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Should iWork not be updated, it will be a strange reversal where Apple products are named in an outdated fashion, while Microsoft is ahead.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.