With Powerpoint 2010 released to manufacturing last week, all presenter eyes turn to when Apple will release its answer in the next version of Keynote.

A regular visit to the statistics for this Presentation Magic blog reveals that a consistently popular entry features a discussion of iWork 10’s date of release; that is, there appears to be a pent up demand for the next version of Apple’s productivity suite.

Now I will guess that a significant proportion of visitors are trying to hedge their bets against making a premature purchase of the current iWork, knowing that Apple does not offer dates for upgraded products. It does work in cycles, such that at least for hardware, we know that Macbooks usually get a refresh in March/April, iPhones in June/July and iPods in September/October.

Software, however rarely gets advance notice, unless it is the OS itself, such as OS X or iPhone 4.0, given the needs of developers and their use of SDKs. Apple’s application software, such as iLife and iWork, as well as Pro applications like Final Cut Pro, operate on less predictable timelines, and rarely do we get much advanced notice.

clip_image002Contrast this with Microsoft’s Office Productivity suite for Windows, which has been freely available in beta for many months, and was released to manufacturing last week. Its official date for purchase is listed as June this year, and unlike Apple, Microsoft offers a free update path for Office 2007 purchasers who activate their copy between March and October this year.

This stands in marked contrast to Apple’s strategy: no beta, no release dates, no advance notice of upgrade features (albeit what you see Steve Jobs deliver in a product keynote), no free  or discounted update, and no product team blogging.

When you own 99% of the presentation landscape I imagine you can offer some largesse to your customers in Microsoft’s fashion!

With Powerpoint now released to manufacturing, meaning its major features are now locked down, it’s up to the Apple Keynote team to play its hand.

As I’ve suggested in previous blog entries, the two presentation teams play leapfrog with each other in terms of feature sets and performance. Powerpoint, at least for Windows, has always enjoyed many more features than Keynote. But in its case, more can often mean less. While I occasionally see brilliant use of Powerpoint’s expansive feature set, in the vast majority of presentations I attend (where I can quickly identify a Powerpoint stack from Keynote – usually the over-used background themes are the giveaway) the slide construction is dull and repetitive. Perhaps this is because so many presentations I see in person (compared to those that make it to the web via Ted.com, YouTube, or SlideShare) are in the science domain, where “just give me the facts, ma’am” rules the presentation style, rather than something a little more engaging and thus memorable.

Why is this so? I can only imagine that time-constrained scientists, whose main creative outlets might be experimental design followed by paper publications, simply follow the cognitive style of Powerpoint, with headers, subheaders and bullet points, with plenty of text. For that, they actually don’t need Powerpoint, just a pdf which can be projected up on a screen.

There is a real possibility that this may change in the next year or two. Not just are there many more books and blogs on the subject of presenting using slideware (and now scientific conferences where they are being workshopped, as I am doing several times this year), but Keynote on the iPad will deliver more interest in graphically intense and rich presentations. But perhaps it will be very feature rich Powerpoint 2010 that will really see the acceptance of a different style of presenting.

In many respects, it has leapt ahead in terms of features with respect to Keynote. It has caught up in significant areas such as embedding movies (woeful in earlier versions), image manipulation and alpha masking (what Powerpoint calls background removal) In “sharing and broadcasting presentations“, it is in a league of its own, reflective of its importance in enterprise and educational settings, and leaves Apple’s iWork.com looking beta-like. The Powerpoint blog team has suggested ten significant benefits of using Powerpoint 2010; some of these are clearly attempts to catch Keynote, while others move ahead. See the list here.

I still find its interface confusing and non-intuitive, preferring Keynote’s simplicity, and it’s as if Microsoft likes it this way to keep alive a flourishing third party book and blog industry to help users better understand all of Powerpoint’s innards and aspirations.

So now the ball is in Apple’s court and it truly must deliver in the next update to play the leapfrog game and not let Microsoft dictate the look and feel of 21st century presentations. As I keep pointing out in my workshops, more and more consumers are becoming familiar with how graphics can better transfer information when accompanied by appropriate words, either spoken or displayed or both. They are seeing it not just in documentaries, but in the nightly news and current affairs programs. (I’m preparing a blog entry on this for publication soon). The use of text only presentations will become untenable unless that is the precise desire of the presenter, as I occasionally do to make a point.

When will Keynote be updated?

So it’s time to speculate given the recent hardware and software roadmap Apple has revealed of late. And also given the level of unhappiness with Keynote on the iPad by long term Keynote users who were hoping for something special.

One possibility is that with the iPhone 4.0 release for the iPad occurring in September or so, the iPad’s capabilities will be vastly improved and the kind of omissions unhappy Keynote users are reporting will be overcome. At the same time, we might also see iPad and desktop Keynote versions each updated, with more commonality of operations. As it stands, I would have to create Keynotes for the iPad on the iPad as my 1GB, many-groups and build files wouldn’t make the transition currently.

Mind you, I don’t believe feature parity is Apple’s aim here, preferring very high end Keynote users to remain with Macbook Pros so as not to cannibalize their sales. (I truly believe a not insignificant proportion of those 50% of switchers who buy from Apple stores do so after they see Keynote in action). And moreover, given my expectation for the next Keynote, it would make feature parity quite difficult.

So with a June release date for Powerpoint 2010 for Windows, and end of 201o for the next Mac version (news of the beta here), Keynote 6 is in the wings and being beta tested by Jobs and others in Apple special events. I’m guessing we will have to be patient until August or September for Keynote to be updated, together with its iPad brother. Of course, if negative reviews continue to accrue for this version (I am starting to see some positive reviews too, such as this one from MacApper) we might see a Version 1.2 released before August but I doubt Apple will admit to defeat so quickly.

As for Powerpoint, I think it’s great that it has made such colossal improvements, acknowledging that it needed more refined features to match the qualities so evident in Keynote. That it has leapt ahead in some regards (it remains to be seen how many average users will actually produce more engaging presentations as a result) is also a good thing, pushing Apple to up the ante too.

But for those who are holding out for a new version of iWork, my guidance would be if you’re happy with your current version of Keynote, as long as its either version 3 or 4, stay with it for now unless special Keynote 5 features like Magic Move are a necessity. If you’re on something older, invest the money and reap the benefits immediately. Getting three or four months of use will likely pay you serious dividends.

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5 responses to “With Powerpoint 2010 released to manufacturing last week, all presenter eyes turn to when Apple will release its answer in the next version of Keynote.

  1. It isn’t PowerPoint 10, it is PowerPoint 2010 which is version 14. Jesus Christ mate, get your facts correct.

  2. In the main section, it was referred to correctly; perhaps I should have put in an apostrophe as in Powerpoint ’10 to make it absolutely clear which version I was referring to…

  3. 10, 14… who cares?

  4. RealeasingKeynote and iWork updates at the start of a new school season make all the sense in the world. It would be wise of Apple to include the iWork update as part of their annual BAck to School Laptop combo. Usually it’s an iPod or a printer, but new and improved productivity software bundled in would be wise.

  5. I think it was pretty clear which version you were refering to seeing as it in bold in the title and several time during the body of the text.
    Very good post Thanks

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