First Look: iWork '06

There was some heavy irony in Steve Jobs’ keynote earlier this week. Despite the fact that the entire presentation was done using Keynote (part of iWork), the release of iWork ‘06 received very little attention during the keynote. Basically, Steve spent about 30 seconds saying “iWork ‘06 is also released; it’s a cool product with great new themes and features. Check it out.” Huh? At its introduction last year, iWork got the full song and dance and features review; this year, it barely merits a mention.

Luckily, iWork ‘06 was basically immediately available, and I’ve been using it somewhat extensively this week—I updated all of my presentations to take advantage of some new features in Keynote, and I’ve taken a look at the changes in Pages. Since not everyone can get down to the Expo to check out iWork for themselves, here’s a more detailed look at the changes in iWork ‘06.

Suite-wide improvements

Free-form shapes, curves, and masks: Many of the shapes in the suite now have adjustable point counts. Take the star, for instance. When you add a star to your document, you’ll get your typical five-point star. But using a very slick interface, you can easily increase or decrease that number:

Just drag the slider, and the point count on the star changes in real time. You can also change the size of the circular center by dragging the small white circular control in the center of the star. Make the circular area smaller, and your star has longer, sharper arms; make it larger, and you’ll get short, stubby arms. You can also use any shape you create as a mask for images, leading to all sorts of creative cut-out ideas. (A mask will hide anything in the image that lies outside the area of the shape you’re using as the mask). There’s also a free-form curve tool for drawing your own shapes.

Tables

Tables with calculations: Instead of rows and columns of static numbers, you can now create tables that have calculated values in them. While far from Apple’s own version of Excel, the ability to do some basic math in table cells is a huge timesaver. In addition, you can format table cells to add currency indicators, show a different number of decimals, and insert thousands separators.

3-D Charts: Using 3-D charts, you can add pizzaz while improving readability and adding a ‘wow’ factor to your data. Apple’s come up with a pretty good interface for controlling the appearance of your 3-D charts, as you can see in this movie. You can add 3-D effects to bar, column, line, area, and pie charts.

Onscreen image adjustments: Just like iPhoto, you can now make onscreen adjustments to your images. Brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness and more can now be modified with the semi-transparent overlay.

Themes

Within Keynote, there are numerous small improvements, but I’ve found the following to be the most interesting and/or useful:

New themes: In addition to the existing Keynote themes, the new release adds six new themes, two of which are available in HD resolutions (up to 1920x1080). White Corners and Modern Portfolio are the two HD themes, available in sizes up to 1920x1080; the others offer the Keynote standards of 800x600 or 1024x768.

New transitions: There are seven new transitions in Keynote, six of which are in 3-D transitions. I’m particularly fond of the “opening door” and “reflections” effects. Both are visually interesting without being too distracting. This movie shows what all seven of the new transitions look like. That’s an interactive QuickTime movie; click the image to cycle through each transition. The quality has been greatly reduced for the sake of a smaller movie, but trust me—the new effects are really beautifully done.

Interleaved bullet builds: Wow, that’s a mouthful! This is the feature I was most thrilled to see added to this version of Keynote. So what are they? Here’s a definition by way of example. In prior versions of Keynote, if you had a slide with a bulleted list, and you wanted each bullet to appear one at a time, that’s all you could do—have the bullets appear, one after the other. You couldn’t, for instance, have an image appear and then vanish after a given bullet. This is a key aspect of many presentations, as you might want to show a visual for each bullet on a slide. Well, in the new version of Keynote, it’s easy to do this—there’s a checkbox that allows you to then insert additional actions between slide bullets. Here’s an example of how I used this new feature in a presentation from this week. I mentioned this new feature to many of the other presenters this week, and they’re all thrilled that Keynote has finally gained this crucial capability.

Pages

While I haven’t had a ton of time to work with the new version of Pages as of yet (something about four sessions to present, booths to visit, and weblogs to write), I did spend a little while exploring some of its new features. Here are the ones that I think stand out as the most notable changes:

Flyers

Template improvements: While the first version of Pages offered a decent selection of templates, there are more than 25 new templates in the new version—66 in all now. There are also new categories of templates, including Flyers (five types), Posters (six), Business (four), Creative (three). See screenshot at left for an example. One interesting fact is that some templates are automatically tied in to your Address Book. I opened the For Sale flyer, for instance, and was somewhat surprised to find it already populated with my home phone number! This feature is controlled through a new Merge tab on the Link panel of the Inspector; you can pull fields such as name, email, and address. This is a powerful addition, as it makes creating individually customized documents a snap. You should, however, be careful when using certain templates to make sure that the proper information is being pulled from your card!

Auto-correct

Auto-correction: Similar to Word, there’s a new Auto-Correction preference. Using this panel, you can specify a bunch of shortcuts that will be automatically replaced when encountered—type (c), for instance, and Pages will insert the © symbol.

You can add and remove shortcuts, and set preferences for “smart quotes,” capitalization fixes, and e-mail/Web address detection.

Pages sidebar improvements: The sidebar in Pages, which is confusingly also titled Pages, shows a thumbnail of each page in your document. In the new release, this feature has been improved to show facing pages as they would be printed.

This makes it much easier to get a feel for how your printed document will appear. You can also drag and drop to reorder pages in the sidebar, or delete them entirely.

While Keynote has received the most visible improvements in the iWork suite, the changes to Pages help make an already-solid product even better.

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