It’s that time of the year again.
The time of the year when expectations for new Apple products and services reaches a fever pitch. This year it’s especially intense because expectations seem to be so high following a very long time between drinks. The drinks in this case being Apple’s entry into a new product field where, as it has on memorable occasions in the last ten years, allegedly mature technology domains are ripe for disruption – only they don’t know it yet.
Recently, the “pundocracy” have been alleging that with Tim Cook at the helm, Apple’s streak of innovations have come to an end. The Samsung range of cellphones, especially the S4 has been cited as an exemplar of Apple being left in the innovation dustbin. Mooted devices such as an iWatch and AppleTV – not the current box, but a real screen device – have not realised, and this has only added to the frustration of Apple watchers and investors.
So this Monday (Tuesday in Australia), many will be observing Apple’s offerings, some superficially so, eager to get their hands on newly announced products and services. A heady proportion will be announced for release that day or week, others for later in the year, since this is after all a developers’ conference for the purpose of showing new software with plenty of lead time for a developers to release their wares in September or October.
But there will be a group who will look beyond the products on show, at those Apple crew and guests making their demos and announcements. They’ll be looking not at what Tim Cook, Phil Schiller and maybe Jony Ive announce, but at how they make their announcements.
Since 2003, Apple has used its keynotes to secretly demonstrate new software for those who looked closely enough. Starting that year, when Steve Jobs spoke of being a beta tester for Keynote, Apple’s presentation software which was designed to take on Microsoft’s Powerpoint, Apple has shown advanced editions of Keynote as the tool to show new official products. Powerpoint itself had been Microsoft’s first software purchase (apart from the initial Desk Operating System from Seattle Computer Products for use in IBM PCs), intended for the Mac Plus/SE to make black and white overhead slides – foils – using new Laserwriters. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 a five year deal was struck with Bill Gates to have MS Office for the Mac continue in production, with Internet Explorer becoming the de facto web browser for the Macintosh.
It’s not surprising then that the same year Keynote was released, Apple’s own browser was released too, in the form of Safari. And it was ten years ago, at the same Macworld at Moscone where Monday’s keynote will be held, that Apple introduced 17″ and 12″ Powerbooks. And it was there that Apple told all those who would listen that a post-PC world was on the horizon, with predictions that laptops would soon outsell desktops, much like tablets will soon outsell laptops, leaving desktops to do the truck-like heavy lifting, such as scientific number crunching, animation rendering and the like.
In the ten years since Keynote 1.0 was released, Apple has added new software to rival Office, such as Numbers (Excel) and Pages (Word), and brought those same OS X apps to the iPad in iOS form. The introduction of iCloud was meant to provide synchronisation between the platforms in the same way one can with Evernote, and it’s hoped that WWDC on Monday brings major improvements and developments in cloud computing from Apple.
There have also been incremental updates to Keynote along the way, bringing it from a functional but anaemic software which was hardly a match feature-wise for Powerpoint 2003, to an outstanding platform for helping transform a presenter’s implicit knowledge into a format to help transfer that knowledge to others.
Powerpoint 2010/11 has transformed itself too and on superficial inspection looks a lot like Keynote. Power users can make it do great things, but for a ten year veteran of Keynote like myself who coaches others in presentation skills across both platforms, Powerpoint for all its features remains clunky and Keynote easy on the eye and the hand.
That said, Apple has treated Keynote with seeming disdain, last updating it with any significant feature improvement in 2009. I have it on reasonable authority that in the time since that last official update, Apple was preparing to release a significant update, but pulled back at the last minute. Keen observers of Apple’s keynotes, such as WWDC, will occasionally report feeling as if there was a glitch or oversight in the narrative, as if there was a last moment change. Perhaps because a product didn’t meet quality standards or deals weren’t signed in time.
In the case of Keynote, Apple’s unexpected success with the iPad, and then the development of iBooks, has seen resources thrown at iWork for the iPad, much as we have heard stories of the OS X team being diluted to provide crew for iOS 7, which many commentators have asserted needs an “urgent” facelift.
Thus, keen eyes will be observing this week to see if Apple either hints at an iWork update via new features on display in Keynote (to tell Apple’s story of new services and products), or perhaps a section devoted directly to iWork updates, perhaps with the inclusion of a new software to the suite.
