If you watched Apple’s latest special event, you will no doubt have heard the news about new iPads, new Macbook Pros, and even the new Mac Pro. However, amid all the hardware announcements, Apple revealed the ability to work collaboratively on iWork documents. So, how do you do that, and are there any restrictions? Here’s what I found out so far…
Q. How to Share an iWork Document
You can share documents you created on the iPad, the Mac, or online at icloud.com in very much the same way. Just look for the new share button on the toolbar, click it, and choose to share your document. You can copy the link, or email it to someone. On the iPad you can also tweet it, post it on Facebook, or send via an iMessage. When the document is shared you will see a green triangle on the corner of the file in your document manager view.
The shared link works in most browsers, and although Safari, Chrome and IE9+ are the officially supported browsers, I did get iWork to run well enough in Firefox and even on a Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. So, it should be easy enough for students to share a link to a document with a teacher/classmate and have them make the changes they need. Apple notes, however, that to share an iWork ’09, or Microsoft document, you need to open it in iWork for iCloud beta first.
Q. How to Collaborate on an iWork Document
To collaborate on a shared document, you simply click on the link that is sent to you by the document owner. After that, you are free to work at the same time on the same document together. However, real time collaboration is a hard thing to crack with an online office suite, just ask Microsoft. Nevertheless, Apple has done a pretty good job so far.
When two people are working on an iWork document inside a web browser, the changes occur very close to real time. It is not quite as slick as Google Apps, but it’s close, and the lag is minimal enough not to be a real issue. If two people happen to be working on the same paragraph at the same time, iCloud will temporarily store both versions and ask the owner which version of the document they want to keep.
However, things are a little different when you are working between a browser and say the iOS version of an iWork app. You won’t see real time changes in this scenario, at least not yet. Instead you need to wait for iCloud to sync on the mobile device before changes are pushed to and from the web. Once iCloud syncs, the changes will be viewable on an iOS device, but sometimes I found you have to exit the app and return to it later to force an iCloud sync. Hopefully this will get snappier before too long.
Q. How to Stop Sharing an iWork Document
The time may come when you no longer want or need to have your document shared with another student or teacher. No problem. You can quickly and easily rescind sharing privileges by opening the document, and clicking on the Share icon. Then click (or tap) Stop Sharing. The link you shared previously will now no longer work, and the green sharing icon in the top right hand corner of the document will be gone. As the owner of a document, you can stop sharing from your Mac, iPad or the web.
Restrictions with iCloud Sharing
Apple are new to the whole cloud sharing arena, and although this product is a great start, there are definitely some things to consider before you go live with this in the classroom. These are not necessarily the only issues, but these are the biggest ones I have found so far:
- No sharing permissions. When you share a document you can’t set the link to be “view only”. Those in possession of the document link will always be able to edit your document. Recipients do not even need to have an iCloud account. Bear that in mind if the link gets sent around social networks, and remember what you need to know in order to stop sharing document.
- Collaborators are anonymous. Say you shared the link with four people. You have no way of knowing exactly who is in the document with you at any one time. Google has a handle on this. Apple does not.
- No comments or chat. The document chat window that Google has is a great way that teachers and students can instantly communicate back and forward on a given document. Even if they are not in the same document at the same time, comments can be used to leave feedback. Apple has neither of these features yet.
- No revision history. If you are tracking changes in a document, you cannot share the link via iCloud. This is strange, because once the document has been shared with others, you will likely want to be able to check and see who did what on a given document, a la Google’s revision history. So, because iWork for iCloud does not support tracking changes, you have to turn that off on the Mac or the iPad before you can share.
- No iPads online. If you get sent a link to a shared document and try to open it on the iPad, you will be greeted with a screen that politely informs you that you cannot be a collaborator of said document on your iPad. To edit, you need to open the link on a Mac or PC. Alternatively, you can edit a copy of the document. But if you do that, no edits will appear to the person who shared the original document with you, because it is a copy of the original document.
Remember that this is version 1.0 of a Beta product. There will be improvements, there will be bugs, there will be changes, but right now if you are thinking about using it in the classroom with students, you need to be aware of its capabilities and its restrictions. iWork for iCloud has a huge amount of potential, and could one day offer some real competition to Google, but like the first draft of an essay, there are still a few things to work on.