Pages ’12: Top 3 list of improvements

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Pages
November 6th, 2012 • 3:04 pm

Pages ’12 obviously does not exist at this point in time. There have been no news about a new version of the iWork suite for OS X in years, and for all we know we might not get a significant update for another two or three years. Yes, the situation is that depressing.

This cannot stop me from fantasizing about what the next version of the Pages application for OS X might bring. So here’s my list of top priorities for new features and enhancements in the next version of Pages.

Hierarchical Style Sheets

I am getting really tired of having to change multiple paragraph style definitions every time my work requires a different font scheme. I typically have several different body text styles, all of which use the same font, the same character size, and the same leading. If I want to change one of these parameters in my document, I have to change it manually in each and every style I have defined. There is a reason why hierarchical styles (i.e. styles based on other styles) were invented. It’s time for Apple to get with the program.

The developers of the Pages application did a decent job of making styles more accessible in the user interface, presumably in order to encourage more people to use them. I think that adding the ability to define styles based on other styles can be done without making the interface too complicated. There is already a setting for “Following Paragraph Style” in the text inspector. They could use the same idea, although obviously basing a style on another style has more ramifications.

In any case, the pros outweigh the cons. If the addition of such a feature requires a more advanced UI, so be it. Apple can keep the current interface for those who are OK with the current situation, and add the hierarchical styles feature in a way that does not interfere with it. At least they should try.

Multiple Views of Same Document

I am not saying Apple should ditch the current WYSIWYG approach by providing multiple view modes, like Microsoft Word. I am saying that Apple needs to enable Pages users to view different sections of the same document at the same time. These different views can all be in the same WYSIWYG view mode. But we need to be able to view different sections of the actual document we are currently working on at the same time on our screens.

Right now, the only way to do this is to create a (static) copy of the current document in the Finder and open it in a separate window. But of course, if you do that, you end up with two different versions of the document, and you need to constantly double-check to make sure you are not editing the wrong one. Plus the static copy becomes outdated as soon as you make changes to the original, which forces you to make new copies all the time.

And then you have to clean up by trashing all these multiple copies. It’s painful, it’s inelegant, and it prevents writers and editors from doing a proper job. Cross-referencing and comparing sections are an essential part of composing documents. Pages needs to provide tools for this. (And so does Preview, by the way, for PDF documents.)

Better Customizability

As a power user, I would be tempted to request the addition of all kinds of customization features, like user-defined keyboard shortcuts (for features that are not accessible via the menu bar, and there are lots of those in Pages). But in fact, since becoming a Keyboard Maestro user, I have found that having such a system-wide customization tool is probably a better approach: it’s more flexible, more transparent, more powerful, and you don’t have to worry about where your customizations are stored and whether they will be preserved through system or application updates.

That said, Pages still needs improvements just to make it more compatible with Keyboard Maestro-based customizations. In particular, its AppleScript support needs to be improved. There are several things in relatively complex documents that cause Pages’s AppleScript support to lose track of the exact position of the current selection in the document, including (but not exclusively) the presence of an automatic table of contents. This is a bug that has to be fixed.

I also should not have to resort to GUI-based scripting in order to script some inspector-based features, like the value of “After Paragraph” spacing. In fact, anything that requires GUI scripting is a clear indication that AppleScript support in Pages ’09 is lacking.

There are of course plenty of other things that could and should be improved in Apple’s Pages. But when it comes down to it, the three priorities described above are the most urgent for me as a writer and editor working on relatively complex documents in the word processor. Pages ’09 is already a more-than-capable replacement for the word-processing horror known as Microsoft Word. But the implementation of these three priorities would go a long way towards making it even more capable and more plausible as a real word processor alternative.

One Response to “Pages ’12: Top 3 list of improvements”

  1. Betalogue » Word 2011: A mind of its own? says:

    […] Long-time Betalogue readers know that I could write about how crappy Microsoft Word is all day long. However, there is only so much you can say before the sheer inanity of the thing makes you want to do unspeakable things to a Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer voodoo doll. At that stage, I guess you just have to let it go and try to write about how superior Pages ’09 is instead (even though it is, of course, far from perfect). […]