Keynote for iCloud – Keynote on PC – Review

Keynote has come to the PC. It’s bright, it’s shiny, it’s browser-based. But is it any good?

Back in June, Apple announced that it was bringing its iWork suite of applications to iCloud. Although the crowd in the auditorium probably cheered, the rest of the world were undoubtedly left a little perplexed – the union of two things that most people aren’t interested in is hardly a ‘game changer’. However, beneath the iJargon, the significance becomes apparent – Apple has released Keynote, a worthy opponent to PowerPoint, on the Windows platform – effectively throwing a BBQ in Microsoft’s backyard.

Today, Apple finally made good on its promise and released its iWork platform to the masses. Now anyone who uses iCloud – potentially everyone with an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac – can now use Keynote, Pages and Numbers for free in a desktop web browser. But is it any good? And can Keynote in the sky tempt us to give up PowerPoint?

Before I start, there’s a huge caveat to this article: iWork for iCloud is in beta. It’s been released for the public to try, and to provide feedback.

While the finished version is expected to hit in September, Apple has made no promises. I’ve been playing around with it for a while, and although it doesn’t seem too buggy, it certainly doesn’t seem to yet have all its potential features in place.

My first impression was very positive. As soon as you open Keynote for iCloud, any preconceptions you may have had of a web application are immediately swept away. The interface is solid, smooth and beautiful – and far removed from even the most polished browsing experience. I expected some lag and to be frequently interrupted by loading. However, there is very little of this.

The application behaves just like a desktop experience and not at all like a web page. You can drag-and-drop, drag-select, right-click, undo, copy and paste, use drawing guides – all the things you expect from a full software package.

What’s really impressive is how well everything works – your workflow is completely uninterrupted, and once you locate the various functions you need, you can very quickly and efficiently begin creating slides.

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Keynote for iCloud takes its lead from Keynote for Mac – and with it come all creative choices that both delight and frustrate those that use the platform. I found myself confronted with many of the same issues I covered in my article earlier on in the year . And while still irritated by some of Keynote’s limitations, I have to marvel at how well they have been translated to a web browser.

Love it or hate it – much of what makes Keynote Keynote is present – and that for me is the biggest drawback.

While it’s very easy to add reflections, drop shadows and gradients to shapes, you can’t create your own, or edit the points on the shapes you’ve chosen. Likewise, while there are some lovely templates built in, there are very few features that allow you to customise your own.

I won’t go over the same arguments I covered in the spring – but the same gripes for me are present.

Keynote for iCloud – just like its big brother – is aimed at the novice user. There is plenty here to make your basic presentation look cool and shiny, but very little if you want to get below the hood and make something truly special or unique.

Like the desktop and iPad versions, much of the functionality is hidden behind buttons, all of which are context-dependent. This means you have to click on every different type of object on a slide and every single button to see what can actually be done. Frustrating when reviewing the software, more so when actually using it.

In addition to the inherent disadvantages of Keynote, there are some major (and I mean MAJOR) shortcomings with the iCloud rendition.

First and foremost, builds (or animations to you and me) are not supported. Not at all. Without them, you’re effectively limiting yourself to creating pretty looking posters that you cycle through one-by-one.

There’s no opportunity to break down your message for the audience, or to tell your story in a compelling way. While transitions (between slides) are supported, they just aren’t anywhere near as effective. In the help section, Apple lists builds as ‘coming soon’, so there is hope. Personally, I think the lack of animations so hampers the utility of a presentation package, that were I Apple, I wouldn’t have opened up Keynote as a beta until this was sorted. But that’s me.

Charts and tables also prove problematic. Or rather they don’t – because they’re simply not supported.

You can create non-live versions using shapes, but you can’t edit charts already in your presentations, nor create anything new. Anything that is not supported in the beta is non-functional but not broken. This means that you could open up the file on your Mac or iPad version and continue to work with your charts and tables – they would just appear as static pieces while you’re in the browser. Not extremely useful, but a helpful concession.

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Other features listed as ‘coming soon’ range from the fundamental to the nice-to-have. Presenter notes aren’t currently supported, but apparently will be, nor is version history. Hyperlinking isn’t there yet either.

Printing isn’t something that you can do either, which is ironic considering that it is the one thing that presentations without any animations are good for.

However, as I said, this is a beta so the ‘coming soon’ is all part of the experience.

My overall impression wasn’t as negative as you might think. The Keynote for iCloud platform is missing a lot of functionality but what is there is well-built and effective. While features can be added over time, the foundation of the platform needs to be solid from the outset, and this certainly is. At the moment, Keynote for iCloud gives you a light-touch experience of how a premium desktop application can work in the cloud, and how such an application will gradually move us away from the convention file/folder system we’re all so used to.

At the moment, the platform is promising but basic. What it is not, is truly Keynote for PC. So hang on there PowerPoint, we’re not done with you yet.

 

Latest comments

Jim on 28th August 2013 at 2:56 pm said

“And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984″
As soon as I spotted that the Inspector was missing I knew the game was up – and, just as your review points out, this is in no way the Keynote I have grown to love on my Powerbook.

One last point, Apple recently revamped (dumbed-down) Final Cut Pro – and it looks like their new strategy, because of the success of the i-phone, is only to cater to the masses, by simplifying and thus destroying any potential user expertise.

Ironically this rather reminds me of ‘Newspeak’ in the book 1984, where the language was simplified to stop people from being able to express themselves by effectively reducing the vocabulary – WTF!

Luk on 2nd September 2013 at 2:17 pm said

Interesting review – I haven’t tried it yet but I was interested in knowing whether the responsiveness was there? I’ve had many a frustrating time keying back and forth in a Powerpoint to try and find the right slide and I can only imagine it would be worse from the cloud.

Kieran Chadha on 2nd September 2013 at 6:02 pm said

Hi Jim,

You’re quite right, and I admit there were a few times I felt like throwing a hammer at the screen myself! Keynote for iCloud is a work-in-progress, which is fair enough. But to open it to the public with so few of its features in place is an odd move.

The changes to the Final Cut product line are very interesting. While they are merging in terms of interface and workflow, thankfully the functionality is still there in the pro application. The same is true of iPhoto and Aperture. What we really need is Keynote Pro!

Thanks for joining the discussion.

Kieran

Kieran Chadha on 2nd September 2013 at 6:12 pm said

Hi Luk,

Definitely give it a go and see what you think. (Although I’ve read that since launch access is being limited due to overwhelming public demand.)

While working on some sample material, I found it responsive and smooth, but it will be interesting to see how it holds up to a full blown presentation project. At the moment it doesn’t have what I need to use it professionally, but if things improve and functionality is added I’d give it another go.

At the moment, it’s hard to imagine how it might solve any of the issues I have with (desktop) Keynote, but here’s hoping!

Kieran

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