Anytime I’ve written about my transition to iPad for more of my work I always note that one of the few reasons I have for returning to the Mac for client work is InDesign. While the company that makes Affinity Photo also has a publishing app in the works that is intended to replace InDesign it is likely a ways off for the Mac and even further away for the iPad. But there is hope to be found in Apple’s Pages app and with a recent update to the app I’ve been giving more thought to how I might transition more of my InDesign work in that direction. Can Pages handle it?
Yes. Yes it can. Sometimes.
On the Mac side of things I’ve been using InDesign and Pages since they were released. In that time I’ve used InDesign for the projects where I felt Pages was lacking in some way. For example, I’ve worked with two different community newspapers and newspaper layout isn’t something I would ever do with Pages. Actually, I believe I did one issue using Pages and it worked out okay but I felt more comfortable with InDesign for that kind of work. Also, any project in which a client wants more than a printable pdf, specifically when they want an InDesign file well, obviously, that’s the app I use. I’d say my use of each app was about 50/50. Though I generally used InDesign for larger more complicated documents I found Pages worked very well for flyers, posters and smaller newsletters as well as Annual Reports. In 2014 I helped a friend publish her first book and that was done with Pages and turned out very well.
For years both of those apps matured until 2010 when the iPad was introduced by Apple. They also introduced a version for the iPad and then a couple years later rebuilt Pages on both its platforms, Mac and iOS, to be much closer in compatibility. It was a step forward for the iOS version but a big step backward for the Mac version which lost many features. In my own workflow I resorted to keeping the older version of Pages around as it still worked fine though it was no longer being updated. Users howled and Apple responded by gradually re-adding many of those features but it has taken time. It took a few years but the result is that we now have Pages on Mac and iPad which is near feature parity and which has been re-built into something much closer (in features) to the original Mac version of Pages. In many ways it is much improved as it has new features such as real-time collaboration and a web version that works on Windows via iCloud.
What’s still lacking in the iOS version of Pages? Sadly, there are a few important things. Creating and editing styles is not an option. I can apply a style but I cannot edit a pre-existing style. To do that I have to be on a Mac. If I’ve created a document and decide to change the page orientation after the fact I’ll need a Mac. If I want to create a document using a custom page size or change a document to a custom page size I’ll need a Mac. These are some pretty basic and foundational features and should not be missing from the iOS version. This is especially true give than Apple markets their “Pro” iPads as computers powerful enough to replace traditional computers. That said, Apple is consistently updating the app with new and important features. For example, the most recent update released in the summer of 2017, reintroduced a feature which had been removed in the above mentioned redesign of the app: linked text boxes. This is a feature that is an absolute necessity for many multi-page documents.
Where is Pages for iOS lacking in comparison to InDesign. For starters, the above mentioned ability to create and edit styles. InDesign has many advanced typography features lacking in Pages. Just one example: You can’t change the character spacing (though this does work on the Mac version of Pages). There’s no work space (usually called a pasteboard) around a Pages document for temporarily placing things while working. Want to reorder pages by their thumbnails? Nope The header or footer of a Pages document are the only places you can add page numbers and it’s all or nothing. Not much in the way of customization. If I’m doing a cover page or a table of contents I don’t want those pages to have a header with a page number. For small documents, say, a 6 page newsletter, it’s not a huge burden do create my own headers with page numbers added manually. Most of the documents I do are less than 10 pages but it’s worth mentioning the limitation.
Even with these limitations Pages on the the large 12.9″ screen of the iPad Pro is very powerful and a pleasure to use. It has a few features that do not exist on InDesign. For example, charts which are almost always a part of any annual report. I can do a table in InDesign but it’s far easier to do in Pages. Of course, adding objects and flowing text around them is something InDesign does but Pages does it so fluidly. Also, the styling options for objects in Pages, while a bit more limited also seem more powerful and are easier to apply. Perhaps the best way of summarizing the difference is that working with Pages means fewer features by comparison to InDesign but what it does do, Pages does very well and with little friction. A last point: when I consider the features I need for a newsletter or annual report job, Pages almost always has what I need.
So, to summarize, InDesign is, without a doubt, a far more powerful application than Apple’s Pages. It is a truly “Pro” application… for the Mac. It is not available for the iPad. But if my end product is to be a newsletter or annual report, either of these apps will allow me to produce a visually attractive, well designed document. Were I to set out to create a similar design using each app, for the sake of comparison, it is very likely that they would, in most cases, be indistinguishable from one another. Put another way, were I to send you 10 pdfs of the usual sort of newsletter or annual report that I’ve produced and ask you to determine which of the two apps was used, you would probably not be able to.
Pages is obviously not the most powerful or the best page layout tool for designing multi-page documents on the Mac. But on the iPad, as far as I am aware, it is the best option and it’s one which I’ve used many times with great results. I’ll keep InDesign around for the projects that require it but going forward if I can do a job on Pages I will.