iWork ‘09 is Evolutionary, not Revolutionary - and Great

| In-Depth Review

Apple has often chosen to release new software that seems limited, but is strong on a new way of doing things. Later, as users become accustomed to the app, evolutionary additions come, in a transparent way. That keeps the app fresh and simple, but incrementally adds power. This is what Apple is doing with iWork '09.

Keynote '09

Keynote is a classic example of getting the user interface right, then adding or extending features without much of a change to the UI. For example, theme pages in Keynote '08 were static. Now, as the user passes the cursor over the various theme, and there are eight news ones, sample pages in the thumbnail are displayed. That gives the user a great preview of the potential of that theme that can't be displayed in a single view.

New features in Keynote '09 include:

  • Magic Move
  • Enhanced previews of themes (mentioned above)
  • Additional transitions that include text and objects
  • Movement and texture in 3-D charts
  • Instant e-mail of charts
  • Interface to iWork.com
  • Keynote remote app for iPhone

In Magic Move, the user creates a slide with various objects, then duplicates it. Objects on the second slide can be resized, moved or deleted. Then the Magic Move transition is invoked in the Inspector. This is great for presenters who are trying to emphasize a change in a very visual way -- which is the point of many presentations.

Keynote Templates

Some of Keynote's Templates

Another nice feature is the ability to animate or give texture to 3-D charts. Again, this effect is not evolutionary but incrementally deeper. One can do things as one always does, or take that extra selected step. The effect in which the pieces of a pie chart are sequentially added or the bar chart rotates for visual effect are especially appealing and add a air of professionalism without being cheesy.

Finally, the Keynote remote is a stroke of genius and shows how when a company has a holistic approach to modern technical life, great ideas aren't too hard to come by. It's questionable, however, to charge a buck for it since one is already paying a hefty upgrade price for iWork '09.

Keynote Remote

Keynote Remote for iPhone/iPod touch

Pages '09

Pages has been a problematic application in the past. It came into being, not as a traditional word processor, but rather as a visually oriented document creator, approximately a newsletter creator. As a result, many had a hard time characterizing the app and complained when they couldn't force the app into more traditional ways of doing things. Others just accepted it for what is was and then, for serious word processing, selected Nisus Writer Pro or MS Word.

On the other hand, there a lots of documents that are a royal pain to prepare with a conventional word processor. The rich template library of Pages reveals the underlying philosophy here. For example, news letters and informal newsy publications can require compositional skills that many users just don't have -- or if they try, it looks awful.

In the same manner as Keynote, there is a rich template library to chose from, and scanning the cursor left to right reveals the panoply of possible document types. It's hard to imagine a theme that can be pressed into service for any use here.

Formally, Pages '09 adds the following features:

  • A full screen view
  • Dynamic outlines
  • Mail merge with Numbers
  • Equations with MathType and bibliographies with EndNote
  • Instant e-mail

Pages Template

Pages Template

One of the design choices that may be questionable is the choice of a pure black background for the full screen view. Apple, a company known for charming and helpful user interface design choices, should be aware that the stark contrast of a white page in a black background can be hard on the eyes. A preference to set the background to, say, a light shade of gray would be most welcome.

With power comes complexity, and new users should be aware that the exercise of page layout features requires some practice and the RTFM ritual. Now that Pages has grown up and staked out its territory in the scheme of things, the learning curve is a bit steeper. Some patience and practice is called for despite the initial ease with which templates are chosen.

A fairly messy document, beginning with a travel theme, and with lots of graphics added, was exported to MS Word 2008, and it looked pretty good. If Pages could not import and export to Word, it would remain in a very small niche, but the capability invites the user to live in the Apple world and export only when necessary. It's reasonable, now, with outlines, a Table of Contents creator (in the Inspector) equations, and bibliographies to make the effort to adopt Pages as one's default publishing software. (The last two items need to be purchased separately: MathType and EndNote) Yes, it's finally time to delete AppleWorks from the hard disk.

Numbers '09

Numbers has also benefited from an original, extensible design philosophy. Those who found that the first numbers was a toy compared to Excel will now find that that original design philosophy has paid off.

For example, those who question the use of a spreadsheet for scientific calculations because the formulas are scattered all over the page and hard to document will welcome the new Formula List view. (Although this reviewer still resists that kind of use for spreadsheets.)

Numbers template

Sample Spreadsheet to compare new cars

Again, in the style of its siblings, the template browser shows multiple pages as the cursor is dragged, suggesting, for example, how one might start with a grid but have a second page that shows the corresponding pie chart.

Numbers '09 adds about 100 new functions for a total of 250 and does a much better job of documenting what each function does and gives examples. This is a very welcome addition.

Numbers Formulas

Functions are now thoroughly documented

Also, the addition of 40 templates brings the total to 180, and if there isn't one that does the job, it'll be a rare case.

