Powerpoint so far has Apple beat when it comes to working with object layers on a Keynote slide. But perhaps the solution is in your pocket (if you carry an iPhone there)

One of my much hoped for features for the next update to Keynote is a more user friendly, visually appealing means to organise objects on a slide.

Power users have often given their presentation some extra oomph – a Wow! factor – by having objects appear from behind other objects, move to the front and then perhaps disappear behind other objects. This gives a presentation something of a 3D feel, helping to move away from boring text displayed in a flat disengaging manner. You can try and get away with plentiful text by adding some shadows, animations and greying out sections of text to highlight others.

As humans we’re built to see the world in 3D to help us detect movement, distance and relationships between objects both to defend ourselves against potential danger, as well as to attract us to food sources. There is also the small aspect of sexual attraction and seeing the world or at least a potential sexual partner in (fully rounded) 3D has much to offer (ahem!).

For some time now, both Keynote and Powerpoint have allowed users to move and align objects on a slide, sending them forward to backward, or to the front of a stack of objects or to the back.

Unusually for Apple, there has never been a visual means for doing this on a Keynote slide. You couldn’t drag an object behind another – you had to use a primitive menu item (or its equivalent keyboard shortcut), as you can see below in Keynote 5:

Voila_Capture4This is hardly intuitive, easy or granular. There was a menu bar too to give a visual reference to layering –  Front Back - but it’s very primitive in Keynote 5:

Voila_Capture7

And because of Apple’s insistence on not allowing you to rename groups or objects in your build order inspector (this covers all versions of Keynote including 6), you get, below, these kinds of confusing build lists where you have to really be on task to know which object or line is selected.Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 9.06.37 pm

Voila_Capture6

Notice in the build list just above with all the line builds, it finishes on build 19. But if there were 25 builds you couldn’t extend the build window to see them all in one hit; you have to scroll down the list, which means the very top builds, perhaps where you’ll drag these last builds, scroll off the table. Not good.

Keynote 6 has improved this somewhat so you can enlarge your build list and see all your builds – no more scrolling.

Each time you click on a build, the object will highlight on the slide. If the object is hidden behind layers of other objects, you won’t see its outline or a transparent effect so you can see just which object you have grabbed, but merely its resize handles – again, not very useful. I’ve occasionally found myself trying to move such “highlighted” objects, but I’ve only succeeded in moving the top most object. Meaning I can get caught in a merry go round of undo and redo commands. Clearly, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Over on the iPad and the iPhone and Keynote for iOS6 and now 7, we got our first clue that an interface change was on its way for desktop Keynote. Because we move objects around iOS screens with our fingers – we actually “touch” the object – Keynote’s user interface on them needed a different paradigm.

Here’s what it looks like with respect to object layers on the iPhone:

IMG_2245

So having highlighted an object – its handles show up as blue dots – we can move it forward and backward with our fingers, not by touching the object but via a slider control. The iPad controls are much the same, and you see notches on the line corresponding to elements on the slide.

This interface design was not found on Keynote 5, and has not made its way into Keynote 6 at this point. The look and feel of an older Keynote for iOS has been reproduced in Keynote 6, suggesting its new interface is not yet fully baked, below:

Voila_Capture8

Notice how the iOS7 version slider controls have not made their way into desktop Keynote.

A potential solution to see the arrangement of the objects in a visual way has already been offered to Apple from Microsoft’s Powerpoint for Mac 2011.

Below is a video I made after firing up my Powerpoint and importing a slide with multiple objects lined up overlapping each other which I created in Keynote 6, and exported as a Powerpoint file. It has ten overlapping elements and in the video you can see how Powerpoint represents these objects and allows you to move them and change their order. Note, however, that in moving them, their location on the slide doesn’t swap with the object it’s replacing – that has to be done manually once you’ve satisfied with your new order.

Naturally, Apple doesn’t want to blindly copy what Microsoft has done here, and kudos to its design team. I don’t use Powerpoint sufficiently to know if this solution works out well, so let me know if you use it frequently and if it’s just a pretty face or is truly functional.

Apple needs to come up with a better solution than just a slider control. And I do believe that solution is in your pocket if you have an iPhone with iOS7 installed.

One of the new features of iOS7 is its new Safari browser with a new twist on something that’s been around for a long while: Coverflow. In the Safari browser, Coverflow has become tabbed browser such that we can see all the open tabs in an animated form, as seen  from my own iPhone 5 in landscape mode:

I think perhaps now you’re starting to get the picture. Let’s take the same 10 objects inserted onto a Keynote file I used for the Powerpoint movie, and play a little with how it might look in Keynote 6. When you watch the video, below, note that I have taken some liberties with the rather empty tool bar and filled it with the front and back tabs, and played the same iPhone movie, this time in portrait mode, with the objects (the websites) popping a little to make the connection between scrolling through the popup movie and the highlighting or calling out of the object on the Keynote slide as it become the front object in the movie. It’s not pretty or that accurate, but you’ll get the idea:

What do you think? Wouldn’t it be preferable to have a visual analogue of  object layering on a Keynote slide rather than rather primitive Forward and Back tabs?

If a dumb shmo like me can come up with this, let’s hope the geniuses at Apple can bring us something truly special and functional.

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3 responses to “Powerpoint so far has Apple beat when it comes to working with object layers on a Keynote slide. But perhaps the solution is in your pocket (if you carry an iPhone there)

  1. Brilliant! I love the simple (and retrospectively obvious) solution of using Apple’s already developed method. I am a diehard Keynote fan, but the one thing I think PPT has over Keynote is the method of viewing and rearranging the objects in that 3D space. Here’s hoping someone at Apple is reading your blog!!

    • Thanks Dan.

      I wonder if Microsoft poached a UI designer from Apple to give Powerpoint this superior interface! But then again, it also has a rudimentary timeline built into it too, something Apple wouldn’t do unless it could come up with something special. It does this for a number of its pro and consumer apps so I have to wonder if it’s finally on its way now that Keynote has been re-written.

      Ta for your comment,
      Les

  2. I agree with your thought. But, I still feel not too bad with the arrangement function. I know that Powepoint now has a special way to arrange objects. But, I am not sure that it dramatically increase the productivity.

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