Apple Keynote '08

Keynote has always been a great presentation tool. Its array of stunning templates and transitions, easy access to content via the Apple iLife media browser, and the range of visual effects and 3D charts have always made it an attractive alternative to Microsoft's PowerPoint. In iWork '08, Apple found some great new features to add to Keynote's already impressive repertoire.

The first new feature added by Apple iWork '08 is easy slide-show animations called Smart Builds. At first, I didn't see the point to these since Apple Keynote '08 can already cause items to appear on a slide in sequence, with great transitions. But what Smart Builds let you do is create an animated slide show within a slide. Simply choose an animation - such as Spinning Cube or Turntable - drop the pictures you want to use into the Drop Zone (which looks very similar to a Drop Zone in Apple's iDVD), and you have a great 3D animation in which one image is replaced by the next, running within a slide while the rest of the slide's content remains visible. With a technique referred to as A-to-B animation, advanced users can even manipulate exactly how animations and related effects display and set options for specific images.

Another new Apple iWork '08 feature that ratchets up the already impressive graphics support is something called Instant Alpha (available in Apple Pages '08 and Apple Numbers '08 as well). Instant Alpha allows you to select and mask out backgrounds in any image in a slide. The process is similar to using the magic wand selection tool in Adobe Photoshop and similar graphics applications, although the operation is much more fluid and intuitive. The power of Instant Alpha isn't that it offers something new (using a graphics application, you can get the same effect, after all). The difference is that now you don't need to go to a graphics application to get it. You can do it right in Apple Keynote '08 with a very easy-to-use interface and without modifying the original image file. Note: This feature doesn't work on images included in a Smart Build.

The new tools for creating slides, however, aren't what impressed me the most about Apple Keynote '08. That would have to be the ability to record a voice track for a presentation. This is a feature that takes Apple Keynote '08 from being useful for giving lectures in person to a tool for recording and presenting them to anyone, anywhere.

Many lecturers give copies of their slides (either as Apple Keynote or Microsoft PowerPoint files or as PDFs) to people who can't attend a presentation or for reference to attendees. Being able to give someone a copy of the entire presentation, including the narration, is a huge step beyond that. And the ability to essentially give the presentation remotely by putting it on the web or by sending someone the file makes Apple iWork '08's Apple Keynote '08 a phenomenal education and training tool.

Apple iWork '08's Apple Keynote '08 takes this feature and runs with it, giving you a wide range of video formats to export a presentation with voice-over. Like the new version of Apple iMovie, it even includes direct publishing to YouTube. Or, if you want do more with your presentation, Apple Keynote '08 allows you to send it directly to almost all of the iLife applications for further editing or distribution. (Ironically, iMovie is the only one not included, though you can export a presentation as a QuickTime movie that can be imported into Apple's iMovie.) Particularly worth noting is integration with Apple's GarageBand, which allows you to turn a presentation into a video podcast with very little effort.