Daily Archives: October 30, 2013

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:

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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

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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:

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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:

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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.

Finding inspiration for better presentations (in the light of Keynote 6): Virgin America’s cabin safety video

In a previous blog entry, I used the comments section in reply to a reader, suggesting he follow my lead and look to TV current affairs programs to seek inspiration, especially in the face of the denuding of Keynote’s feature set.

The invitation was really about looking far and wide for inspiration for persuasive message delivery, especially in the face of so many other distractions competing for your audience’s attention.

No one knows this better than commercial airlines. Remember all those videos as the flight is taxiing which ask you to pull down firmly to get the flow of oxygen going into your mask in the case of the loss of cabin pressure?

ASIDE: (This very infrequent event concerns commercial pilots more than the loss of an engine inflight. It means getting down from cruise altitude – which might be 40,000 feet to one where passengers and crews can breathe without assistance – about 16,000 feet: uncomfortable, but doable.

This is because those masks are attached to a collection of spherical cylinders distributed throughout the aircraft cabin which each contain about three minutes worth of oxygen. Which means a rapid descent about three times faster than the usual. Expect busted ear drums and much discomfort and panic in passengers.)

So when they say “pull down firmly” on the yellow masks which drop down from the ceiling, they mean give it a firm yank which breaks a seal which starts the oxygen flow. If you just pull it down gently, and stick it over your nose, nothing will happen. In this case, the placebo effect will only get you so far! In a recent Qantas incident, this is what  happened with many passengers complaining after landing that their oxygen masks didn’t operate. It’s more that they were oblivious to the cabin safety message denoting “firmly”. You’ve been notified!

In the video below, from Virgin America, its creators have decided to challenge the usual complacency of passengers, and make an attention-grabbing safety video. Perhaps even the flight attendants in the plane will be dancing along, although I’m guessing they will be instructed not to. Now, pay close attention to how the video designers included text in the cabin safety video. Not just is it included Karaoke-style but its animation also captures the word meanings and keeps you engaged.

It’s actually a great excuse to include it on my blog, a really fun and inspiring video in one of the most conservative domains – commercial aviation. I think only Air New Zealand comes close.

Air New Zealand’s recent in-flight safety briefing videos: