Pages 7 for Mac review: Better workflow and tools for producing digital books

A new version adds book-related features, minor improvements, and parity with the latest iOS version.

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Apple
At a Glance

Pages 7 is the latest in a series of ongoing and gradual improvements to the 2013 “reboot” of Apple’s iWork suite or productivity apps, which also includes Numbers and Keynote. That reboot rewrote the apps from the ground up, but also omitted features that users had relied upon for years.

Over time, many of these features were restored even as the apps expanded what they did in other areas. Pages 7 continues on this path. While it’s numbered as a major release to keep it in harmony with Pages for iOS, the iOS release has a greater number of significant additions.

Pages 7: Book creation

The flagship change includes book templates for interactive EPUB ebooks, allowing an end-to-end workflow for creating rich digital documents without the compromise of starting with templates and pages designed for printer output, even after all these years.

Alongside this new book workflow are two relatively obvious improvements for managing and producing documents: side-by-side page viewing within Pages (a feature that’s been missing for five years), and the ability to create two-page spreads (facing pages) when exporting layouts to PDF and EPUB.

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With both facing-page layout and side-by-side views, you can better work with and design books and large documents.

The last time we reviewed Pages for macOS was version 5.6, which added significant typographic and other support, and should probably have been numbered 6.0. In the actual 6.0 version, Apple mostly offered a beta release of real-time collaboration. Version 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 refined and put into production better collaborative editing, while bringing back RTF (Rich Text Format) import and export, Touch Bar support, document-wide font replacement, internal bookmarks, PDF table of content export, and 500 additional shapes. (Version 7 adds more shapes, and they’re editable, too.)

Across those releases, Apple gradually improved support for the EPUB standard, including an upgrade to allow EPUB 3 exports, which allow interactive components and fixed layouts that resemble PDFs but work with standard ebook-reading software and hardware. (Amazon’s Kindle is the exception, relying on both the old and simplified MOBI spec for older readers, and a modified version of EPUB called KF8 for its newer hardware.)

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Creating ebooks via Pages templates allows a streamlined and end-to-end workflow.

Pages 7 seems to bump that up a notch. I tested a flowing EPUB that had a number of typographic refinements, different typefaces, and inserted images created in Pages that I’d had to monkey with when using version 6.3 for export. With Pages 7, the export was nearly perfect. (You can crack open EPUB files, which are compressed with ZIP, and manipulate style sheets and underlying HTML-like document structures.)

You might be confused where iBooks Author fits into all this, and you’re not alone. The difference between it and Pages is now quite thin. iBooks Author offers a few kinds of additional interactive elements, like widgets, which offer animation and other touch-based responses. It also offers a live preview of the resulting EPUB output; with Pages, you have to export. Because Pages is a general-purpose app, it seems like a better route for most people to work in to create EPUBs and PDFs with this new release. Neither Pages nor iBooks Author edits EPUB files directly; they’re always exported from the app’s source files.

Using the new ebook templates to create radically simplifies making books for people without design chops or the desire to start from scratch. The templates have buttons in the corners of images you click to drop in your own images, and placeholder text appears with a livid outline to make sure you don’t forget and leave it in place. You can click in a thumbnails navigation sidebar to add additional pages with different layouts within the template package. (You can separately create page templates in any Pages page-layout document via a new master pages option.)

You can edit these Pages books (and any documents) with aplomb in iOS as well, although I prefer the mouse-based interface to a touch-based one for placing and positioning images. The macOS version of Pages also features a ruler from which you can drag in page guides. (Rulers are broken in the initial iOS release, and page guides are missing.)

Pages 7: Other features

Media selection is extremely laggy, even on a 2017 iMac. While I have an iCloud Photo Library of over 37,000 images, they’re stored at full resolution on this iMac, and it took minutes to bring up the initial selection view. If you switch away from Pages, load progress is apparently lost and it restarts whatever process it’s engaged in. After an initial load, perhaps caching thumbnails, every subsequent action incurred delays of tens of seconds to minutes. The media selector is a system-wide function, but it’s readily apparent how poorly optimized it is in a program designed to use images. (Pages also has two different ways to select media, and neither seems to recall the last place from which you selected.)

Apple has gradually beefed up editing and collaboration features, including ever-better Track Changes and commenting options—they’ve been around for a while, but didn’t work well until a few releases ago—and real-time simultaneous document editing.

Pages for iOS adds a beta of Smart Annotations in iOS, allowing graphical markup of a document with a Pencil for finger. These appear in the Mac release, but they can only be viewed or deleted. Since it’s a beta, it’s possible that will change, and allow you to “draw” with a mouse or trackpad.

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Reduce File Size can help compress files bloated due to multimedia that’s larger or includes more detail than needed.

The Pages update includes a handful of miscellaneous additions, too. Including:

  • You can enable an Autocorrect option and type fractions that have special drawn versions in the typeface you’re using, and Pages automatically converts them.
  • If you use charts and graphs in Pages, you can excitingly make use of donut charts, while tables have gained conditional highlighting based on values.
  • Box document-sharing users don’t have to rely on iCloud for collaboration, but can work through Pages documents stored on that service as well.
  • Apple offers a way to reduce storage consumed by audio, video, and images embedded in the document by opting to downsample or use more efficient formats (via File > Reduce File Size).

Some features could use more explanation than that found in release notes and the functional-but-thin help files for Pages. For example, a new image gallery option makes little sense for page layout or word processing, and the how-to instructions give no insight on how you might use it. In fact, it’s an interactive feature that only works in Pages and when exported to EPUB, where it’s a useful addition.

Bottom line

Pages 7 for macOS is a significant bump up for people who routinely produce documents shared digitally, whether as PDF or in EPUB ebook format.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • End-to-end EPUB ebook production workflow
    • Better document and book editing, view, and management tools for digital output
    • Parity with new Pages for iOS release
    • Excellent sync via iCloud with Pages on other devices

    Cons

    • Can only view and delete, but not add Smart Annotations
    • Media selection is clunky, and very slow with a large library
  
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