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iPad Keynote: A Better Mistress Than Wife

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I don’t give a ton of presentations, but I’m something of a presentation junky — one of my favorite web sites is Presentation Zen, where the author gives lessons on design theory. Therefore, I’ve been looking forward to iPad Keynote since Phil Schiller gave his dog and pony show.

Keynote for the iPad is a decent companion program if you need to give light presentations or make light edits while on the road. As a sole means of creating presentations, I found it lacking.

The Art of the Transfer

Currently, getting files to and from your iPad is needlessly difficult. To get an already-created presentation from your computer to your iPad, you need to either sync it via iTunes, or send it to yourself via e-mail; there’s no mountable file-system or iDisk support. Also, if you make changes to the presentation, you’ll need to export and re-download it via iTunes; it will not auto-update your local copy. Also, you can only export in Keynote and PDF; you cannot export your slides as a PPT file.

I had decent luck with transferring Keynote and PowerPoint presentations. Only one (a Keynote presentation, oddly) had any sort of problems; the others came in just fine.

The problematic Keynote presentation I expected to have problems with. I use a lot of third-party fonts in my presentations, and since you are limited to what Apple (s aapl) provided, custom fonts will be substituted. Below is what the title page looks like in OS X Keynote and iPad Keynote.

Title Slide From iPad
Title Slide From OS X

Those weren’t the only issues I had. About 20 of my slides were charts, and the slides were designed to transition so the pie chart was the same size and in the same place on every side. To ensure this, when I created the presentation, I just duplicated the first slide with the chart and changed the numbers. When I gave the presentation on my MacBook, it worked perfectly. Unfortunately, on the iPad that was not the case and on some slides the chart size changed ruining the effect — the other common elements displayed correctly. The iPad’s resolution is 4:3 and I built the presentation for a 16:9 widescreen display.

I also had some odd issues with graphics. I tend to have a lot of full-frame images (where the image takes up the entire slide). On the presentation I had problems with, on some slides the graphic was pushed-up, requiring me to reposition them. Other presentations with full-frame graphics worked OK, so I might just have one Cursed Presentation.

Bottom line, the simpler the better when transferring presentations to the iPad. If you have a graphic-intensive talk, be prepared to spend some time double-checking it. In fact, if you’re going to be using your iPad to give a talk, you are going to want to take its limitations into account when you design it.

The Art of Giving

With the optional VGA cable you can hook your iPad up to a projector or a display. In my limited testing (comprised of hooking it up to an LCD display) it worked very well. The iPad seemed to auto-detect the resolution and the slides displayed as well as they did on the iPad screen. However, while the auto-detection looks OK, I did notice some distortion of pie charts on the display; they were stretched horizontally (this could be due to the conversion from widescreen to 4:3, and back to widescreen again.

The presentation tools when connected to an external source are limited. There is no presenters view or notes view. All you see is a black screen with a slide count. There is a pop-up display that will let you chose a starting point, but there’s no way to see what the next slide is. The Apple Remote also doesn’t work with it, so you’re pretty much chained to the podium and can’t move around. Could you see Steve Jobs being restricted to giving an iPad-presentation without free range of the stage?

The lack of a presenter’s view and notes is a deal-breaker for me. Unless you have an excellent memory, use note cards, or just read your slides aloud Keynote for the iPad is of limited value for giving presentations. Also, since the only way to see your slides is on the projector, you’re going to be spending more time facing the screen than your audience.

The Art of Making

Again, the simpler the presentation, the easier time you will have creating presentations. The good news is, Apple provided a decent set of templates that closely mimic the templates you get in the desktop version of Keynote. The bad news is, there’s no way for the iPad to recognize your corporate templates as real templates; the closest you can come is importing the template and copying it every time you want to create new talk.

[related-posts align=”right” tag=”ipad”]One nice touch is when you use an Apple-supplied template and add a slide, you’ll get a pop-up of slide types to use that match your template — for example, a slide with bullet lists, or a slide with just a text box.

I found Keynote to have a steeper-learning curve than I’m used to for Apple — I needed to read the help to learn how to add a text box. I found myself going, “OK, how the heck do you do this?” frequently. Some tasks seemed needlessly complicated. There does not appear to be an easy way to customize a wedge color; I had to use the column with the color I wanted. Also, apparently no one at Apple is color blind, because I couldn’t view color names.

The Art of Closing

Is it possible to use your iPad to create and give presentations? Yes.

Is it possible to create and give amazing, TED-quality presentations on your iPad? Not, really.

If you’re willing to trade some features and inconveniences to save carrying around a laptop, you might get a lot of use. There was a point in my testing when I “got” the potential of this tool. I was scouring the halls at work trying to find a free conference room to test out the projector. I’ve done a version of this trip before, juggling a laptop, power cables, etc.. Now I just had a computer the size of a pad of paper. Future versions of Keynote, or a competing product that address the issues I encountered could turn the iPad into a killer presentation tool.

