Simply put, the software (which will launch this fall, in beta) filters Apple’s core productivity products—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—through the browser. It’s a competitor not only to Google Docs (grouped within Google Drive), but also Microsoft’s Office 365. Apple seems to realize that the market-share for its productivity software is still too low to challenge Microsoft or Google in head-to-head battle, so iWork for iCloud allows users to port and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents (in fact, Apple’s Website emphasizes that portability).
All documents created via the browser-based iWork can be saved to iCloud, allowing users to access them from pretty much any Internet-enabled device. Apple claims that it will eventually update the beta with a variety of features, including chart editing, version history, printing, sending a link to a document, and support for browsers beyond the initial IE, Chrome, and Safari; however, the company didn’t give a timetable for that rollout.
The cloud-productivity arena is still a relatively nascent one: Microsoft continues to draw the substantial majority of its productivity-software profits from “traditional” Office software, and Google Docs is responsible for a tiny fraction of Google’s overall revenue. But it has the potential to expand rapidly as the cloud becomes more prevalent.
Realizing that browser-based software makes the underlying operating system less important, Microsoft has moved to open up its Office Web Apps to more devices and browsers. “The full power of the Office Web Apps is already available for Windows 8 tablets and iPads,” read a May 7 posting on Microsoft’s Office blog, “and we will be extending the same capabilities to Android tablets via mobile Chrome browser support.”
The key part of that posting was Office Web Apps’ compatibility with Google Android and Apple’s iOS. By porting its cloud-based software to two of the most popular mobile-device operating systems, Microsoft clearly hoped to blunt any efforts by Google and Apple in that arena.
But Google and Apple clearly have plans of their own. In the summer of 2012, Google acquired Quickoffice, a suite of cloud-based productivity software for mobile devices; a few months later, it issued an update that made it easier to convert legacy Office files into a version editable via Quickoffice. Google has also continually updated Google Drive, the foundation of Google Docs, with new features and increased storage.
And now Apple’s jumped into the fray with iWork for iCloud. Can it succeed against the well-established Google and Microsoft? That’s difficult to answer, but it’s clear that Apple couldn’t let its two rivals have the cloud space to themselves.