Perhaps most important of all is that Numbers, Pages and Keynote are all linked so that, for example, spreadsheet driven charts can be pasted into Pages and Keynote. They're dynamically linked so that changes to the original are reflected in the document they're pasted into. The basic concept of the old Publish and Subscribe system remain valid and will just never die -- and that's a Good Thing.

Because spreadsheets are a strong candidate to be worked on in a group, it should be mentioned that the interface to iWork.com and the public beta affords comments but not interactive changes. If Apple continues to improve this suite as it has in the past, more capability, as is currently in Microsoft's Sharepoint, will surely be added in the future -- that is, checking documents in and out.

As with Keynote and Pages, Numbers has gone through a remarkable maturation process. The key to migrating to Numbers is understanding the task, its potential complexity, how important it'll be to export to Excel at some point -- and the investment that must be made in the learning curve for an alternative to Excel. For many, that will be an easy transition.

For those who want to learn more, a thirty day free trial is available. Apple has done a great job documenting the added features, and in some cases supplies a short video demonstrating how to use it. User guides are available on the iWork '09 Support page. No effort has been spared to explain, introduce and document this extraordinary suite of products.

Denouement

One can argue that with only incremental changes, it's a tough sell to charge full price every year, especially this year, for iWork. What one has to consider, however, is that the added features in iWork '09 appear to mark a turning point. Software that started as a stake in the ground for Apple and which wasn't full featured enough to make a big investment in has now matured to the point where each member of the suite is a formidable product. In essence, the journey through the years, if you took it, has become the reward.

System Requirements

A Macintosh computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 (500MHz or faster) processor 
512 MB of RAM (1 GB recommended) 
32 MB of video memory 
Mac OS X v10.4.11, or Mac OS X v10.5.6 or later 
QuickTime 7.5.5 or later 
1.2 GB of available disk space 
DVD drive required to install 

Product: iWork '09

Company: Apple

List Price: US$79 ($99 for Family Pack)

Pros:

Expansion of capability in 2009 makes for robust, capable apps.  Great support, training videos.  Inter-app links.

Cons:

Hefty price for an online upgrade priced the same as the boxed version. Keynote remote, MathType and EndNote cost extra.

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9 Comments Leave Your Own

MacB

Pages DOES allow you to change the background color to anything you want in fullscreen mode.

Josh

I think the single most important addition to the package was the ability to Error bars on your charts.  It is absolutely necessary if you are going to be presenting any scientific data.  I watch upwards of 30 PPT presentations in any given year, and at least 90% have data that requires error bars for interpretation.  It is this missing feature that has prevented me from being able to use Keynote as more than just a starting point for my presentation.  I was flabergasted every year when I found that they still didn’t have this feature. 

I’m planning on giving the 30day trial a spin to see how it works, but I’m still kind of annoyed that, from what I’ve been able to read, you can’t add error bars to keynote created charts, only to numbers charts that are the pasted into keynote.

KMB

My preferred alternative to pretty much any app’s concept of a “full-page view” is simply to select “Two-up” viewing in Pages’ view zoom box (lower left corner of window) to see two complete letter-seized pages side-by-side.  Great for writing lengthy, straight text, but it does require decent resolution and a decent screen size to be comfortable and practical (i.e., at least 17” @ 1440x900).

schrammalama

I’m disappointed that again iWork file formats are not backwards compatible. Saving the file as an iWork 08 copy is not an acceptable compromise. I hate forced upgrades.

Neil Anderson

Beautiful templates. Powerful and easy to use apps. Great tutorials.

Don Hinkelman

I tested Pages in iWork.com today, but found only the owner can edit the pages.  In Google Docs, anyone permitted can edit the document online.  That is how I want to work, and have to work with my colleagues. 

Just commenting is almost worthless to me.  I will use it 5-10% of the time.  But 90% of the time I will want to edit with my colleagues.  We make documents by adding data in a brainstorm fashion.

I will have to return to Google Docs until you have added online editing to Pages.

Thanks,  Don Hinkelman

rwahrens

Endnote is not an Apple product, that’s why it isn’t included with iWork!  And it is not an extension of Pages, it is an entire bibliographical app all its own.  Very powerful and extensive program, thus its high purchase price.

G?ran

My daughter started using Pages a few years back for school papers and I bought high weight premium print paper for that extra tactile feeling when reading it. 

The teachers are used to Office and really like the “novel” look!

I’m certain this has help her in getting the top grades.

Pete Goodwin

Since I already have OpenOffice V3.0 and have that on my MacBook and Windows PC, I fail to see any great need to buy a package that only works on the Mac.

Not only that but some simple testing has revealed that Numbers has a few issues. I entered Time as a value and found it also contained today’s date… since I was using duration, it messed up when I went to edit it a few days later, including the unwanted duration between days I didn’t know were present in the data. When I exported to OpenOffice, I found I could enter time without a hidden date being attached.

As for being compatible with Word… so far no issues with the simple documents I use in OpenOffice.

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