Apple's iWork '09 announcements at Macworld Expo brought some worthwhile improvements to the presentation, word processing, and spreadsheet suite, along with a new Keynote Remote Control app for the iPhone and iPod touch. Oh, and there's also a beta of a new online service, iWork.com. But, particularly with Pages and Numbers, the new features sound awfully reminiscent of things we've been accustomed to having in Microsoft Word and Excel for years.
Keynote -- Keynote '09 picks up some visual enhancements, fancier transitions, and the capability to perform object-level transitions that animate the graphics or text between slides. There are also new themes and snazzier chart types and animations, but the main addition is actually a $0.99 Keynote Remote app for the iPhone and iPod touch. It enables you to drive a Keynote presentation, complete with speaker's notes and a preview of the next slide. The functionality isn't new though, since apps like StageHand and Remote Buddy have been offering similar features for some time. We'll be curious to see if Apple tosses these competing programs out of the App Store for treading on Keynote Remote's new turf, or if they'll settle for undercutting them.
Pages -- The most important changes in Pages '09 made us think that Apple has finally gotten serious about competing with Microsoft Word, if not producing a word processor for the 21st century. These new features include mail merging with Numbers, an outliner that enables you to move items around in a hierarchy and have those movements reflected in the styling of your document (much like the Heading styles in Microsoft Word), and support for MathType and EndNote. Also, a new full-screen view takes over the entire monitor, obscuring even the menu bar unless you hover the cursor over it, enabling you to focus on the task at hand instead of all the other stuff happening on your Mac (see "Minimize Desktop Distractions", 2008-12-04).
Numbers -- Changes in Numbers '09 look like solid updates, but are nothing groundbreaking. There's a new feature that improves the re-organizing of tables, added formulas and an enhanced interface for entering them, and new chart types and visuals. Happily, we've heard that Numbers '09 does offer the capability to freeze a column, locking it in place as you scroll through other columns. Finally!
iWork '09 also now features dynamic linking, which enables you to create charts in Numbers and then link them into Keynote and Pages, such that when the chart changes in Numbers it automatically changes in all locations. If you're thinking this sounds like Microsoft's OLE or Apple's own Publish and Subscribe, from the early 1990s, well, you're right.
iWork.com -- Phil Schiller also announced a beta version of a new Web site called iWork.com, which gives users of iWork '09 a way to share files online and perform limited collaboration. To share an iWork document, you click a button in the toolbar and enter the email address of someone to whom you want to give access. That person can then click a link in the resulting email message to view the document in their favorite Mac or Windows Web browser, with what looked like excellent fidelity to the appearance of the original document.
The iWork.com site enables users to add comments (which appear as sticky notes) and maintain an ongoing chat-style conversation with each other; the interface looks similar to the iWork applications and can display any Pages, Numbers, or Keynote document. Users can also download files in their original formats, as PDF documents, or as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, or PowerPoint) files. Although the service is brand new and still in beta, our take is that it's going to have an uphill climb in order to compete with the far more useful Google Docs and other online collaboration services.
That's largely because there's no round-trip support, and it supports only iWork documents. If, for instance, you're working on a project with an editor, your editor needs to download your files, make changes, and give them back to you. That's not possible, nor is working with any file types - Photoshop, InDesign, etc. - that are commonplace in the real world.
Details -- iWork.com is now available to purchasers of iWork '09, with free access during the beta test period. Apple said that the service would require a fee in the future, but did not state how much it would cost or when free access would end. This approach feels haphazard - we'd like to see iWork.com merged with MobileMe, so users won't have to work in multiple sites or pay separate bills.
iWork '09 requires Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.11 or later, and at least a 500 MHz G4 processor. It costs $49 with the purchase of a new Macintosh, or it can be purchased separately for $79 or $99 for a family pack. iWork '09 is available now, and it will be available in late January 2009 in the Mac Box Set, which will cost $169 and include Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, the new iLife '09, and iWork '09.