Will a new iWork and iLife be revealed at this week’s Apple “Back to the Mac” event? It had better in the case of Keynote – Powerpoint has caught up, believe it or not…

When all eyes and ears turn to Cupertino this Wednesday for Apple’s “Back to the Mac” event,  observers will have their own agendas they’ll be following in the hope that Apple reveals something of interest to them.

Users of Apple’s iLife and iWork suites of applications will be looking especially closely at what will be released. iLife is surely one of Apple’s jewels in the crown for its consumer Macs, providing Mac users with a value proposition unmatched in the Windows world. Each of the apps integrates with the other, and represents “as good as it gets” software solutions which come bundled with each new Mac.

To achieve better outcomes of a professional standard means leaping to an expensive Pro set of suites, such as the Final Cut Studio. It represents a huge leap above the domestic iLife which for many people including some professionals, represents “good enough” computing.

Apple’s office suite, iWork, used to come bundled with all new Macs as a 30day fully functional demo, only requiring purchasing a serial number online to allow continued full use after that trial period elapses. That bundling stopped some time ago, and it’s now a 500MB download for those who want to use it in demo mode.

Both iWork for the Mac and iLife were last updated in January 2009, when Phil Schiller performed Apple’s last keynote at Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

During this time iWork’s principal competition, Microsoft Office, has recently updated to Office 2010 for Windows, and a few days after the Back to the Mac will update to Office 2011 for the Macintosh.

Should iWork not be updated, it will be a strange reversal where Apple products are named in an outdated fashion, while Microsoft is ahead. But the stars are aligning which strongly suggest both Apple suites will be updated this coming week.

The blogosphere has begun reporting back dating on iWork/iLife orders, a usually reliable sign of updates on their way. We know a new Keynote version is out there, starting in January this year when Steve Jobs revealed the iPad and we saw new Keynote builds.

The stopping of the .Mac service on November 8 (not just the ability to update its content, but now to access it at all) suggests MobileMe, iWork.com and iWeb will see significant updates, hopefully with new functionality including sharing and social networking aptitudes.

More importantly, with updates to Microsoft’s Office suite, Apple must improve its iWork suite very very soon. iWork’s jewel in the crown, Keynote – the only Apple product Steve Jobs telegraphs by his use of it that an update is upcoming – has been caught and in some areas of functionality, surpassed by Powerpoint, both in Windows and Mac versions.

I’ve played with both, and the luring of Windows users to the Mac via Keynote’s superb media and font handling is now no longer feasible – Powerpoint has caught up that much. Mind you it’s caught up by adopting an incredible amount of Keynote’s look and feel. Even if it feels like a nightmare to navigate around its interface which lacks simplicity and kindness to new users.

In the Mac version, it has several features which exceed the functions of Keynote. It allows movies to be dropped in, framed and angled while Keynote remains flat by comparison. Yes, you can rotate movies, but its current editing capability is poor by comparison. Take a look below at the screenmovie I created in beta showing me manipulating Powerpoint’s media controls.

Powerpoint has its own advanced Masking abilities, and has cleverly found a way to visualise and control layers on a single slide, something Keynote is currently deficient in… how the Keynote team didn’t include some kind of Coverflow ability to move through a slide’s layers is beyond my understanding. Here’s how Powerpoint 2011 does it, below, using a ppt file I downloaded:

(Curiously, in his Wall Street Journal review, Walt Mossberg describes this effect of seeing a slide’s layers as Powerpoint’s ability to “dynamically reorder PowerPoint slides in a 3-D view”. I wonder how closely he actually played with Powerpoint, as I have described this as a feature unique to Powerpoint.)

Another important differentiator is Powerpoint’s ability to better employ its presenter mode. So overlooked by Windows users for whom setting up a second monitor has traditionally been a pain and because convention organisers give you a monitor to work in mirror mode, presenter mode allows you to see the current slide (the one your audience is viewing) as well as the next slide’s next build on your Mac or PC. I can’t tell you how many times in Presentation Magic workshops I have revealed how I don’t use notes because I know the story coming up on the next slide. Even experienced presenters sometimes are unaware of this facility. On the Mac, you can swap displays in presenter mode, such that your audience now sees what you see on the Mac. There is no reason to do so of course unless you are teaching how to use Keynote or now, Powerpoint.

