Marco Polo found – on iPhone

Maybe you have to be a Doctor Who fan to be alert to any news with the words “Marco Polo” and “found” but that's how I just discovered a new app that I can't make my mind up about.

Get this new app, run it on your iPhone and the next time you lose your phone around the house, just shout the word “Marco”. Your iPhone will reply at top volume: “Polo!”

I have no idea why the maker chose those words. You can change the “Marco” bit but you won't because there's no changing the Polo response.

Take a look at it on the App Store and be ready to spend your 69p UK, 99c US.

Grab Word Lens right now – it’s suddenly free

It's the app that looked like a joke: point your iPhone camera at a sign written in French and on the screen, you see it in English. It's the universal translator of Star Trek or the Time Lord Gift of Doctor Who except that it is real. Like many, I downloaded the free app just to see if it were true and it was. But you get only a kind of demo limited unless you buy packs such as English to Russian. I can't remember how much those cost but it was enough that I put it off until I was going to a country. I never once remembered to do that.


Now we don't have to: the whole thing, in-app language packs and all, is free.

It's free because the development company has just been bought by Google. The mark has turned everything free and I am downloading it all right now.

I'm sure it won't remain free for long. I'm not sure whether it will continue as a separate app, though: you can well imagine that Google is intending to incorporate this technology into its other offerings. Fine. Good, even. But the current Word Lens app may not survive so grab it while you can.

Word Lens on the iOS a App Store

Me and NYT on Microsoft Word vs Apple Pages

Last Friday, I went to open a Microsoft Word document someone had sent me and found that I didn't have Word on my machine. It was a true shock: I've had Word on everything since the 1980s when I began writing about word processors in various computer magazines.

What's more, I realised why I didn't have it. When I'd installed OS X Mavericks on my MacBook Pro it had found some problems with the hard disc. Serious, creaking, get out fast problems. So I had it reformat the whole drive and sort things out. I'd backed up everything, I backed it all up again just in case, fine. But apparently I hadn't remembered to put Word back on afterwards.

And here was the reason that the shock was the slap it was: it must be a month, it could be six weeks since I installed OS X Mavericks. So I'd not needed Word in all that time, not needed it or wanted it or assumed I should use it, for at least a month.

What's more, I looked at this document and it was open. My MacBook had seen that I'd didn't have Word and so it had just opened the document in the word processor I did have, Apple's own Pages. I now had the choice of schlepping off to find my Word installer or just getting on with my work so I just got on with my work.

Now, this was one Word document in a project that had involved slightly over fifty of them and I'd done the giant part of the work on my iMac which does have Word and I did use Word. This was just one last document that came through late and I was going to have to send it back as Word; if there had been all fifty left to do this way, I'd have installed Word. I think. But for one job, I just accepted that there would be a final convert-to-Word step when I was done.

I like Pages. I've always liked it. I was on a bus when I got the idea for writing a book about productivity for writers and I wrote the first thousand words of it right there on my iPad in Pages. Perhaps because I'd started it there, I carried on. There was also the fact that mentally I was associating my iMac with the 150,000-word book I was writing about Blake's 7 and I was associating my MacBook with a Doctor Who audio script that was due at the same time. But whatever my psychological reasoning, it was still that I'd pick up the iPad to carry on writing The Blank Screen and that meant it was still the case that I'd write it in Pages.

At that stage, the project was chiefly about getting the ideas down and exploring how to convey it. I later moved all the text to Word to send to my proofreaders, I then moved it to Apple's iBooks Author to do one version. I moved it all to Adobe InDesign to make the paperback and the Kindle versions. But for bashing in the words, Pages on my iPad was perfect. The best word processor is the one you've got now but Pages did that Apple thing of staying out of my way while I concentrated on my writing.

So I did go from liking it to being quite the fan and I was aware of this. I didn't notice that it had supplanted Word on my MacBook. I'm trying to think how much else I must have written in Pages on that machine without thinking about it. Certainly a few radio reviews for Radio Times magazine. Definitely several invoices. Must be a lot, but I just can't remember the word processor I used for what.

All of which is nice for me and I could just recommend Pages to you in the certain knowledge that you already have a word processor and have no need to move to a new one.

But Pages just went through a big change. It became free for new users, for one thing. I've said before that I find the free Google Docs a bit clunky and ugly yet I like it more every time I see that price. I do wonder at the decision to make it free: it's obviously very nice for new users and I've no problem with the fact that I bought my copies because I've had a huge amount of use out of it. Yet if you make something free, you do devalue it.

I remember a friend complaining that Word, at the time, cost several hundred pounds and saying why on a Earth would it? “It's only a word processor!” I suggested that she try making one and she'd then see what an enormous job it was. She didn't appreciate the brilliance of the work that had gone in to just a word processor that cost hundreds of pounds. She didn't believe me when I reported that Microsoft had up to then spent a billion dollars developing it. (True.) How much less would she now regard a free word processor?

Curiously, the word free gets people buying, so to speak, and I'm sure it gets people devaluing the word processor, but it doesn't stop anyone bitching about problems. In this case they're right: the new, free version of Pages for Mac in particular has issues.

The key aim of Apple for this release has been to make Pages on the Mac work the same and work with the same documents as Pages on iPad and iPhone. Fine. It also has this thing now where I can send anyone a pages document and they can open it – not through conversions, not through any fiddling and actually not just opening the document either. They can open Pages. Whether they've got it or not. Whether they're on a Mac or a PC. Click on the document I send you and, if you want, you're reading and editing it in Pages in your Web browser.

Apparently it is startlingly marvellous to all of us who get what is happening and can see how hard it is to do – but, infinitely more importantly, for those who do not happen to understand all that's happening, it is just a Pages document. They have no need to tell the difference between owning Pages the application and running Pages in their browser. That is a truly remarkable accomplishment and it is how computers should be: our work is what matters first. It's also a true sea change from the Microsoft approach which makes everything just difficult enough that you appreciate and you value all the company is doing for your money.

But I say it's apparently this good because this is what I keep hearing – and I have yet to have the slightest need to use the feature myself.

And the problem many people have is that in order to get this new feature, to get the ability to work across platforms, Apple has stripped Pages down and lost key features. That's what it feels like: really it's more that they started again and haven't built it back up to all it was.

The only thing is, I've no idea what the missing features are. For me in my current work, the only thing I've hit is that it's slightly more of a pain switching on the word count. (The same cross-platform good stuff and missing features bad stuff has happened to Pages' stablemates Numbers and Keynote. I've seen the difference in Numbers and that's more annoying to me.)

Apple promises that it is bringing all this stuff back and, actually, I believe them. This is what they did with the video editing software, Final Cut Pro X. And since it's not causing me problems at the moment, it's easy for me to carry on believing them.

Plus, I like the new look and feel of Pages. I like how I get on with my writing and then if I need something, if I need some tool, I look up and find that tool just about exactly where you'd think it should be. Contrast that to Word where you have a thousand icons and have to hover over them all to see what they do.

When I started writing this to you, I didn't realise how much I wanted to say. I'd found an interesting article in the New York Times that compared Pages and Word and I wanted you to see it. So I wrote the headline “NYT on Microsoft Word vs Apple Pages”. Having now blathered on at you at this length, I've just gone to change that headline to “Me and NYT” on it. And I'm mithered over whether that now sounds as if I wrote the Times article. Sorry for any confusion there.

And if you haven't had enough of musings about Pages vs Word, do take a look at the NYT article: