Hands on: iWork Documents in the Cloud

Finally, you can now seamlessly transfer iWork documents between your iOS and OS X devices. When Documents in the Cloud was announced last year, it seemed fairly obvious that an updated iWork would be forthcoming shortly. It wasn’t. Apps like Byword beat Apple(s AAPL) at their own game by letting my transfer files between devices with ease.
My frustration with this had grown over the last year. The iPad has become a frequently used writing platform for me because it’s always with me. Byword was fine for a lot of my writing, but I wanted the greater control over my text that Pages gave me. And getting spreadsheets and Keynote files to and from my iPad was a hassle with Byword. Having to go to iCloud on the web to share files wasn’t an ideal solution: I just wanted to see my edits across all my devices.
Now, with the release of OS X Mountain Lion on Tuesday, and updated versions of the iWork apps (which also now have Retina display support) I can finally sync and edit files across all my Apple devices.

The obvious points before we get started

To fully take advantage of sharing between iOS and OS X you will need the following: the updates to the OS X and iOS iWork apps released July 25 or later, and Mountain Lion. If you haven’t upgraded yet, go ahead.
Once you’ve got them installed, on iOS go to the Settings app, choose one of the iWork apps and make sure “Use iCloud” is set to On. Underneath that is a slider that asks you if you want to open copies of iWork ’09 files. Due to discrepancies in the file structure, this allows you to keep the original file structure preserved by opening a copy. I don’t like having copies floating around and I don’t tend to have complicated files, so I’ve unchecked this.

Note: You will need to repeat this step for all three iWork apps.
Also, in the Settings app, go to iCloud and make sure that Documents & Data is also turned on.

Setting up Documents in the Cloud for OS X is a little easier. Go into System Preferences, choose iCloud, and make sure Documents in the Cloud is enabled. You do not need to do anything in the individual application preferences.

Sharing down the dream

To save a newly created document in iCloud, from the Save menu, choose iCloud. You can also choose the folder to save it in, if you’ve already created one up there.

To open a file from iCloud, from the Open dialog box, choose the iCloud tab and then the file you want to open.

To move a file to iCloud, from the File menu choose Move To, and then select the iCloud tab and follow the same process as saving.
When I originally wrote about Documents in the Cloud last year, I was disappointed with how often I lost data. Since then, the service has improved significantly. My initial tests with Mountain Lion and the iOS versions did not have any glaring issues. Full disclosure: I’m also running iOS 6, but an informal poll amongst a few friends also yielded no glaring issues, save some initial slowness.
There are a few caveats, though. The biggest one is the iOS versions of the iWork apps still do not have all of the features of their OS X brethren. It’s getting better though, for example, in Pages version 1.5 you can now add footnotes and endnotes. This makes the iPad version of Pages a more viable option for students, even though the OS X version of Pages still requires a third-party tool for citations.

How it will affect my workflow

I am a simple guy, with simple needs. I’m also a guy who does very little work on his Mac that requires the full might and power of the Microsoft Office(s MSFT) suite. What does, however, occur frequently is being asked to email the latest version of a file to a client. Naturally, this never happens when I’m in the same ZIP code as my Mac.
Starting today, all of my Pages (and other iWork) documents are getting moved to iCloud. When my free iCloud storage runs out, I’ll be paying for the additional space. While my corporate work keeps me chained to a (Windows) laptop, it’ll be nice to be able to work on my freelance work from the beach on the weekends and have my files sync. Where I can see iCloud being very useful is for people who do presentations on their iPads. After you’re done with Keynote on your Mac, just save it to iCloud and you’ll be able to easily access it from your iPad.