With the passing of Steve Jobs, its primary beta tester, has Apple now orphaned its presentation software, Keynote, which hasn’t received a major update for almost three years. Will dissatisfied users abandon it for Powerpoint (which Jobs despised)?

I’ve just finished reading on my iPad and iPhone Walter Isaacson’s superb biography of Steve Jobs. I knew much of the story he told from the various unauthorised biographies as well as individual blogs written about him, as well as movies such as “Triumph of the Nerds” and “Pirates of Silicon Valley”.

I saw Steve a few times up close when I visited the Apple campus in the last few years, but never had a chance to speak with him. I can certainly fantasise that he many have read some of my blog articles about Apple products such as the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and of course his presentation software of choice, Keynote.

In more recent years, he spoke of hoping to keep Apple’s DNA alive after he was gone by dint of the new Apple building he has commissioned to be built on some previous Hewlett-Packard land. Perhaps he had read of the “Apple DNA” concept on my blog article in December, 2004, a screenshot of which is below. It is on this website that I first suggested Apple ought to make a tablet (I nicknamed it the iScribe) which would be brilliant for Keynote users to remote use:

(If you can find a description of Apple’s DNA earlier than 2004, please let me know!)

I’m sure many readers have fantasised what they would have said to Steve Jobs if they happened to meet him, and perhaps some of you have! My other fantasy includes him walking into my first Presentation Magic  presentation at Macworld 2008, saying  “This sucks!”, then taking over the show to share his presentation ideas. How I and attendees would have had special memories to take with us had that happened!

But before you think it merely fantasy, others in the health professions have indeed been on the receiving end of Jobs’ “advice” with regard to their presentations, especially when they used Powerpoint.

Walter Isaacson’s Jobs’ biography mentions his distaste for Powerpoint, and slideshow-based presentations in general (save for his own keynote presentations) on six occasions. You won’t find Powerpoint or Keynote listed in the book’s index, but in the iBooks’ version I have, you can of course do a global search for keywords. So, here you have them:

Global search of Powerpoint references in "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson

We’ll work our way through some of them because it’s quite illuminating to hear what someone who presentation bloggers and authors rate as one of the world’s best presenters (and the world’s best CEO presenter) has to say about Powerpoint, and presentations in general.

Let’s start with the final reference where Jobs is very ill, and his wife Laurene and others have organised various medical and genetics research staff to investigate where next in his treatment:

One could just imagine Jobs focussing on the expectedly lousy Powerpoint slides of medical researchers while they’re focussing on his genome sequence for which he’s paid $100,000!

But earlier on the book, when Jobs has returned to Apple and is setting about constructing his “A” team to resurrect Apple, we see how he eschews presentations with slideware when he believes it takes from, rather than adds to, the creative process:

“People who know what they’re talking about don’t need Powerpoint”

This might sound strange coming from someone who was the original beta tester for Apple’s Keynote, and who continued to employ it to show Apple’s wares right up to the release of the iPad 2.

But as I have written elsewhere, a Jobs’ keynote does not engage the audience in a dialogue. The audience is engaged with the story he tells of Apple’s products and services, where he employs Keynote like a storyboard, outlining a roadmap. It’s not used as a lecture technology, as an adult training tool, or as a brainstorming of ideas technology. Jobs never hid behind his slides as so many people do, preferring their slides to sell the story. No, Steve emulated for us how the slides were adjuncts to our spoken stories, never getting in the way of what the presenter was saying or doing, but ready to illustrate ideas when words were not enough.

With Steve’s passing who at Apple can carry the torch for Keynote? The obvious answer is Phil Schiller who, after Steve, is most associated with demonstrating iWork in action at Apple keynotes, and showing us updates.

But is Phil invested sufficiently in Keynote to see it continue to be updated with features for a contemporary presentation population, both givers and receivers who have become steadily sophisticated in their expectations.

I say that with some sense of caution however. I was sent a link to YouTube video of several start-ups competing for venture capital, each giving a recent 3 minute presentation.

You can watch it below. But let me remind you that since the release of Lion 10.7 and a point update for Keynote, many in various discussion groups have complained of considerable unhappiness regarding the auto-update feature, which for some means minutes of spinning beach balls for even the slightest of changes to a slide. It has meant on Apple discussion support boards that some have either reverted to Snow Leopard or an earlier edition of Keynote so as to bypass the auto-save feature, or have returned (shudder) to Powerpoint.