Why an update to Keynote feature set urgently needed
In the fours and a half years since Keynote’s last sprucing up, much has occurred in the world of presenting, leaving aside Powerpoint’s updates.
We have new platforms such as Prezi, an effort to move away from the linearity of the standard slide show paradigm.
We have online services such as Slideshare, and Presentate. And we also have iPad based iOS apps for specialist analysis, such as performed by Asymco’s Horace Dediu in the form of the free Perspective app.
But in the years after 2009, there has been another disruptive technology introduced which I fear Apple has neglected, worth billions, which it can now be a part of… and that is MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses which are seeing colleges and universities scrambling to adapt to, including developing their own. Apple provides a conduit for courses too, using its iTunes U app and services.
There is also a massive swing to online continuing education within industries, professions and vocations, where the old linearity and style of Powerpoint simply won’t cut it anymore.
That style, which I personally have always thought was incredibly overused and abusive of students in tertiary settings, much less business meetings (you know, all text and pixelated images), will simply not cut it for either MOOCs or Continuing Education.
Those online trainings, where individuals work through a series of modules at their own pace – but which need to be passed at a certain level of competence before moving to the next – require high levels of quality multimedia production to maintain viewer engagement. There is a great deal of competition for attention on both the screen and in their pockets via smartphone distractions.
I’ve already seen one business-oriented training course, for which I used Keynote to create the visuals, change midstream from a “stand and deliver” live course, to an online course, with minimal changes to the Keynote files, since they weren’t the usual Powerpoint in the first place.
You can see some demos at the site, http://workmindset.com, and the voiceover is my work as well (yeah, multi-talented, huh?).
Here’s where an opportunity exists for Apple to become disruptive in another game, one worth billions. To do what I did with the online learning program, I had to go outside Keynote’s limitations, something its users have learnt to do since version 1.0.
I had to use two screenshot apps, Voila for stills and Screenflow for movies, as well as third parties for images and movies requiring payment of royalties. I also incorporated animated backgrounds featuring professional looping Quicktime movies to bring some “energy” onto certain slides, as well as themes from third parties which better suited my purposes than Keynote’s default themes.
I had to be inventive with callouts, where certain areas of the slide were highlighted and other areas backgrounded since there is no laser pointer to show the way (ugh!). And I had to use Screenflow to record quite complex builds where I needed exquisite timing of visuals and sounds which Keynote could not provide with sufficient precision, showing in glaring spotlight its major deficiency with respect to a timeline. We see these in all manner of Apple software from Garageband, through iMovie, onto Motion and Final Cut X.
The last two also incorporate third party modules to enhance their capabilities and the reader is referred to Noise Industries‘ FxFactory for examples which could find their way into a Keynote Pro should it adopt such a modular system. While it’s nice to see a supporting ecosystem of themes, images and movies for Keynote, none so far add to the workflow the way FxFactory and its ilk bring extra competencies to Final Cut X or Motion. Indeed, some have remarked to me that a Keynote Pro would see a merging of the simplicity and ease of use of Keynote with the professional capabilities of Motion.
I want to make a reference to two more third party applications and resources which I am exploiting more often, especially to improve upon Keynote’s text and graphic effects. The first is an application from Synium, called Animationist which allows wonderful moving and changing text, exported as masked Quicktime movies. Only in version 1, the sooner Apple buys this and brings it into Keynote the better. When you download the demo, note its ease of use of a timeline. Here’s a YouTube video to tempt you with:
The second is a bespoke service from India which I discovered via a Google search when I was under time pressure and needed some ready-made visuals, rather than creating them from scratch. It’s an Indian company called Chillibreeze, and their Keynote service is called Muezart. I found them delightful people to do business with. I needed a way to show change over time, moving from low level abilities to high.
Here’s the “tachometer” effect I ended up with ($4.99), for the launch of the workmindset.com program last week (wait until the very end to see all the components in the tachometer I purchased):
So come Monday, there will be a legion of Keynote users who will once more look past the content of the keynote (although we will no doubt be very interested in what’s on show) to look at the process of Keynote.
Will we see at long last an update and will we hear of new products and services Apple will be releasing to disrupt yet another billion dollar marketplace ripe for the picking?