iPad Gems: Apple’s Pages, Numbers, and Keynote 1.0 Reviewed
There are and will be two primary schools of thought regarding Apple’s iPad versions of three Mac OS X iWork productivity applications—the word processor Pages ($10), the spreadsheet Numbers ($10), and the presentation/slideshow program Keynote ($10): one group of people sees the very release of these new apps as groundbreaking and exciting, the first real steps Apple’s touchscreen devices have taken towards a bold new future as devices for document creation. The other group views them as weak, arguably half-finished products that cannot compare with their first-generation desktop versions, let alone subsequent sequels.
After testing all three of these applications, we’re inclined to agree with both groups: like too many other App Store developers, Apple has released software that is just compelling and capable enough to sell for budget prices, with “version 1.0” features that initially impress, only to leave users needing more. All three applications include helpful tutorials that simultaneously describe and demonstrate the bulk of their features, which is easy to do given the pruning they’ve received for their initial iPad releases. Unfortunately, one major and common problem shared by all three apps is the iPad’s not-quite-finished iPhone OS 3.2 file-saving and printing system: for the time being, Apple has dispensed with essential buttons such as “save” and “print” in favor of “send,” “share” and “export” features, all exposing the iPad’s dependence on a computer for printing and fixing issues that can appear in documents edited on the tablet. The issues are just a few signs of how much is left to be done in inevitable sequels to both the iPad system software and these programs. But to the extent that Apple has given iPad owners some strong new tools to create documents on their devices, they’re a fine starting point, and may satisfy the needs of less demanding users. We look at each app in turn below.
To call the Mac program Pages a competitor to Microsoft’s more famous Office application Word is to describe its appeal but not its scope. Word is, like so many Microsoft products, labryinthine in its features, now layering toolbar upon toolbar and capability atop capability. Pages doesn’t attempt to replicate Word; rather, it supplants it by cutting to the core of its functionality: basic word processing. After loading Pages on a Mac, you can start with a completely blank piece of virtual paper, or edit an attractive template from a collection of over 150 that have been pre-designed by Apple. Select a block of filler text and start typing to replace it with your own, and incorporate photos, shapes, charts, and tables with relative ease, adjusting the size and layout of both text and graphic elements to your preference. Apple’s philosophy is obvious: Word’s million features do you no good if you can’t use them, so it focuses on the ones most people care about, helping users to churn out great-looking documents.
The iPad version of Pages is a heavily stripped down version of the Mac program, cutting the templates down to a mere 15 plus the blank page, and removing so many other features that we couldn’t catalog them in any concise way. Even so, Pages vaults many steps beyond Apple’s free Notes application, providing you with the ability to create multi-column, properly justified text layouts using multiple fonts, style formatting, and photos, charts, tables, and shapes. Though your typography and design options are comparatively limited relative to the infinitely expandable Mac version, the iPad version of Pages offers bold, italic, underline, and strikethrough text formatting, plus 43 different fonts, some more similar than others. For the many of us who have found Notes’ use of the Marker Felt font to be visually grating, font selection alone makes composing documents with Pages a superior experience.
It’s obvious that Apple is still trying to understand and possibly push people towards certain iPad holding and interaction models, so using Pages on the iPad is a little less consistent from orientation to orientation than one might expect. Only in vertical orientation does Pages display a bar with its handful of tools, its text formatting options, and a ruler; these items disappear when you switch to horizontal orientation, leaving you only with a zoomed-in view of your document and the on-screen keyboard. Annoyingly, trying to use the application fully in horizontal orientation is if not impossible merely impractical; you need to flip to portrait mode just to exit one document and load another without quitting Pages altogether. Those concerned about a cramped screen should note that Apple’s virtual keyboard will disappear in either orientation if you connect a wireless Bluetooth keyboard for input purposes—a good idea if you’re looking to accomplish any real typing on the iPad—though Apple’s iPad Keyboard Dock locks you into the vertical view by virtue of its design. Keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy, paste, and select all still work on the iPad as they do on the Mac, though many other hotkey combinations—apart, of course, from ones required purely for typing—are gone.
The single biggest challenge Apple faced with Pages and these other iWork applications was replacing their mouse-based point, click, and drag input schemes with a completely touch-based interface, and the company has partially succeeded with Pages. Text elements can sometimes be reflowed using boxes with side and corner drag points, but the boxes don’t yet have the obvious color changes and special effects they need to indicate transitions; other text elements, like the main text body, might not be reflowable on a given template with the boxes at all. Two-finger attempts to rotate text boxes sometimes instead zoom in and out of the document, but other times bring up a nice interface that shows you the precise degree of rotation the element is currently at. Tools for inserting, replacing, and changing the size, crop, and rotation of images are similarly mostly intuitive, if occasionally a little difficult to get working perfectly. An Undo button is always available at the top of the screen if you make a mistake, and early on, you’ll need it—despite the simplicity of its feature set, Pages does have a real learning curve if you’re going to do more with it than just type letters.
