Keynote covers basic presentation needs and little else

Here’s the bottom line on Keynote, iWork’s iPad version of PowerPoint. If you’re on the road and you need your assistant to knock together a last minute presentation for a conference, Keynote will do the job. If you want your assistant to create a truly powerful and interactive presentation, you should have him use Flash. Oh, wait. You’re staff has iPads and Steve Jobs doesn’t think you should have Flash on iPads.

Well, maybe your assistant should bring his laptop and all the junk that goes with it and do the presentation in PowerPoint. It’s not like you’ll be carrying that extra weight around.

And as long has he’s carrying the extra weight, he might as well hang onto your iPad for you. And have him carry all his stuff in a backpack so he can hold your iPad in one hand and your latte in the other.


  • Provides a dozen attractive presentation templates.
  • Is incredibly easy to use.
  • Allows you to knock off a presentation in minutes
  • Runs presentations directly from your iPad.

Here’s what it doesn’t do:

  • Support Power Point presentations.
  • Allow you to build a presentation from scratch.

In addition, I will discuss the fine art of schmoozing—an art I can’t seem to master—and how it relates to countless of bad and even more bad PowerPoint and Keynote presentations by people with nothing to say but a platform to say it with.

Down and Dirty Presentations

I have never really played with Keynote because I don’t do a lot of slideshow presentations. In fact, I hate sitting through slideshow presentations more than anything but meetings in general. Not only do they look stupid, they generally serve as little more than window dressing for even more banal content. This is not the fault of Power Point or Keynote; this is a consequence of putting presentation apps into the hands of people who have little of merit to say and who think a few animated bullet points will fool people into thinking they actually got something out of the presentation.

I seem to be in the minority on this point. I often find myself leaving a presentation and wishing unspeakable things upon the person who opened Pandora’s Box and unleashed professional development upon the world (things I won’t list here because unspeakable pretty much implies unwritable as well) only to have my colleagues agree that they just spent a valuable hour and a half watching bullet points dance and juggle on the screen.

On the other hand, I do recognize that these people may have hated the presentation every bit as much as I did but they have developed the remarkable political skill of schmoozing. Schmoozing involves telling somebody how much you enjoyed something they did even though you really wanted to shoot yourself in the head and put yourself out of your misery. More importantly, schmoozing requires you to convince people that you meant it.

Schmoozers insist they aren’t lying, they are merely want to make the presenter feel good about the hard work they did. In fact they may assure the presenter they thoroughly enjoyed the presentation even though they ripped the presentation and the presenter to shreds on the anonymous evaluation form. They feel these small reassurances are no different than the gold stars every kid gets on their work in elementary school, even when they turn it in covered with grass stains and half the words misspelled.

I’m not sure who scares me more. The schmoozers, or the people who enjoyed the presentation.

I only say this to make it clear to the reader that using Keynote (or Power Point) will not make them into better presenters, nor will it improve their presentations.

However, I decided to give Keynote a whirl, and set up a simple presentation to see how well it works in a pinch. I have to admit that after playing with the limited iPad Keynote implementation, I prefer it to the full blown Power Point in the Office Suite.

This surprised me, because when I downloaded the trial version of Keynote when iWorks Mac was first released, I dragged it to the trash after a couple of tries and haven’t thought about it since. The iPad version is such a vast improvement over the original Mac version that I may have to rethink Mac Keynote as well.

Easy to use

If you have any experience building presentations, Keynote is remarkably easy to adapt to. I created a mock up presentation on clowns with four frames (oh, wait, that’s Flash lingo; change that to four “slides”), a pie chart, and several images with captions and photo credits. I had it up and running, complete with transitions, in minutes.

I am including in this estimate the time I spent looking for and downloading images from Stock Exchange, a collection of free royalty free images and gathering the photo credits to include in the slide.1

This four frame presentation was finished in minutes.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t fret. The Keynote presentation/tutorial included with the app contains perhaps the best introduction to an app’s features that I’ve seen included with any app I downloaded from the App Store (including Keynote’s iWorks companions, Pages and Numbers).

You begin by selecting from a dozen slideshow templates, all of which are well designed and reasonably attractive. I say this remembering a number of slideshow templates that used to ship with PowerPoint which were little more than bland, tepid or glaringly ugly. Once you open your presentation you can add slides from a number of pre-designed slides.

You can insert individual slide templates and replace the elements.

With the elements already in place it isn’t hard to select an image and replace it with another image or graphic using the media manager, or selecting pre-formatted text to type in your own. Repositioning elements is just as easy.

The media manager allows you to replace one image with another,

or add a chart, shape or table.

Adding a chart was as simple as selecting the chart style and typing in the data. It took me a moment to figure out how to make the text display the way I wanted it to, and I was never completely happy, but the chart wasn’t a total disaster. Considering that I spent three minutes slapping it together and adjusting the appearance, I would have to say I was happy with the overall experience. If I was getting paid to do it I would have spent a little more time, but that would be because I could bill somebody.

Setting up a chart is mostly a matter of entering the data.

The chart editor lets you tweak the chart’s appearance.

Keynote provides just enough variety to allow you to knock together a decent presentation with minimal effort and design skill.

Add transitions quickly

Transitions can sell or wreck a presentation. I’ve seen presentations where every piece of clip art and every line of text is animated with sound. And the presenter thought that using every transition in the palette would really impress. Instead I missed the entire content because I was too busy cringing at the thought of what the presenters might do next. (A cash register bell for action points in a presentation for community service and volunteerism? Are we missing the irony here?)