As it stands, Keynote for the iPad will let you give an adequate presentation. It will not let you give an amazing performance.

26 Responses to “iPad Keynote: A Better Mistress Than Wife”

  1. I’ve just picked up Keynote for the iPad and agree very much with your review. I’m simply stunned at how hard it is to get it to not complain or screw something up.

    I just created a simple presentation on my Mac and loaded it up to the iPad and it immediately started complaining that I was using a font it didn’t have (Lucida Grande, which Keynote on the Mac chose to put my presenter’s notes in), it cannot support 3D charts, it cannot build from the second item on a slide, it cannot perform formulas in charts, and it screws up my pie charts, resizing them and making them totally unviewable.

    I’ve heard everyone complain about how hard it is to get files into Keynote for iPad, but I found a very easy workaround: I load the presentation onto my iDisk and then use GoodReader to sync it over to the iPad. I can then open it in Keynote *from* GoodReader.

    I think, in general, it’s an *okay* app, but it’s severely lacking. In the “I wish it could do this” dept, I am not quite sure why it doesn’t yet support AirPlay so you could use an Apple TV as your presentation connection and be wireless. Hopefully that functionality is coming soon.

  2. The alternative to keynote is simply using a PDF reader such as GoodReader. The advantage is that you can actually see the slides on your iPad while presenting. The disadvantage is that the fancy laser pointer is not included, and that you cannot edit your slides on the iPad.

    I am generally disappointed with iPad Keynote. The best way to deal with it for me is to store the Powerpoint slides as “picture presentation”. That way keynote will at least not crash during import, and it will display all fonts correctly (well, each slide is a picture now). Again, you cannot edit the slides, and for animations you have to go back to the future (1985 or so) — instead of real animations just duplicate to be animated slide and remove “animated” objects.

    Actually, when using keynote I store both the picture presentation, and the original PPTX file on the iPad. That way I can still edit individual slides, by replacing/combining the picture presentation with elements of the original PPTX.

    Hope this helps…

  3. iPadForBusiness

    If you search the App Store using keywords like “presenter” or “presentation” you will find several iPad apps in addition to KeyNote that will help you with presentations, including output to the external display using the optional VGA adapter. Some of them (Infonet Presenter, Projector!, etc.) will have functionality like annotations, importing files from email attachments or iTunes shared files, etc.

  4. I´ve made an iPad Keynote Template if anyone is interested. For making mock-ups of iPad-apps for instance. You can find it here:

  5. Mark: PhoneView for iPhone and iPad should give you drop-and-drag for iWork documents. You can download a fully functioning demo version at to make sure it works . I also just asked the developer on their twitter account @ecammtweets; check there.

    I view iTunes and the USB data cable as the vestigal organs of the iPad. Apple needs to move quickly to ease the sync iPad documents with the cloud, or Google Android devices will eat their lunch.

  6. I was disappointed with the lack of customizable templates, and am looking forward to future versions of Keynote for iPad which might make it useful for my clients. The current version just isn’t suitable for paying work.

    Another strike against it is the lack of video support. I was unable to insert or import .mov and .avi files.

    Again, with luck there will be updates in the near future. I can’t wait to use the iPad for designing presentations from the ground up, I just thought I’d be doing it today.

    • Mark Crump

      Not sure what you were referring to. Yes, you can via file sharing, but it’s not a true sync — you’ll still need to manually replace the file.

  7. Now why on earth would you want to export your presentation as .ppt? I did once (on my PowerBook). It was a disaster! Missing transitions, missing reflections, missing shadows, missing objects, missing Smart Builds, heck – even many of the basic (!) builds were gone. The new .pptx is a bit better, but Keynote doesn’t support this format (at least yet). I prefer the Keynote format though, because I love the features a lot, and the app itself is much easier to use than PowerPoint. QuickTime export seems neat, because it even has auto-pause (for on-click actions, e.g. click (press play) when done talking and need the next slide).
    Most likely it’s intended you make your presentation directly on your iPad, not to sync it from your Mac. I understand the font issue, but I guess installing new fonts might be really messy on an iPad. Probably an OS update or app will add this feature. I also believe the next version of Keynote for iPad will bring presenter notes and sync features to it. Would certainly make sense.

  8. quandmeme

    Lack of notes is a deal breaker by the standard set in the launch of the iPad. The iPad keynote must do it better to justify its use, otherwise I’m sticking to laptop.

    I dream of omnigraffle presentation mode on iPad + projector, where you can highlight elements to go beyond the slide metaphor.

    I’m a lawyer, so I communicate about text: contract provisions, code sections, exhibits. Zooming in and out of these as a witness or client mentions them is the holy grail

  9. While I do agree with your article, I did notice you left out using to transfer files to and from the iPad. It’s not the most convenient or intuitive method, but it does provide a way to remotely access files without having to sync with iTunes.