Apple boosts iOS iWork suite's Office doc compatibility

Pre-empts Microsoft, which will reportedly ship native iOS Office apps in early '13

Apple yesterday updated its iWork suite -- Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- for the iPad and iPhone, beefing up compatibility with Microsoft's Office.

The Cupertino, Calif. company may be trying to get the jump on Microsoft, which is expected to ship iOS native apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint early next year.

The new versions of iWork for iOS feature improved compatibility with Office, Microsoft's leading business suite that rumors have long claimed will eventually make it to the iPad and iPhone as native applications.

Apple has posted long lists of the Office compatibility changes in iWork to its website. The Pages word processor is analogous to Microsoft Word, while Numbers and Keynote are Apple's answers to Microsoft's Excel and PowerPoint, respectively.

Pages also sports a change-tracking feature for the first time, while Numbers now lets users hide columns and rows. And Keynote features new printing options to put presenter notes on paper.

Existing owners of the apps receive the upgrades for free; new users pay $9.99 for each of the three, which must be purchased separately. Apple does not offer a discounted bundle.

Apple also updated Pages, Numbers and Keynote on OS X, but the changes were limited to support for their new iOS siblings. Those applications cost $19.99 each, although the minor upgrades are free to current users.

Pages on iOS now tracks changes to documents.

iWork was last overhauled in 2009 -- although an update last summer added support for Retina-style displays in some of the MacBook Pro laptops -- sparking speculation that Apple has put the desktop suite on hold.

Although Pages is No. 4 on the iOS App Store's list of paid apps -- Keynote and Numbers are Nos. 12 and 17 -- and the three apps are all in the Top 5 in the OS X-only Mac App Store, they've long been seen as poor substitutes for the real thing, which for virtually every business, is Microsoft Office.

Talk of Microsoft bringing Office to iOS, particularly the iPad, has swirled since Apple launched its first tablet in 2010. The rumors picked up momentum this year, and although Microsoft has not clarified its plans, this fall the firm's Czech arm said native iOS and Android apps would ship in the first quarter of 2013. Microsoft quickly disavowed the announcement, however, calling it "not accurate."

Last month, The Verge, citing unnamed sources, reported that Microsoft would release iOS apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint in late February or early March 2013, followed in May by similar software for Android.

The free apps will purportedly offer view-only capabilities; to enable editing and other features customers will have to link the Office apps to Office 365, the subscription service Microsoft plans to kick off in early 2013.

Pages, Numbers and Keynote updates can be retrieved from the iOS App Store and the OS X Mac App Store.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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