I expect stuff like that for a presentation at my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. But that presentation wasn’t bad. I don’t expect that at conferences for professional development or that charge me at the door.

Fortunately, Keynote limits the number of transitions available to a handful of functional, tried-and-true effects. I don’t love them all, but none will interfere with the flow of the slideshow.

Keynote allows you to apply transitions from a simple menu that controls in and out effects as well as the duration. In addition, you can even animate object movement from one side to another.

Keynote’s transitions dialogue is fairly easy to figure out.

Present directly from your iPad.

You can also reduce your equipment overload by using your iPad as the presentation device. For another thirty dollars you can buy a VGA adapter for your dock port that will connect to most displays and overhead projectors.

Even if you actually spend time developing the presentation on your home computer in Power Point or Mac Keynote it would be worth porting it over to your iPad for the presentation and saving yourself the added weight of a laptop and power supply. I haven’t actually tested the adaptor, I’m just talking theoretically here. So you might actually want to run a practice presentation on your office projector before you leave.

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with Keynote. Far more impressed than I was with iPad Pages, or the fairly powerless iPad Numbers. I should remind you however, that I don’t develop a lot of slideshow style presentations professionally so I might feel differently if I used Keynote on a daily basis.

Given that context, I did notice a couple of shortcomings. I don’t really feel as concerned about Keynote’s shortcomings as I did about Numbers’, especially since this is an app scaled down for a portable device like the iPad. But they are worth mentioning.

Adding text boxes is a pain

This became really irritating by the time I was adding a caption and photo credit to the third image. I tried and tried to simply add text boxes to the presentation and never succeeded. I looked at all the reference information online and got no help.

I tried duplicating text boxes, but that was a flat out pain. The best solution I could find was to simply copy text to the clipboard and then paste it into the slide with nothing selected. A text box with the pasted text appears and that can be dragged into position and reformatted. Once you have the formatting the way you want, copies of that text will be formatted correctly when you paste them onto the slide.

Limited templates

I understand the iPad is limited to 64 GB of storage and Apple can’t serve up an unlimited range of options. But I did feel that the templates didn’t really reflect a good range of possible designs. They were all functional, and none were unattractive, but the design styles seemed too narrow.

On the other hand, better a few conservative and functional designs than a wider assortment of garish designs. And taste in design can be hard to please.

Can’t build from scratch

The biggest drawback of iPad Keynote is the ability to create custom presentations with the backgrounds and themes you want. Theoretically, it’s possible. You should be able to simply add a shape the size of the slide, move it to the background and then change the fill to the color or style that suits you (much as you can in Mac Keynote).

The problem is that when you try to change the background shape’s fill color there are only a half-dozen fills available—three solids, a couple of subtle gradients and a torn black border effect. I looked for anyway to change the fills but was unsuccessful. I even went to the Keynote Help file online which said I only needed to click the “fill” button in the Styles palette. Alas, I couldn’t find a “fill” button anywhere in the app.

Even if I like the results, duplicating slides to keep the background shape, or copying and pasting the shape and then moving it to the background can be cumbersome.

For casual users, I can’t see this as a problem. Most will prefer to work from the themes provided. But if you work for a client or supervisor who expects a new background tomorrow, and doesn’t understand the limitations of software—or if you’re as anal and controlling as I can be when it’s my presentation—you may wish you had your laptop with you after all.

No PowerPoint support

If you need PowerPoint support, forget it. iPad Keynote can’t open or export .ppt files. You need to buy the full iWorks suite for the Mac, port your presentation back to your Mac with the clumsy iTunes/USB interface, open the file in Mac Keynote and save the file with a .ppt copy.

If you use a Windows machine, you’re stuck. You can still do your presentation on your iPad, but the only way you’re going to get a working copy in Windows is to find a friend with iWorks Mac and ask them to convert the file for you. In fact, the only way you’re going to convert your presentation to Keynote format for use with an iPad is to have a friend with iWorks Mac convert it for you.

When all is said and done, I like iPad Keyote, and will probably use it to knock out and deliver presentations with my iPad at conferences. But I will probably do the hard work on my Mac and port the presentation to the iPad when I’m finished.

If you’re rushing to create a last minute emergency presentation on the road, or creating a family reunion slideshow, iPad Keynote will do just fine. If you need Windows PowerPoint compatibility, stick to Windows for the presentation and use your iPad to stir the virtual fish in your virtual Koi Pond to relieve your stress.

Jenny Manytoes rates Keynote

Jenny Manytoes purrs for Keynote, but that’s only because she doesn’t care about Windows users or people who trusted Microsoft and bought PowerPoint.

By the way, here is the full four frame presentation on clowns (sans transitions):

Slide 1

Slide 2

Slide 3

Slide 4

Stock images for mock presentation courtesy of Stock Exchange, and photographers:

  • Miroslav Nagy
  • Miroslav Nagy
  • Michael Lorenzo
  • Ramzi Hashisho
  • Frank Burgey
  • M Mendel
  • Julia Freeman-Woolpert

1I mention this for two reasons. First, a royalty free image is not necessarily a free image. You may have to pay a one time fee to the provider even though you don’t have to pay royalties to the photographer. Stock Exchange offers a wide range of moderately good, free photos. Second, you should still attribute photographers if you download their images and post them on the web. Most provide their full names in the info section.back

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad.
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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Apple Apps, iPad, Office Suite, Power Apps and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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