So when you watch the video below, bear in mind two things:

1. There is still plenty of room for presentation skills training to judge by the young group of entrepreneurs missing the central point of their presentations, viz.: their failure to appreciate the most important obstacle to overcome as soon as possible is the audience’s fundamental cognition: “Why should I give a $%# about your product?”

2. Feel some empathy for the first presenter, who uses the organiser’s Powerpoint (Mac-based) when it falls over (at 2min56sec):

Notice too what happens when you don’t provide speakers with a vanity monitor, which I have been discussing lately. You’ll see how often the presenters need to look over their shoulder to see what’s happening and lose contact with their audience. Not good when you’ve only got three minutes to persuade people.

You’ll also see many presentation errors with the slides (perhaps I’ll use this as an exercise at my Macworld presentation), which shows I hope that even young, hip entrepreneurs whose presentations really count can so easily be sucked into the Powerpoint vortex of lousy knowledge transfer.

So the mission Steve started in 2003 with Keynote 1.0 is way from over, I believe. Yet the last significant update to Keynote was in 2009 when it moved to version 5, as part of iWork 09, giving us MagicMove (which has become a default Apple transition for their keynotes), some new chart animations, and some remote apps for iDevices.

In two months, it will be three years while its users have patiently waited for Keynote’s multitude of shortcomings to be dealt with in the form of a brand new version, making a significant form and function leap as did Final Cut Pro X.

Yet without Steve there to champion it, as he did in the final period of his life, who within Apple will take it to Tim Cook, hardly renowned so far as a presenter par excellence, and the senior executive team, and offer up an improvement?

Apple keynotes themselves have settled into a very predictable pattern, with incredibly overused build styles, such as the “anvil” whenever amazing financial figures are displayed. In the last few keynotes we have not seen any hints of new effects or styles, although  of course there could be events happening outside of visual awareness, such as the much sought after timeline for more precise animation and build timings.

What’s worse, Apple’s own internal briefings using Keynote which I get to see when my MUG has an official presentation from an Apple rep., are merely Powerpoint converted to Keynote, and I recall conversations with my iWork contact who lamented the generally low level of presentation skills using Keynote performed within Apple’s various divisions. It’s probably why people like me and Larry Lessig were invited to present to the Keynote team, not just to discuss what we wanted in future Keynotes, but for the team to witness how to Present Different.

Prior to the current version 5, the longest time in Keynote’s history  when its users had to patiently wait for a new version was twenty four months, between versions 1 (released January 2003) and 2 (released January 2005).

There were some minor point updates in that time, more for stability than features. Version 2 was a huge improvement, almost like going from OS X 10.1 to its first really useable, put away System 9, version 10.2, Jaguar.

Three years is a very long time, although if one lives in the Windows Powerpoint world, where in the last decade you go from PPT 2003 to 2007 to 2011, it’s not so remarkable. And in the face of continuing updates of significance to the iPad version of Keynote, perhaps not all hope is lost.

But unless we see something new soon, and the current Lion auto-save issue is resolved, I fear issues of abandonment will continue in the face of Apple’s seeming orphaning of what appeared to be one of Steve Job’s favourite applications he loved using himself; one where we watched its use in amazement not just of the products he showed as emblems of Apple’s DNA, at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, but of the “how” he showed them, the likes if which in a CEO we won’t see for a long time.

Vale Steve.

Vale Keynote?

11 responses to “With the passing of Steve Jobs, its primary beta tester, has Apple now orphaned its presentation software, Keynote, which hasn’t received a major update for almost three years. Will dissatisfied users abandon it for Powerpoint (which Jobs despised)?

  1. I was at that “Presentation Magic” session in 2008. It definitely DID NOT suck.

    But I wouldn’t have minded if Steve had come in. 🙂

  2. Kawaii Gardiner

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the major push they’ll make in the future is to take the ‘guts’ of the iOS version (which is modern and optimised for the latest Mac technologies) and then build upon it by expanding functionality with a nice new UI layer on top – IIRC not too long ago there was a job advertisement specifically finding someone to work on the next version of iWork. For all the faults of iWork and feeling of abandonment (minus the minor Lion update) it still is a darn site better than the experience I’ve had so far with Microsoft Office 2011 which pretty much has been abandoned by the lack of any real updates to addressing no only Lion compatibility issues but just all around crappiness when running on Mac OS X; the lack of proper language integration is the best example where I’m constantly forced to use the US or AUS dictionary even though I keep telling Office to use the UK dictionary by default (it reads the keyboard settings rather than the regional/language settings like any normally programmer should be doing).

