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Mail Merge returns to Pages after nine years (sixcolors.com)
111 points by zdw on June 22, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

Perhaps a sign that Apple is going to invest in core Pages/Numbers features again after years of letting them stagnate? (I recognize they’ve done a lot of work on real-time collaboration, which is no small feat.)

Maybe this is too optimistic of me.

> Perhaps a sign that Apple is going to invest in core Pages/Numbers features again after years of letting them stagnate?

Apple does minor but notable updates to its apps more often than one might realize if one doesn't use them often enough to see the on-open announcement for every release.

Here's the "what's new" in Pages 11.0 and newer: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207243

Thank you for the pointers, and I agree the products haven't been completely abandoned.

I do follow along with these updates as a regular Pages and Numbers user. However, my observation is that the products have stagnated. Despite the steady stream of small updates, Apple hasn't fixed important, longstanding bugs with their software (e.g., inaccurate table of contents ordering relative to actual document content, styles not always applied when you select them), and they have not fixed significant usability issues (lack of the ability to update a document's style based on some other style, lack of any coherent bullet feature that relates to a style, lack of rich conditional formatting options in Numbers, very limited shortcuts for styles) in the ~15 years I've been using iWork.

Making bulleted lists drop dead simple to create (and well formatted by default) would go a long way. Allowing users to apply styles between existing docs (a la Google Docs) would as well.

My hope is that the team has simply been so swamped with cloud features and iOS/iPadOS parity over the last few years that they haven't been able to prioritize big changes. Maybe with those out of the way, they will have time to focus on the core experience again, motivated by new competition in the space.

idky Apple doesn't just take over the office, interface their software and devices with Exchange and Office365 and Active-Directory more cleanly and more stably than Microsoft can. Apple should have an application on iDevices that provides office word processing, office mail, office spreadsheet, office telephony, all the office apps in one app that looks like a desktop, such that with BT keyboard and smallish 1080p monitor (actually I'd prefer 1024x768) would replace all the non-power users', non-developer desktops (secretaries, customer support, VPs, etc.), save offices a bundle of money on hardware, and beat Microsoft at it's own game without killing Microsoft's Office environment, yet. Then when Apple Office becomes ubiquitous because it's so much cheaper and so much better than Microsoft, replace Microsoft's backend Exchange servers with Apple appliance hardware that doesn't need any administration other than adding and deleting users/groups, etc., and a plugin replacement for Office365 (am I the only one that thinks this is a clunky monstrosity?) back at Apple data centers, and not quite cut out all Microsoft with Apple alternatives that just work better, but allow any Poindexters to continue to run Windows and MS Office Suite and still integrate seamlessly. Active Directory is probably the best thing Microsoft ever did, got it the most right of all endeavors. It could still be a lot better and a lot simpler. It's just LDAP.

But Apple still walks around Microsoft like they'e stepping on egg shells, and for the life of me I can't figure why.

Apple makes zillions of dollars a year, on absurd margins, making products that others struggle to match, while occasionally breaking open whole new markets for others to follow them into.

Why would they want to futz around with commodity enterprise stuff and big, concentrated clients that hold enough leverage to push them around?

You can’t be Apple and IBM at the same time.

> Apple should have an application on iDevices that provides office word processing, office mail, office spreadsheet, office telephony, all the office apps in one app that looks like a desktop, such that with BT keyboard and smallish 1080p monitor (actually I'd prefer 1024x768) would replace all the non-power users', non-developer desktops (secretaries, customer support, VPs, etc.), save offices a bundle of money on hardware, and beat Microsoft at it's own game without killing Microsoft's Office environment, yet.

That app exists: it's called a Desktop-as-a-Service, e.g. AWS WorkSpaces, Azure Virtual Desktop, whatever Citrix has been offering for decades now, etc.

And you can certainly use all of those DaaS apps, on an iPad, with a Bluetooth keyboard. In the "Productivity" category of the App Store, you'll find all the cloud companies with DaaS offerings all heavily advertising and competing over business customers with exactly that user-story.

But if an org is optimizing for IT OpEx by issuing employees DaaS thin-client hardware, then it'd be cheaper still to just issue them Chromebooks. Keyboard's built in!

The industrial designers in charge of the product agenda do not have any interest in boring enterprise software and would do a shit job of it. It's really that simple.

I think it is tradition.

And by that I mean Steve Jobs traditionally avoided enterprise software, and games.

I hear rumors that Apple periodically staffs teams in charge of most of these applications rather than continuously staffing them. Applications get periods of activity and periods of maintenance.

(I didn't hear these rumors from any kind of reliable source, so I'm a bit skeptical, but it would explain things.)

I worked on this team for a bit, years ago. It was absolutely a full-time team then — I have no reason to believe that has changed.

As the stable of apps owned by the team is (was, at least) fairly large (Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iBooks, iBooks Author) it was of course possible that some apps could get more love for a release cycle than others.

I was there near the beginning when new versions of the "iWork Apps" were created for the cloud — some of the re-design that had to be done for the web-based versions of the apps moved back to the desktop version in the name of consistent UI. (Multiple windows was an obvious one — you couldn't have a floating "inspector" window in a browser environment, so instead a split-view was adopted where the inspected properties were displayed in a gutter-like column along the right edge of the content.)

I was not on the team, only a "customer", for this more recent transition to our Catalyst-present. Using iBooks on Monterey I was saddened by how slow jumping through content in iBooks has become.

Clearly when you engage in a unifying strategy (either unifying the user-interface across platforms or using cross-platform libraries) we lose some things in the fire.

As a user I would love to declare that every platform should have its own code-base, optimized for that platform. But the pragmatist in me understands why companies don't have the resources to do this.

Hopefully iBooks, Apple Books, will get fast page navigation back....

Ah, okay... I'm remembering more of what I heard. With one team in charge of several apps, it's natural that you'd focus on certain objectives during each planning period, right? So some apps or app/platform combinations would sometimes not get as much focus for a year or two? As opposed to what would happen if you had a "Pages" team, because that team would always be prioritizing work on Pages during every planning period.

Yes, that is correct.

Indeed optimistic. They’ll go quiet for the next nine years.

"you can't fix perfection" is probably the motto here. I've noticed them getting brushes of UI tweaks to fit the last OS but indeed it's been pretty stagnant.

"Mail Merge" is such an unintuitive phrase. .. When I first heard it I had no idea this was anything to do with sending a templated word document to a email recipient list, auto filling in their personal details.

It was originally for "merging" document templates with tables (e.g., mailing list of people's names and postal addresses), for customized paper mailings, mailing labels, etc.


I don't know whether the term predates its use by WordStar and microcomputers. It sounds very batch-processing.

(Source: Had WordStar 3.3 for generic MS-DOS as kid, bought a surplus copy of an Epson QX-10 edition of Mail Merge for $5, somehow got that turned into a copy I could run, for my Alex P. Keaton adolescent business ventures.)

Wow word star with mail-merge seems to have cost almost $500 in 1981...

Indeed. I like the German "Serienbrief" (“mail series”) much better.

the German for word processing textverabeitung probably sounds a bit more natural also.

It can also do printed letters, filling in the physical address at the head of the letter. You can then print out the merged documents.

Apple replaced the old Mac only versions with a complete ground up rewrite that allows inter-operation and live collaboration via Macs, iOS devices, or a web version.

Just as with Google's chat client of the month, when you do a ground up rewrite, all the features of the older version may not appear immediately, or return at all.

It was a worthy rewrite.

There is nothing else out there that works properly online, offline, collaboratively, you actually get to retain the actual document files and costs nothing.

Mail merge is great for long form letters and adding greetings, addresses, etc.

But if you need to print labels from Numbers you might want to consider something a bit more powerful. Enter my solo developer niche.

I wrote an electron app called Label LIVE that can import excel/numbers files and format each row’s data on a label, hide and show objects based on rules, generate barcodes, swap images, and lots of other features.

Check it out at https://label.live/

Nice - I'll have to check it out. I've yet to find anything that could replace the usefulness and utility of Silicon Press: https://macintoshgarden.org/apps/silicon-press

but your app looks like it might be the closest to a spiritual successor so far!

Oh those silicon press screenshots make my heart race. Nice find!

It's one of the original Mac apps from my earliest Mac days that I have always been a bit angry I couldn't find a replacement for. Well, until today anyway!

One thing I used it for was flashcards for language and other studies. Was drop dead simple with that software to make 'em. I even found tractor feed 3x5 cards for use with my Imagewriter II :)

Flash cards are an interesting idea. You could definitely make them with the Sheet PDF feature. Cool idea.

This is wonderful news! When trying to explain software to people who aren’t familiar with it, I love to use the example of people editing a letter to talk about edit conflicts, and then a mail-merge to explain objects. Lately, some 20-something started looking at me funny because they had no idea that was a thing. There are other examples, but that one is simple and effective.

I noticed that in the update today. I've got a small upcoming project that will require about 300 mailings, but I'm reluctant to use any Apple software for this because, who knows how long it will be before they remove this feature again?