There are some things that Pages really isn’t made to do at all on the iPad. It leaves out all of the Mac version’s templates for envelopes, for example, and that’s probably because there’s no way as of yet to connect Pages to a printer and actually print envelopes with it. No printer drivers, no printer connectivity hardware, not even support for wireless printers have been announced for the iPad by Apple. You also can’t directly save or version your own documents; instead, Pages handles saving automatically for you, and lets you see all of your prior documents on an initial scrollable start-up screen. If you want to get your documents off of the iPad, or bring existing ones into the iPad, you need to undergo a cumbersome process of importing and exporting them, either through iTunes, e-mail or by using a third-party application such as Air Sharing HD or GoodReader. Note that exporting from Pages to Apple’s own iWork.com server is also available, however Pages offers no direct way to open files from iWork.com—for now, at least, users must visit the site in Safari and open the document from there.
In fact, Apple’s approach to file management across all of the iWork applications is confusing. Pages maintains its own internal document library that is inaccessible to other applications on the iPad and, initially, even Apple’s own iTunes File Sharing interface—the nestled place where some files on an iPad can be found and synchronized with a computer. Documents added through iTunes must be manually imported into Pages as a separate step, and only documents that have been specifically exported from Pages will appear in iTunes to be transferred off of the device. Until you choose “export,” the actual working copy stored in Pages is invisible to anything but the Pages application. These additional steps make it inconvenient to share a working document between your Mac and iPad. It’s also worth noting again that the iPad version dispenses with any concept of a “Save” button, instead auto-saving in the background as you work. Although this is effective in ensuring that your latest work is always preserved, it makes it difficult to revert back to a previous version of the document—users will want to use the “Duplicate Document” function before opening a document in order to create an additional version. If you want to get your document off of the iPad, Pages allows documents to be exported in native Pages format, Microsoft Word, or as a PDF. Users can export to the iTunes File Sharing area for later transfer via iTunes or export to an e-mail in any of the three formats. Documents can also be uploaded to iWork.com, but in native Pages format only.
Pages on the iPad is capable of opening Mac Pages documents, as well as Microsoft Word format documents. Since the features and font selection on the iPad application are much more limited than on the Mac or PC programs, documents may not look exactly the same when viewed on the iPad. Pages will pop up a dialog box to notify you of this when you first import a document, listing any missing fonts or other features that don’t come across. The good news is that even though Pages can’t display certain fonts and formatting, it actually does a pretty good job of preserving this information rather than stripping it out. This means that with all but the most complicated documents, the original formatting should remain intact when you transfer the document back to the desktop. But you’ll need to transfer it back to the desktop and fix it there—you can’t fully rely upon the iPad version of Pages before sending out something really important.
One other representative omission in Pages also bears mention here: there’s no support for handwriting recognition or other sorts of features that should really be included on a touchscreen-based document composition tool. There are reasons—probably a short development schedule combined with a fear of Newton-like mockery—that Apple has left Pages on the iPad as a thin shell of its Mac version rather than a unique and distinctive enhancement of it using new technologies, but going forward, Pages should do more with the iPad’s multi-touch display than merely emulate what a traditional computer does for word processing; users will appreciate the device’s distinctive capabilities all the more.
Pages is, in sum, a good enough on-the-go word processing application, enabling even novices to create nice-looking documents, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that anyone with a desktop or laptop computer nearby would be unlikely to use the iPad instead if given the choice. We didn’t want to type this review using Pages, and saw no benefit in even importing it from our computers over to the iPad for editing purposes. It’s a second-best option with a lot left to be added and re-designed before it’s truly ready for more than just casual use; for now, it’s only recommendable to those who are desperate to use their iPads for more than just basic Notes-style text entry. Future versions will surely be bolder and better. iLounge Rating: B-.
Even on the Mac side, Numbers was a relatively late entry to the iWork suite of applications—it’s currently only on version 2.0.3, though like Pages, it’s a deliberately simplified competitor to a well-established Microsoft product, specifically the spreadsheet and data entry program Excel. The iPad version of Numbers retains the visually-appealing but limited functionality of its desktop counterpart, and once again is stripped down further in power and templates. Spreadsheet applications are complex beasts by their very nature, and unlike word processing applications are used in a variety of different ways. By contrast with the veritable Swiss army knife of calculation, statistical and data management features Excel offers, Numbers remains focused on traditional spreadsheet mathematical functions.
