One of the few announcements at the ho-hum keynote address at this year's Mac Expo was iWork '09, an upgrade to Apple's business software suite and a bit of a ho-hum product itself. If Apple had called this slender assortment of new features a point upgrade, we would have been delighted. But considering that it sells for a modest $79 (there's no upgrade price), it's hard to begrudge it too much.
Apple has been slowly building up iWork one app at a time, and we had hoped that it would include an equivalent to Microsoft Outlook this time. The suite desperately needs a robust, unified e-mail, calendar, and to-do powerhouse, one that syncs with Me.com and the iPhone, but it wasn't to be. Instead, Apple has added some attractive effects to Keynote, a few productivity helpers to Pages, and easier formulas in Numbers. Apple has also introduced iWork.com, an online collaboration space (in beta).
Click to enlargeIt's no wonder that Keynote is the star of iWork: it brings a generous dose of Apple flair to boardroom presentations and makes PowerPoint look like a Stone Age relic. The updates this time will certainly make any audience ooh and aah in wonder, and features were so easy to apply that we were tempted to overuse them.
New transitions in Keynote let us move from one slide to another with panache. The Magic Move effect let us select an item from a slide then move it into a new position on a second slide. We could change its size, angle, and placement; Magic Move then created the in-between animation. Even simpler are the new object effects, which zoom the slide elements off the page and zoom the new ones in with no setup required. They're incredibly attractive.
Adding text transitions looks just as complicated, but we found them equally simple to apply. We love the anagram transition, in which the letters from an on-screen title switch places to form a new title. Other impressive extras include new 3D chart animations and eight new slideshow themes (for a total of 44).
PowerPoint compatibility is an essential for Keynote, and we were glad there's now the option of saving work directly as a PowerPoint file. While you can import PowerPoint slides into Keynote, there are minor formatting issues; you'll have to tweak most of the slide to get them to look just right.
You can now control your presentations from an iPhone using the Keynote Remote app (available for 99 cents from the iTunes Store). It needs to be on the same wireless network as the computer to work--but that's never a problem since AirPort can create ad hoc networks. We held our iPhone horizontally to view our current slide plus the next slide, or vertically to view the current slide with presentation notes. We noticed a slight lag when using it--the iPhone trailed what was on the computer screen by a second--although we like the ability to change slides by swiping a finger. All that's missing is a laser pointer.
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Pages got attention with this release of iWork, but not much. The biggest new feature of Apple's page layout/word processing application is a full-screen view that hides everything else on your desktop. Simply tap the Full Screen button in the toolbar and our document was instantly the only thing showing, surrounded by black. We were able to mouse to the top of the screen to see pop-up menu options ormouse to the left to see a pop-up page navigator. (If the Full Screen tool could shut off our e-mail and disconnect us from the Internet until we'd finished writing 500 words, then it really would block out all distractions.)
Other Pages improvements include beefed-up outlining (to simplify outline creation and rearrangement); the ability to use Numbers when creating a mail merge; and new attractively designed coordinated templates.
Click to enlargeThere may not be a lot of improvements possible with a spreadsheet program once the basics are in place, but the tweaks to Numbers '09 will help the numerically challenged.
The main improvement is the formula browser, accessible from the toolbar, which includes more than 90 additional functions with this release (for over 250 total) and plenty of help tools. After we selected a function to insert, a helpful visual representation appeared, letting us substitute the correct cells for the needed values.
Other improvements include the ability to link charts to Keynote presentations and Pages documents, and 12 attractive new templates for real-world situations, such as tracking exercise times and results.
Catching up with other online collaboration tools such as Google Docs, Adobe.com, and Zoho Docs, Apple introduced iWork.com with this version of its office suite. It's currently in beta, and its full release will have a subscription price. Typically tight-lipped, Apple hasn't said when the service will launch or how much it will cost.
New iWork.com buttons on the Keynote, Pages, and Numbers toolbars allowed us to upload a document for others to view. You need an Apple ID to use it (the same as what you may have for the iTunes Store). When we posted a document, we were able to invite others to view and comment on it. Only invitees could see our work--no Apple ID required--and we had the option of turning off comments. Comments appear as sticky notes; we could see them in the desktop version only after we had downloaded the posted version back to our computer.
In our testing, iWork documents showed up perfectly online. We were able to download copies either in the native format, as a PDF, or as an Office document. Office versions typically had minor formatting changes. Note that iWork.com doesn't have document-creation tools, like Google Docs or Zoho Docs, and doesn't include a storage limit. So far it's only a simple collaboration tool. If its feature set remains this slender, we hope Apple will keep it free when the full version launches.
Apple iWork '09 Verdict
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This latest version of iWork may not win many converts, as it's not as feature-packed as Microsoft Office, but it should please current users and make getting work done on the Mac a little easier. It's a decent improvement over the previous iteration, and its nascent online sharing component brings iWork into the same Web 2.0 space as other document-collaboration tools. Where iWork '09 outshines the competition is with its Keynote presentation program. That feature alone will make the $79 price point worth the investment for some.