Apple doesn't do that, really.

Apple's modus operandi is to kill entire apps, and (if you're lucky) replace them with all-new apps — see Final Cut Pro X, Apple Photos, etc.

I remember one update to Keynote (Apple's powerpoint) that removed the ability to replace fonts if the requested font wasn't detected on the computer.

Chief officers, marketers and salespeople with macbooks aplenty, downloading 100 different fonts and creating slideshows...

Only to try and send them over email/usb and have their 100+ slide presentation completely break down with every piece of text getting set to the same font with a larger than normal font-size, making text overlap the edge of the screen or other text and losing all sense of readability.

Sorry, you need to go through every single piece of text and restyle/resize everything.

Can you imagine how many IT folks got shafted by that? All the "I need this fixed now"... shudders

True, yes, but when they do that, they also leave out some key features. A lot of users of Final Cut Pro kept using the old version because Final Cut Pro X left out a lot of features.

They often do it. One that causes great annoyance to me is that when a calendar alarm goes off, you no longer have the ability to pause it to an arbitrary period before the event. Why it was removed, I have no idea.

Yes, they kill entire apps as well - usually the professional ones like Aperture. At this point I would say that it would be folly to let a business depend on any Apple software.

Did you read the article?

"The feature was originally included in Apple’s word processing software, but got the axe in 2013’s version 5.0"...

It's safe to say that in 2013 Apple killed the existing Pages, Numbers, and Keynote app from the iWork ’09 suite and replaced them with the new ones scaled up from iOS. I still can't get over the shock that fateful 2013 day when I downloaded the new apps.

Yes, 5.0 is the "all-new app" scenario I'm referencing. I should've spelled that out for people who didn't live through the traumatic iWork 2013 app overhaul, thank you.

I can't imagine it would take that long amortized to switch if Apple did end up removing it another 10 years and you're still mailing things then. How complicated are these mailings?

Now they really need to add iterative solution of circular references to Numbers so that it can be used to run financial models of business plans (where short-term debt and interest converge) and I’ll be a happy camper and I’ll never need to use Excel again in my life.

Recently I wondered why I pay €10 per month for my MS office bundle and installed Pages and Numbers again on my Mac.

I was shocked at how minimalistic/empty/bad it looked.

It's free software that is bundled with all Mac and iOS and iPadOS devices I know, but really, it's worse than the free MS WordPad software that Windows machines get since the mid '90s...

That is so far from my experience that I’m not sure we’re talking about the same software.

I’ve been using Pages for years, and Word for longer, and there is almost nothing I can do in Word that I can’t do in Pages.

And I just spent all day today doing things in Keynote (animations) that might be technically possible in PP but are so tedious that it’s not worth doing.

Pages and Keynote are great apps but their UIs are a lot cleaner than their MS equivalents, and many capabilities are subtlety implemented and occasionally context dependent. If you like the MS UI then you’ll need to adjust to Apple’s, but I’ll take Pages and Keynote over the MS equivalents any day of the year.

This is my experience with Keynote too: the UX appears minimalist which can make it seem like it has less features. In fact, they’re all there: just cleverly weaved into context dependent UI. And the quality of the animations really is a cut above. Particularly like that I can export the slideshow as a movie which we use for trade shows etc.

Yeah - I have exported loops for trade shows, and I did something similar in my work today.

PP does animations but the UI is so clunky, I just don’t have the patience with it, and it shows in the quality of what I produce. That’s the thing about Keynote in particular - I enjoy using it.

What's your experience of Numbers?

Because for my occasional use Pages has been fine, but Numbers breaks almost every existing spreadsheet I've tried, and doesn't seem nearly as capable as even Google Sheets.

Yeah I like Numbers but it’s not as good at the other tools relative to MS, and sometimes I’ll just end up using Excel because I can’t do what I need in Numbers. It’s certainly the weakest of the three IMO.

I like how you can create multiple tables on a sheet, but the graphing is pretty average and the data tools are not as good. I haven’t had need to use it recently but the new addition of pivot tables after all these years suggests I should give it a go.

I thought the same thing but Numbers is basically unusuable in most scenarios where you need to use a sreeadsheet. You're better off using Google Docs/Sheets in the browser.

Luckily I had an old Office 2016 Mac license lying around. MS made it incredibly hard to find the download "Office for Mac is no longer supported", but I did manage to dig it out in the end.

it might look bad, but trust me, it works. For most general MS Word-y use cases, Pages works just fine for me

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