Hands on: Retina-optimized iWork apps

Originally, I had hoped this piece would be a round-up of Retina-enabled productivity apps on Apple’s latest iPad(s AAPL), but the unpredictable nature of App Store updates, plus no responses to some feelers sent out over the weekend, have forced me to focus on Apple’s offerings. This is not a bad thing, since the lead time the iWork team had with the new SDK hopefully allowed them time to create a refined launch product.

So here are my impressions of how Apple’s own productivity apps, which have been optimized for the new iPad’s high-resolution display, fare on the new tablet:


Even if Keynote is your least-used app of the iWork suite, if you give just a trivial amount of presentations it is easily the suite’s killer app for you. The ease of hooking your iPad up to a projector and pretty much eliminating the not-so-silent prayers that go along with marrying projectors and presentations is a gigantic stress reliever. When I started looking at the new Keynote app and opened up a few of my presentations I was overjoyed with how great even graphics not optimized for the Retina display look and how crisp and un-pixelated the text looked. Then I crashed back to earth when I realized unless I was hooking into a truly fantastic display — which most conference rooms don’t have — there would be little to no difference in what the audience would see since the iPad screen is a higher resolution than the display.

Where I did find handy was how graphics looked on the Retina display. Looking through a draft of an old presentation, I could see where I had cheated and downloaded a Creative Commons graphic file that wasn’t a good resolution. On the original iPad and my MacBook, I could fool myself into thinking it wasn’t that bad. On the new iPad, I could see that, yeah, it really did look that bad.

What I haven’t been able to benchmark efficiently is how well the beefed-up GPU and 1 GB of memory will aid the creation of graphics-heavy presentations. My limited, non-scientific tests didn’t yield a marked difference on a 30-slide presentation where most if it was full-bleed graphics. However, a 30-slide talk is pretty small. If someone creates large, graphics-heavy presentations regularly, I’d love to hear from you.


If Keynote is in the running for the least-used app of the suite, Numbers is likely the winner of the never-used award. People who are spreadsheet users probably aren’t using Numbers. Still, Numbers, in a way, I think benefits the most from the new display. It’s been my experience that spreadsheets often try to cram too much text into one page, making it impossible to read. On the new iPad, text set to the smallest size was perfectly readable, while on the original iPad it was a blur.


During testing, when I opened a file with Pages on my old iPad, I realized just how much I’d been suffering for my art. My first reaction: I used to work on this thing? Opening a document with 10-point type was an awakening. Sure, I was amazed at how great my e-mail looked, but when I opened a document with a couple thousand words I’d typed on my old iPad, the, dare I say it, awesomeness of the Retina display hit home. Even now, looking at my MacBook Pro, my iPad is going: Look at me. Now look at your MacBook, Now look at me. That display looks like the bad end of the horse, doesn’t it?

How the apps affect my workflow

What I love about writing these articles is it forces me to take an inventory of my current writing process and tools. The new iPad with an external display is looking like a more visually comfortable writing environment than my MacBook Pro. The key tool for me is iCloud, so my main writing tool is Byword for iOS (which also looks awesome on the new iPad) and OS X because it looks great and syncs between all three of my devices. Pages is well-poised to take the top spot for writing apps this summer when the OS X version of iWork becomes fully iCloud-aware.