But Powerpoint now goes several steps further. It actually plays the current slide in presenter mode, while in Keynote it remains static, even if a movie is playing. The slide ready to progress bar, which is green when Keynote is ready to go to the next slide, and red when it is in the middle of a transition or build and can’t progress, in Powerpoint is replaced by a green progress bar, which gives immediate visual feedback about how far through your slide deck you’ve come.

A third difference is restarting your countdown timer. On the Mac, to restart the timer, you need to escape the presentation, and start again. In Powerpoint 2011, there is a restart arrow to zero and begin the counter once more (as will advancing to the next slide).

In the screen shot below, you can see all these elements at work, plus Powerpoint’s ability to, on the fly, adjust slide note font size, and add notes to the next slide, which might be useful if asked questions during your presentations or as a personal reminder for a presentation debrief about which slides worked and which didn’t – strongly recommended, by the way.

Mind you, Powerpoint’s presenter view lacks many of the preference settings Keynote 09 possesses, and I could not locate a means to countdown your slide show, ie. time remaining rather than elapsed time. Additionally, Powerpoint as well as its siblings in Office 2011, all perpetuate the use of a floppy disk icon to signal the “Save” command, something an eighteen year old freshman has probably never seen in his or her computing lifetime!

I’ll have more to say about this and other UI elements of Microsoft products in a forthcoming blog entry.

Finally, as much as I praise Powerpoint 2011 (if only to facetiously place a rocket where it belongs) its builds and animation are lame by comparison to Keynote. It still can’t do a proper slow dissolve which Keynote 1.0 achieved in 2003, and its collection of transitions, while attempting to emulate Keynote (I am so tired of seeing Cube transitions – get over it already), looks better matched to your basic Windows Movie Maker software to show the holiday movies, than a professional presentation software meant to persuade people to either part with their money, or change the way they think.

So, will iWork be updated this week? Well, the gap between iWork 08, released August 7, 2008 and iWork 09, released January 6, 2009 is 16 months. If it’s released this week, iWork 11 (if that’s what it will be called) will be 22 months in the baking – that’s a heck of a long time when you have Office breathing down your neck, as well as open source office apps, not to mention non-linear Flash-based Prezi.

Keynote needs now to step up to the plate, integrate better with its baby brother on the iPad (I’m sure this is part of the plan) and move to a new level, leaving Powerpoint in its wake as just another slideshow app.

I’ve been sending the Keynote team screen movies of effects I’ve either created or viewed in movies, on TV, or on the web. News and current affairs programs in particular are marvellous sources of engaging visuals, from The Daily Show with John Stewart, through to Rachel Maddow as well as PBS, BBC and History Channel specials.

The kind of effects these programs employ is what 2011 audiences will expect. No longer do audiences passively drift off into imagination when bored and disengaged, they actively pursue other attention-grabbing activities on their iPhones and iPads and Blackberries, making the task of holding their concentration even more difficult in 2011.

Keynote can now leap ahead if only Steve Jobs has allowed the team to exercise their imaginations. Not everyone wants to present like Steve, as good as he is at demonstrating Apple’s products and vision. Not all presentations are simple exercises in placing huge text in iStockphoto cliched visuals.

There is a world of science communicators ready to move to another non-Powerpoint level (you would shudder to think how many top scientists and academics still use Powerpoint for Windows 2003) in order to communicate within their communities and just as importantly to those outside their depth of knowledge, but who have the power to help science advance or to withhold funds and stifle pure research to all our detriment.

Yes, I think it’s that important that we find better ways to communicate complex ideas in 2011, and I will be bitterly disappointed if:

1. Keynote is not updated very soon, preferably this week,


2. it’s just another point update, with a few more transitions and build effects.

The presentation world and its audience deserves better.

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20 responses to “Will a new iWork and iLife be revealed at this week’s Apple “Back to the Mac” event? It had better in the case of Keynote – Powerpoint has caught up, believe it or not…

  1. Nick Creaby-Attwood

    I partly agree. Keynote needs an update and Powepoint has caught up with some features, particularly the embedding of video. However, Powerpoint is still desparately clunky and requires so much effort to create presentations that are aesthetically pleasing – something that is so easy in Keynote.
    Hoping for an update this week so that we can move forward to a new paradigm of presenting – but not terribly worried about Powerpoint.