Apple has retained a reasonable number of features for the iPad take on Numbers, including 16 templates for purposes ranging from budgeting and mortgage calculations to invoices and team organization. The iPad version also includes all of the same 250+ math functions from the desktop version, organized into a similar function browser and even including the detailed descriptions for each function. Most of the basic table layout and formatting options are also available here, as are support for charts, pictures and text box overlays. All of the usual data types such as currency, percentage, date and time and text are supported as cell formats, although the iPad version notably lacks the ability to set fonts and text sizes within cells—only bold, italic, underlining and strikethrough are available, as well as color and alignment options. Multiple sheets and tables are supported, and Numbers presents a tabbed view at the top of the screen to create or select additional worksheets. Most of the features are demonstrated in Apple’s simple included tutorial spreadsheet, and others are explained through a surprisingly web-based help system.
Cells are selected within Numbers by using the touchscreen, and the process is relatively intuitive, with blue dots indicating where the selection can be expanded to include additional cells or columns. Columns or rows can be moved by tapping and dragging on the heading controls, and buttons are available to quickly add additional columns and rows. Tapping a second time on a selection will bring up additional options for that selection, allowing you to sort on columns, auto-fill text areas, insert rows, and so forth. Photos, additional tables, charts, shapes and text boxes can be inserted anywhere on the sheet, as well. When adding a new chart you simply drag over the data values in the appropriate table to quickly populate the chart, making the whole process of adding charts extremely smooth and intuitive. Existing charts can be edited just as easily by double-tapping on them and adjusting the selections accordingly. Further, what Numbers lacks in cell formatting options is made up for in text box formatting—all of the fonts and styles that can be found in Pages are also available when formatting text within actual text boxes.
One of the most interesting and powerful features of Numbers is its support for multiple on-screen keyboards for entering different types of data. When double-tapping on a cell, the on-screen keyboard is presented beneath a cell editing field. Alternate keyboards appear based on whether you’re entering numbers, date and time information, or formulas and functions, with a keyboard toggle button set at the left of the editing field. The formulas keyboard provides access to the function browser as well as shortcuts for entering text, date and time information, and true/false values. Each formula component is color-coded for easy viewing, and tapping on a function or formula component will pop up a window with additional details or options on that particular item.
Unlike Pages, Numbers provides the same features and tools in both portrait and orientation views, making it easy to work on spreadsheets in the most appropriate orientation for the type of sheet. A zoom button is provided in the top-right corner that can be used in either view to hide the menu bars and provide a full-screen view of the current document. Pinch gestures work to rescale the entire document to your preferred level of magnification.
Not surprising but still disappointing is the fact that Numbers suffers from the same import and export limitations as Pages: documents in the Numbers app are inaccessible until they’re manually exported. As with Pages, documents can be imported from other applications on the iPad such as Mail and Safari, and Numbers supports opening native Numbers files, Excel files and CSV files. Only Numbers and PDF are supported for exporting, however.
Like Pages, when importing documents Numbers will display a dialog box advising you of which features are unsupported. When importing Numbers documents from the Mac, most of these issues will likely be font-related; importing XLS files on the other hand may result in a lot more being stripped away in the process, however this is not much different than importing an Excel spreadsheet into Numbers on the Mac.
Numbers on the iPad does a solid job of bringing over most of the features from its desktop counterpart, however its usefulness will depend largely on your personal needs. Users of Numbers on the Mac will find the iPad version quite functional, with the biggest limitations found in the file management features that complicate simple document sharing between the two applications, followed by the lack of in-cell formatting options. It’s a solid B for this group of users. On the other hand, power users who are familiar with Microsoft Excel will find Numbers on the iPad, like the Mac version, to be a poor alternative due both to its more limited feature set as well as the inability to export Excel spreadsheets back out from Numbers. People in this group are more likely to find this app worthy of a C. Our compromise rating of B- reflects its limited recommendability; like Pages, this is a better than decent first shot at a touchscreen-based productivity application, but it still leaves plenty to be improved upon. iLounge Rating: B-.
If any of the iPad productivity applications feels like it could be used without further assistance from a computer, it’s Keynote, Apple’s alternative to Microsoft’s slideshow- and presentation-creation tool PowerPoint. For those who might be unfamiliar with the program, the Mac OS version of Keynote is the oldest of the iWork apps, first released back in 2003, and is now on its fifth version, boasting 44 different pre-designed presentation template sets, a large collection of sophisticated tools, and the coolest special effects found in the iWork suite. Though the iPad version once again loses a considerable amount of the Mac app’s depth, it preserves enough features that the editing experience will for some users be nearly indistinguishable—actually presenting the finished presentations may even be easier.
