Since OS X Leopard, Apple has been diligently constructing a system of versioning and backing up files, yet somehow it has permitted this unholy mess to accumulate. As with sharing files between applications, the strengths of features like Auto Save and Versions go out the window when multiple users are involved, leading straight to a world where files have names like Apple_Presentation_version_3-Lex-final-really.key.
Apple has dipped its toe into the collaboration pool in the past, most notably with the recently discontinued iWork.com public beta, but the support for sharing was laughable. Although you could let others view a file or add comments, there was no way for them to edit the content. In the shadow of relatively full-featured collaborative productivity software like Google Docs, iWork.com never had a chance to shine.
However, theres a huge opportunity here, especially with iCloud now in the picture. Imagine being able to see other documents that friends or co-workers share with you, right in that same iCloud Open dialog box. You open a file and work on it, all of your changes are automatically saved and versioned so that when your collaborators edit it later, theyre sure to be working on the most up-to-date version. Apple could even go whole hog and support real-time collaboration, allowing you to see the changes your friends or co-workers are making as they make them. If the ID you use for iCloud happens to be the same one you use for Messages, you could add real-time chattext, voice, or videointo the equation. Incorporating iChat Theater would let you demo a presentation to your collaborator as you worked on it.
This isnt exactly low-hanging fruit in the technology sense; such an overhaul would doubtless take a lot of work. But it might make Apples productivity software more attractive to both personal and enterprise usersespecially if the company added support for collaboration between any combination of iOS devices and Macs. Third-party products like Simperium already offer many of these capabilities, but Apple could no doubt introduce an even deeper level of integration with its existing software.
Apples iWork suite launched with a bang back in 2005 and was updated in both 2008 and 2009. Since then, however, it has languished, with only minor updates such as the recent 9.2 upgrade that brought support for iCloud itself. One way to add punch to a long overdue updatealmost four years in the makingwould be to focus on collaboration.
Again, this is just one mans take on a possible future. But as with sharing files between programs, Apple has given short shrift to document collaboration in the past. Google may have the headstart in that area, but it wouldnt take much to provide some much-needed competition. And Apple is well positioned to do just that.