    • Nick, it’s also about mindshare. For those of us well-versed in Keynote, whether we started there or migrated from Powerpoint, we’re very unlikely to give it up. But there are many many others who will always take the path of least resistance – staying with PPT – despite the fact, as you write and I concur – that working with PPT is the path to presentation change resistance. Of course, they’d be others who are happy that those millions produce clunky presentations, which benefits the rest of us, but when you have to an audience member yourself…

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Keynote desperately needs easy-to-use INDEPENDENT timelines for transitions, sounds, animations, etc., as well as the ability to control sounds across slides. More PRACTICAL advances–not mere feature bloat that adds useless features.

    • @Don: I’ve discussed my beseeching the Keynote team re your points, so didn’t want to cover it again, especially since Powerpoint 2011 is no better.

  3. Completely agree. Additionally, Keynote on the iPad has been an embarrassment even with the recent upgrade. One thing I would like to see in both Keynotes is a laser pointer option and the ability to draw over the screen during presentations.

  4. I think we should acknowledge Powerpoint has been superior in terms of scripting and logic control (VB). This might not mean much to KN users now because they just can’t do any of it save for static slide linking to screen objects (eg. a button image linking to a single set slide).

    There are a few ways KN could open this up and make KN ’11 a kind of Hypercard of the 21st century. Already professional coders/designers/animators use KN to prototype applications, animations and interfaces in several industries b/c of KNs speed and simplicity but it’s hard to lever it much distance for dynamic content. All kinds of interactivity and sophisticated non-linear story-lines would be possible with either properly integrated Applescript (complex) or some intelligently accessible global variables to drive things along (powerful). Be it ‘Load the company name your presenting to into a Global String Variable to be used on 35 different slides’ or ‘goto slide Variable Finish-up which changes over time’ or simply ‘Goto Slide # as an auto-transition’.

    More involved uses might be ‘poll these questions from audience’, ‘graph these polled values’, ‘download the latest text strings from your RSS feed and display Strings in a text box you can style just how you would a regular one’ etc etc.

    Applescript/Javascript would be difficult learning for most of the current KN demographic I’m guessing (but would provide better tools for serious designers commissioned for/selling templates). Global variables would be child’s play and fun to use from novice to coders.

  5. Speaking of Science demonstrations / visualisations this is why I keep plugging the Quartz Composer framework to the Keynote developers and anybody who’s listening:


    The link is a movie rendering of a QC file in action. If KN +properly+ implemented the Quartz Composer framework, this would enable all the composition variables to be published and values set by KN users. So you want to see the visualisation with x bosons, y quarks, over decay period z just enter the data live in KN. (Obviously I know nothing about quantum mech. ;) )

    Mind you if KN does ever implement or one better +integrate+ QC into KN I’d *definitely* be wanting encrypted QC files to protect my IP if I was selling QC based themes (which would be very cool to be able to do, we’re talking make your own builds, transitions, animated backgrounds essentially). QC isn’t on iPad todate as it can be GPU intense – matters not to me.

    Bonus point of difference for Apple: MS/Windows has nothing like the QC framework (although they’ve been spotted advertising for QC programmers on one occasion).

  6. Thanks for shedding light on some of the new features in PPT 2011. I’ve been working with it for a few weeks and wasn’t aware of some of those things, especially the presenter mode changes.
    I personally feel that you’ve greatly underemphasized the importance of usability though. Working with PowerPoint has been the biggest pain in the a$$ these past two weeks, compared to using Keynote. I was hoping for some improvements from the previous Office and there are absolutely NONE as far as usability is concerned. But as you mentioned in a reply above, most users are oblivious to the fact that there is a better way in Keynote.

    I’m looking forward to some great new features in the next version of Keynote.

    • @Nathan perhaps I wasn’t specific enough in referring to pp2011 interface issues, but it would have to at least double its functionality over keynote for me to move to it and confront its interface and UI issues. Indeed, it’s why many of us persevered with keynote 1.0 when its feature set was much lower than PowerPoint for mac or PC. We could see that its cinematic qualities plus simple interface could allow creativity to come to the fore and help move us and audiences beyond the 6 x 6 cognitive style of PowerPoint.

      • Alastair Leith

        Amen to these comments. I predicted Ribbon bloat (on top of its existing morbid obesity). Looks like they offered bloat (yet to test drive PPT 2011). If MS haven’t added numeric positioning they haven’t learnt a thing from Keynote (they’ve just tried to feature map it — how surprising [forgive the sarcasm]).

        Designers don’t want to frig around all day just to get each object in place. And they don’t want modal dialogues to make adjustments. Guess that goes for Presenters who choose KN too. I hope PPT 2011 at least fixed that or its a fail in my book.

