented. This beta version is the first time the iWork apps have been available to Windows users, or available for free for Mac users. The particulars of a full release of iWork may be announced at Apple's big Sept. 10 event, at which time the new iPhone model is expected to unveiled.