On the iPad, Keynote is a full-fledged presentation-creating program that enables you to lay out and actually perform a full slideshow without any assistance from a computer: documents created with Keynote can be played back on the iPad itself, e-mailed or exported as a PDF or Keynote document, or displayed on any composite, component, or SVGA display using various Apple video cables. In the latter mode, you can even laser-point during your presentation by holding your finger on the iPad’s screen as it’s outputting to an external display. This goes beyond the capabilities of the current Mac version of Keynote, a rare exception to the program’s otherwise streamlined design. On the other hand, speaker notes—information you want to be able to read during a presentation but not share on screen—are absent from the app; when doing a presentation through a video cable, the screen goes black apart from a list of slides, back and forward buttons, and instructions on using the laser pointer.
Apple’s other feature chops are significant enough that past Keynote users might balk at calling the iPad version “full-fledged.” On one hand, opening up a theme—a package of pre-designed presentation templates—leads you to iPad layouts that are so similar to the Mac’s that only the words “double-click” and “double-tap” seem to have changed; the iPad app actually also provides a more intuitive way to access the “Masters” collection of multiple related slide layouts than the Mac one. But instead of 44 themes, you now get 12, and rather than say, 19 different master slides, you get 8. Tools for alpha blending, object grouping, music inclusion, full-spectrum color selection, and more sophisticated 3-D charts are just gone; simple object layering, charts with gradients, a handful of color choices, and the same 43 fonts found in Pages and Numbers remain.
Though the iPad version of Keynote limits you to working in a widescreen orientation—and thus precludes you from using Apple’s iPad Keyboard Dock for text input—the application is far more object- than text-intensive; using it in your lap with minimal typing is therefore comfortable and easy. Pictures and even videos from your iPad’s Photos library can be added to any slide, text can be enlarged, shrunk, or reformatted, and animated special effects can be added to both slides and individual objects within the slides. Impressively, 21 slide-to-slide transitions are included, and 13 different animations can be selected for each object on the slide, with each animation playing in your preferred sequence, or no animation at all. Presentations created with Keynote can sparkle with flash bulbs, movies, and twirling items, or be as static and corporate as a typical word processor document, depending on how much time and glam you want to put into them.
Actually using Keynote is fairly intuitive. In addition to tapping items to change their contents, set of five icon tools appears at the top of the screen: an “i” with style, text and arrangement tools, an image box for media and objects, twin diamonds for animation, a wrench for a handful of small tools, and a play button to preview the presentation. Pinch and expand gestures change the zoom level of the current slide, while objects are shrunk or expanded using buttons on bounding boxes; some can also be rotated using two-finger hub and wheel gestures. As with Pages, it’s not always obvious in advance what can and can’t be rotated, and there are times when the object that gets selected isn’t the one you intended to move or change. The Undo button and a little practice are once again necessary and helpful in the early goings with this program.
Keynote has the same limitations as Pages and Numbers when it comes to importing and exporting files. Keynote ‘09 and PowerPoint format presentations can be imported into Keynote from other applications such as Safari and Mail or synchronized via the File Sharing option in iTunes. Notably, only Keynote ‘09 format presentations are supported—if you have Keynote files created in an earlier version of Keynote, you will need to open them in Keynote ‘09 on your Mac and re-save them before they can be used on the iPad. Presentations can be exported in either Keynote ‘09 format or as PDF files to create a static copy of your presentation. The same options are available for e-mailing, sharing via iTunes or uploading to iWork.com as in the other iWork apps. Documents imported from Keynote ‘09 maintain their formatting, although any custom fonts you’ve used may not appear in the iPad version. Files imported from PowerPoint will display an import warning dialog box advising you of which fonts and other features have been stripped out during the conversion process. As with Numbers, changes here are permanent, but this is of little consequence as you can’t re-export back to a PowerPoint file anyway.
Where Keynote really succeeds relative to Pages and Numbers is in its truly standalone design—unless you’re looking to print your presentation, which will require a little screwing around with exporting to another machine, Keynote is fully capable of letting a user both create and perform an impressive-looking slideshow with multimedia content. This is truly a breakthrough for Apple’s digital media products—steps backwards from its full-fledged computers, but far ahead of what iPods or iPhones could accomplish before. Five years ago, people were happy to just be able to play back photos of slideshows on their iPods; one year ago, some were glad to pay $1 to use iPod touches and iPhones as Keynote Remotes, and now there’s a tool that makes the whole design and editing process easy for a reasonable price. Apple can and will do better, but Keynote 1.0 for the iPad is a good start; even with its flaws, it’s worth trying if you already have an iPad. iLounge Rating: B.
The review of Numbers and additional reporting were contributed by Jesse Hollington. Thousands of additional iPhone, iPod, and iPad app and game reviews are available here.
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