  3. “(If you can find a description of Apple’s DNA earlier than 2004, please let me know!)”

    You basically described an Apple Newton.

    As for Apple’s DNA as a phrase, Apple itself has used it many times. Here’s one from 2002: “Innovation is in Apple’s DNA, so the protection of trade secrets is crucial to our success.”


    You’re repeating things Apple has already done or said before you.

    • Thanks for that. I call it the George Harrison effect where he unconsciously incorporated riffs from The Chiffons “He’s so fine” into “My Sweet Lord”.

  4. Yeah except George Harrison wasn’t trying to sell “My Sweet Lord” song to The Chiffons! 😉

  5. And both Harrison and the Chiffons got their were subconsciously channelling the song “O Happy Day” according to some music researcher I remember hearing.

  6. Dear Les:

    I too have some desires for the next version of Keynote, though I think they mostly are different from yours, possible complements; I’ll probably turn them into a blog post of their own.

    As for the entrepreneurs on that video, their problem is not the presentation; their problem is their lack of managerial judgment. Someone with managerial judgment knows to hire a professional to help with the highly specialized skill of writing, designing supporting materials for, and rehearsing a short business pitch.

    (Having done that service in the past, my expectation is that a three minute pitch takes about ten hours to write/edit/discuss/write… and at least four hours of the presenter’s time for clarifications about business model and delivery prep. I’m guessing none of the presenters did anything close to that amount of work or contracted it out to a professional [team].)

    The problem with their presentations is not the “deck” or the delivery. It’s that they 1) seem to have no idea what their business’s value proposition is; 2) have no clue about what to emphasize about their business plan; 3) made no effort to, how you so delicately put it, tell the audience “why [they] should give a $%# about [their] product?”

    These are all content matters, not presentation matters.

    A vanity monitor would help, but these presenters don’t know how to perform in front of an audience. If they knew their presentations well, they would only need a fraction of a second to glance at the screen to make sure their slides have advanced correctly; if knew how to move about a stage, they’d know how to steal that fraction-of-a-second glance in a natural way at the turns.


    • If you look around the YouTube site, you’ll see scores of such videos from various recent “playoffs” organised by State and Municipal Chambers of Commerce in some effort to kickstart the economy via entrepreneurs. It’s also a way for MBA types to jump into the deep end of real world pitching for real money. My argument was that even the young hipster dudes are sucked into traditional way of presenting, and lost when the presentation goes south. That’s about knowing your material and using the slides to augment that knowledge not substitute for it. When I create my slides, especially for audiences who’ve come to expect something special from me, what always informs my presentation content is if I could continue on if my chosen technologies failed, and it was just me centre-stage.

      I suggest such a challenging proposition to all my Presentation Magic classes – imagine some random glitch gets in to the system: could you continue to tell your story? Would it help to have a printout of the slides in front of you as an aide memoir for such an event? In a workshop setting, where people expect to work, do you have some tasks up your sleeve which you could slip in at such a moment to buy you time to fix your problems? In a three minute presentation, are you better off using unbreakable models or objects to better illustrate what you’re on about?

  7. I agree, YouTube is full of bad presentations made by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. And many of those people are young hipsters.

    I disagree that they are “sucked into” that form of presenting. They _choose_ that form of presenting because it’s easy and they don’t understand the importance of presentations to success. Even after decades of management thinkers and educators making the point that the perfect business plan is useless if the investors can’t be convinced to invest.

    I can’t talk about MBA “types” (which usually don’t have a MBA), but all my MBA students have to give a one-minute pitch (of their class projects) twice in each of my courses, and during that pitch the classroom screens show a clock counting down from 1:00. After all, when they meet an investor/boss/client in an elevator or the bar at an industry conference, they can’t exactly say “let me show you this nice Keynote deck on my iPad.”


  8. Sadly, I am one of those contemplating switching to PowerPoint…the auto-save fiasco is proving to be fatal. I produce the shows for a major motivational speaker (who even presented at Apple last year) and with all the imbedded videos the Keynote file is nearly 4 gb. The supposed fix in the last release of Lion does not solve the spinning beach ball of death nightmare. Clearly nobody at Apple has used their own software for professional presentations. I’ve looked into downgrading Keynote but that doesn’t appear a great solution either. So I’m starting to look at PP again, with trepidation. If Apple abandons Keynote, as it appears, I can only hope a start up company will create a new program.

Leave a Reply to Clyde Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s