        Context sensitive Inspectors beat cramped toolbars/ribbons/buttons-to-modal-dialogues every day of the week.

  7. Hi,
    Greetings from Porto, Portugal.
    I’m waiting, too, for new versions of iLife and iWork, to try to refresh my works that can be seen on my site and on my YouTube channel at
    Best regards from
    José Couto

  8. Les, I always appreciate your insight as well as thoughts from your followers. You have a keen grasp on the subject. Thank you. I’m still praying for the slide gallery you requested many months ago. I have so many slides but need a single holding system to pull from existing slides through the media window or other. Wow would this help! I would also be game for a professional version of keynote. However, that is a long shot. I share your sentiments with regards for expecting big improvements this week. How could we not be bitterly disappointed if they delay longer?

    • @Shelley I’ve been pushing hard for a gallery similar to what Usher is now doing for movies: a place to collate, and tag, as well as manipulate individual slides which can then be used to build a presentation. I have a colleague whom I have helped to construct a four module keynote based training in corporate well-being which needs to be tweaked for a variety of professions, eg advertising, accounting, medicine etc. Each contains a core of slides but different examples, and of course even within a profession there are company examples to work with. There has to be a better way than merely creating multiple keynote files to keep track, as well as become more creative.

      • Alastair Leith

        Another good example of where easy-to-use global variables could come into play, Les. A Goto Set kof slides transition (or Goto Slide n) of slides transition. Where Set k is a user definable list of slide numbers (eg 22-28) or n is a starting slide number. I remembered another potential time and brain saver last night, too. Using global variables to assign the colours to your presentation.

        User definable and switchable Colour palette’s: Instead of choosing literal colours in the colour picker for your texts and objects, you assign colour variables to some or all of your materials. A presenter could +Switch+ between sets of colour variables in a Global Variables Inspector or on screen at the click of a button with a smidge of Variable control logic.

        So colours might be as follows. Set A: ‘Theatre colours’ for a dark auditorium space. Set B: Brightly lit room (high contrast colours). Set C: Colour-blind-readable-graphs version. The possible implementation methods are a few but I see each colour variable as having a name, being defined as a list of inkwells and being assignable to objects just like a colour. I see it being assigned it’s index (which selects a colour from the list by the index number) in a Globals inspector (for want of a more catchy name).

        You could have Global Variables for text point size and object scale factors. One set for a large auditorium one set for the wall of a small room.

        Of just the 5 colours and 2 room sizes that makes for 10 different KN decks in one easy to edit deck. Add the 4 different profession-based slide modules you mentioned, Les and we are up 40 different KN decks of slides in one deck. So changing a single word (spelliong!) and instead of opening and editing 40 KN files (the status quo) it could be done in one KN file (the vision!). A bit of a time and HD saver no?

  9. Exhibit A. This is how Quartz Composer does a similar thing to what I’m suggesting. It’s called a multiplexer patch (code module).


  10. Well…. that was a disappointing Apple Event.

    The wait for iWork ’11 continues…. sigh….

    • Yes, it was certainly not a sure thing we’d see iWork… it would have been the first time a new iWork was not shown at a Macworld… who knows, it may coincide with 2011 Macworld as an olive branch to IDG and the Mac fraternity… or it will wait another 8 months for WWDC. On the other hand, we may see it appear on the new Mac App Store

  11. Les, I ‘ve enjoyed your info on Keynote, which I’ve used for several years, after some frustrating years with Powerpoint for the same reasons you and others have alluded to. I would like to see Keynote have the ability to draw and write (or type) on the projected screen during a presentation (on the fly) to respond to the audience, as you have mentioned before and John Kubie stated on October 18th. In one of your previous blogs you discussed the frustration in trying to do this with a Wacom blank screen such as the Intuos. Now that we have the Cintiq available it should be much easier. However, Keynote hasn’t had that capability, as far as I know. You did mention that 3rd party apps are available, but I don’t know what they are. Could you elaborate on this? These apps wouldn’t be necessary, however, if Keynote would provide this capability. Hopefully, it will.

  12. Since the Mac App Store makes it’s debut 6 January, perhaps we’ll see iWork ’11 then.

    • Yes, it’s almost a certainty, isn’t it? I am preparing a blog Article about it, with some thoughts about my expectations for both keynote, and Apple in general.

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